William Burroughs and Norman MailerTags: Norman Mailer, William Burroughs
Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
who may conceivably be possessed by genius.
— Norman Mailer (1962)
Norman Mailer’s assessment lingers around Burroughs like a stale fart. You just cannot get away from it. From the back cover of the Grove Naked Lunch to obituary accounts, from the Wikipedia page to academic articles, Mailer’s territorial pissing has marked Burroughs’ place in literary history. In the early 1960s at Edinburgh, Mailer along with Mary McCarthy began the process of legitimizing Burroughs. Mailer opened the back door and let Burroughs in. Literally. One of Burroughs’ most ardent supporters for admission to the Academy of Arts and Letters was Mailer. This recognition was very important to Burroughs, and he wore his Academy pin proudly. From what I can gather, Burroughs was grateful for Mailer’s support.
So why does it grate on me? I think the main reason is that most people tend to overlook just how much Mailer got out of the deal. Mailer was not just doing Burroughs a favor. Mailer was hoping for a return on his investment, a return with interest — that is, increased interest in Mailer, naturally, as it always was with this most egotistical of writers. (“Ego” was even the title of one of Mailer’s most famous and admired essays.) In addition, Mailer’s interest in Burroughs and the Beats in general is usually understated. It was not merely a casual relationship based on simple admiration. There was intense curiosity, anxiety, and doubt at the source of Mailer’s appreciation of Burroughs. Burroughs and the Beats presented both a challenge and an opportunity.
In order to understand this complex relationship, a little background on Mailer’s career until 1957 is necessary. The 24-year-old Mailer burst on the literary scene in 1948 with The Naked and the Dead, a doorstop novel that critics hailed as the first serious treatment of World War II. Here seemed to be a writer destined for great things, possibly the Great American Novel. Mailer was much concerned with being great, important, significant. The follow-up novel published in 1951, Barbary Shore, showed evidence of a sophomore slump. No cause for alarm. A hiccup along the road to the Big One. Mailer upped the ante and aimed high with his third novel, The Deer Park. This was to be an important, provocative, controversial novel — Mailer’s attempt at the grail. A novel dealing with sex and the American Dream set in Los Angeles, The Deer Park sought to instigate serious discussion and establish Mailer as a philosopher of the orgasm. Critics responded with yawns. The novel flirted with obscenity but many felt Mailer had only succeeded in making sex boring. Now, questions arose about Mailer’s future and his talent. Would he ever capitalize on the promise of The Naked and the Dead? Was he a one-hit wonder?
This shook Mailer to his core. He would not publish another novel until An American Dream, which was serialized in Esquire in 1964. The golden boy of American literature had to do some soul searching. He started the Village Voice in 1955, but the alternative paper never fully captured his attention. He took up boxing, he considered politics, he drank heavily. Mailer cast about for a theme worthy of his ambition. In 1957, he addressed a topic that would put him back on the literary map: The Beat Generation.
Norman Mailer and the White Negro
Although The Beat Generation was an underground phenomenon since the mid-1940s, they were to explode into the mainstream in the summer and fall of 1957 with the Howl trial and the publication of On the Road. In the summer of that year, Mailer published an essay that provided the philosophical explanation of what was a troubling trend in the Age of the Grey Flannel Suit. Mailer’s “The White Negro” first appeared in Dissent and was then reprinted as a chapbook by City Lights, the publisher of Howl, and eventually collected in Mailer’s self-aggrandizing anthology Advertisements for Myself. The essay fed off the work of French existentialists, particularly Sartre’s book-length studies of Baudelaire (1950) and Saint Genet (1952), which examined the dandy and the criminal as existential figures, and mixed those ideas with a philosophy based on African American experience. Mailer labeled the African American as an existential hero denied recognition by white society. He would also describe black experience as psychopathic and glorify the power of orgasm. In turn young middle- and upper-class whites, dissatisfied with the sterile and mind-numbing environment created by their elders, embraced black culture and experience as a vital alternative lifestyle. Stereotypes of black virility and a fascination for the cathartic aspects of psychopathic violence made for a heady brew that blew the heads off New York intellectuals.
