Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
RealityStudio bills itself as a digital community, a gathering place for fans, friends, collectors, and scholars of William Burroughs. In recent weeks, we have received some emails that testify to the international nature of that community as well as to the potential of building and sustaining that community online. In the forum, there is a running thread on The Third Mind. Isome23 attended The Third Mind exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. She mentioned that she took lots of pictures and here they are.
This may be your best opportunity to view the visual and textual collaborations of Burroughs and Gysin that were completed mostly in New York City in 1965. My timeline on Burroughs in New York provides some sense of the atmosphere surrounding these works of art. The Third Mind images should be viewed in connection with the complete My Own Mag, particularly The Dutch Schultz Issue (#13), also available on RealityStudio. I hope in the next few weeks to have the complete Time, a Burroughs scrapbook published by Ted Berrigan’s C Press, uploaded as well. This collection of images provides just a glimpse into the incredible artistic output of Burroughs in the mid 1960s. They highlight the visual development of the cut-up that would continue into the 1970’s and lead to the collaboration with Malcolm Mc Neill in the never completed Ah Puch is Here.
The Third Mind manuscript resides in the Los Angeles County Museum with bits and pieces located in a private collection in Paris. Before RealityStudio, the best place to view selections of The Third Mind was Robert Sobieszek’s Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts. The book is out of print, but copies can be purchased from $10.99 to $120 on Amazon. Get a copy. In the past decade, Oliver Harris has completely revolutionized the textual history of Burroughs with his archival research of the early manuscripts. Sobieszek performed a similar service with Burroughs in the visual arts. Ports of Entry is essential reading (and viewing) for anyone interested in Burroughs. The chapter on The Third Mind is the best account of this material available providing literary history and critical analysis.
Until 1970, Grove Press planned to publish The Third Mind in all its glory. The book was to be marketed as an art book costing from $10-$30. According to Ports of Entry, Grove abandoned the project due to high production costs or due to a sense of bewilderment on how to market Burroughs and Gysin’s instruction manual / art book / experimental poetry / textbook. “In his introductory text to the Viking edition of 1978, Gerard-Georges Lemaire… pointed to the work’s complexity and lack of definition: ‘It eludes definition just as it eludes itself; a prey to unfathomable anamorphosis, it rubs itself out and rewrites itself; it allows itself to be read, only to slip away. The Third Mind jumbles the linguistic network, simultaneously revealing and antagonizing it. It is a strange device for confronting semiotic assaults” (quoting from Ports of Entry). Sobieszek continues, “The Viking edition reproduces twenty-six of the collages (reproduced it would seem, from the French edition or the printer’s plates and not the originals), and one of these reproductions does not appear among the originals in the LACMA collection. Not all of the chapters or parts of the original manuscript are included in the Viking edition, nor do the plates in it appear in the precise sequence laid out in the late 1960s.” The published version fails to capture the magnificence of the manuscript as evidenced by the images on RealityStudio. The LACMA holds “70 unique works of art and original visual texts.” Apparently the original manuscript switched hands and locales often so who knows what is still out there or lost forever. As noted in Ports of Entry, “the total number of artworks made for The Third Mind is unknown.” Clearly, the published version of The Third Mind provides only a glimpse, and a black and white one at that, of the original manuscript.
As discussed in the forum, The Third Mind is difficult to get a hold of and expensive. The book was first published by Viking in 1978 under the editorship of Richard Seaver. Seaver began his editing career with Alexander Trocchi’s Merlin Group in Paris in the early 1950s. He continued on with Grove in its formative years. By the 1970s, Seaver went mainstream taking Burroughs along with him. John Calder published The Third Mind in hardcover and softcover in 1979. Seaver, under his own imprint, reissued The Third Mind in 1982. Finally, in 1998, Flammarion printed the book in France. There may be other printings, but these are the ones listed in Shoaf’s Bibliography.
The images of The Third Mind available on RealityStudio provide only a small piece of the available manuscript. Yet coupled with My Own Mag and Time, the jigsaw puzzle of Burroughs’ development and exploration of the cut-up technique can begin to be pieced together. The picture is incomplete and many of the missing pieces reside in libraries, like the NYPL or Ohio State. Slowly, these collections are being made available to scholars and the public. Hard copy publications are not the only outlet. The digital archives on RealityStudio provide another alternative and, in the minds of many commentators, a window into the future.
(Readers interested particularly in Brion Gysin’s contribution the Third Mind may want to consult Brion Gysin: Tuning In to the Multimedia Age, Nothing Is True Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin, and Brion Gysin: Here To Go.)