If you can get past the sexual and racial stereotypes — and many cannot (in the 1950s and today) — the essay proved incredibly perceptive. In the humdrum 1950s, Mailer predicted the explosive 1960s: Black Power, The Weathermen, and student revolt. Just before the publication of On the Road, Mailer provided a framework for understanding the characters of Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac), and a host of other popular culture figures from James Dean to Elvis Presley. In fact, the prophetic aspect of one passage of The White Negro, the most controversial passage of the entire essay, would prove to be downright eerie.
It can of course be suggested that it takes little courage for two strong 18-year-old hoodlums, let us say, to beat in the brains of a candy-store keeper, and indeed the act – even by the logic of the psychopath – is not likely to prove very therapeutic, for the victim is not an immediate equal. Still, courage of a sort is necessary, for one murders not only a weak fifty-year-old man but an institution as well, one violates property, one enters into a new relation with the police and introduces a dangerous element into one’s life. The hoodlum is therefore daring the unknown, and no matter how brutal the act, it is not altogether cowardly.
In late November 1957, in Lincoln, Nebraska, 19-year-old Charles Starkweather entered a general store, abducted, then eventually killed Robert Colvert in cold blood with a shotgun. He entered and exited the store three times before he decided to kidnap the shopkeeper. The “courage” to kill only resulted when Colvert struggled for the gun. The following month, Starkweather and his 14-year-old girl friend Caril Ann Fugate would go on a murder spree across what Kerouac called the “unbelievable huge bulge” of America. It seemed as if Mailer had written Starkweather into existence. During his incarceration, Starkweather described his feeling of power and self-esteem following the murder of the shopkeeper. As William Allen describes in his book on Starkweather, “He had money. He had a girl. He had killed and not been bothered by it. It gave him an enormous feeling of power. He now operated outside the laws of man. He felt as if he were invisible, could do just as he pleased, take what he wanted. The law was helpless against him.” The young mass murderer idolized James Dean and envisioned himself as a rebel without a cause.
Starkweather and Fugate were the flip side of Neal Cassady and Luanne Henderson, Cassady’s 16-year-old bride. A decade earlier, Cassady had crisscrossed the exact same terrain as Starkweather. Whereas Cassady vented his frustrations in aimless movement and, as he aged, in self-destructive drug use, Starkweather lashed out at society. I am reminded of a passage from On the Road:
Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn through the cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again.
Likewise, Starkweather was an Angel of Death laying waste to Main Street.
In “The White Negro,” Mailer wrote as a prophet of the apocalypse, a Hip Jeremiah, but as far as the Beat writers were concerned, Mailer was almost a decade late. By 1957, Kerouac, Cassady, and Ginsberg had moved on to the more peaceful aspects of Beat. They were pursuing the Beatific, enlightenment, and Eastern philosophy. They were less psychopaths than Dharma Bums. If Mailer’s essay no longer described the major Beat figures, however, that did not stop critics and the mainstream press from pinning Mailer’s assessment on them anyway. Norman Podhoretz’s essay, “The Know-Nothing Bohemians” — in a sense a companion piece to “The White Negro” — attacked the lifestyle of the Columbia University-era Beats more than the contemporary scene. Not that it mattered, the Beats were all the rage, and Mailer found a topic, Hip and the hipster, that he could sink his teeth into, chew over, and regurgitate to the general public.
In “The White Negro,” Mailer also found a style. Much is made of Mailer’s November 1960 essay on the Democratic Convention, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” as ground zero for new journalism. Clearly, this piece, published in Esquire, is a key document in that vein, but the seeds of the form were planted in “The White Negro.” The style of this essay matches the subject matter. Mailer writes and thinks like Cassady drives — recklessly. The text swerves erratically from point to point and the sentences twist and turn like the road Cassady voraciously travels. Mailer’s writing rampages like bull in the china shop of ideas. The essay is as much an exercise in style as a think piece.
“The White Negro” also embodies aspects of gonzo journalism. It was not enough for Mailer to adopt a hip writing style; he felt compelled to adopt a hip lifestyle as well. At the time he was composing “The White Negro,” Mailer brawled with police, got in drunken arguments with other writers, and bullied his wife. He drank and smoked marijuana heavily. To show he was committed, he grew a goatee. He walked the walk so he could talk the talk.
Norman Mailer on William Burroughs
Here lies the kernel of my problem with Mailer’s kidnapping of William Burroughs. To my mind, Mailer is all talk. His best writing is new journalism — his commentary on events, not his imaginative writing of them. For if Mailer foresaw the figure of Charles Starkweather, what Mailer was not quite ready for, although he attempted to outline his pathology in “The White Negro,” was the figure of William Burroughs. Burroughs’ arrival on the literary scene in 1959 would reveal to Mailer his own shortcomings as a writer and a man, and provide a true anxiety of influence.
In his essay, “Quick and Expensive Comments on the Talent in the Room” (Autumn/Winter 1959), published in the third issue of Big Table, Mailer sized up the competition on the literary scene. Writer after writer, from James Baldwin to James Jones, are dispatched as pretenders to the throne. Despite the critical failure of Deer Park, and the fact that creatively he was suffering a block on his next novel, Mailer felt his work superior to that of his contemporaries, with two notable exceptions. One was Anatole Broyard. Mailer gives him his blessing in a brief two sentences. Broyard was a Greenwich Village hipster, as his late memoir Kafka Was the Rage makes clear. Broyard’s racial history was the subject of speculation in the bars and backrooms of the Village. He was an inverted version of the White Negro, a black man passing as a white hipster. This could explain Mailer’s puzzling approval of Broyard, despite having read only two of his stories.
The other notable exception rose to prominence in the first issue of Big Table and in fact was the major reason for that magazine’s existence: William Burroughs. Mailer writes:
The ten episodes from Naked Lunch, which were printed in Big Table I, were more arresting, I thought, than anything I’ve read by an American in years. If the rest of William Burroughs’ book is equal to what was shown, and if the novel proves to be a novel and not a collage of extraordinary fragments, then Burroughs will deserve rank as one of the most important novelists in America, and may prove comparable in his impact to Genet.
The comparison to Genet is key, as it reveals Mailer’s debt to Sartre in his assessment of the White Negro. Yet all this occurs in a footnote. One reason is because Burroughs’ writing was, as yet, largely unavailable in the United States. He was truly a footnote on the literary scene. Another reason, I like to think, was because Mailer had to quarantine Burroughs, put him and his writing in a safe place to prevent being infected, struck dumb, by Burroughs’ power as a new voice. Unlike Mailer’s hipster pose, Burroughs and his writing had authenticity. It had the potential to be not only the Next Big Thing, but the Real Thing. Burroughs was a threat. In a follow-up essay published in 1963, “Some Children of the Goddess,” which reassessed the literary rank and file, Mailer again viewed Burroughs in a positive light. And at the Naked Lunch trial, Mailer stated, “The man has extraordinary talent. Possibly he is the most talented writer in America. As a professional writer I don’t like to go about bestowing credit on any other writers.” Mailer may have been reluctant to praise his contemporaries, but clearly Burroughs was a figure he could not ignore.
Throughout his life, Mailer would be fascinated by characters such as Burroughs, sometimes with tragic results. In 1980, Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song, his account of the life, crimes and trial of Gary Gilmore, a spree killer who, like Charles Starkweather, was sentenced to death. Soon after the success of The Executioner’s Song, Jack Abbott, a career criminal blessed with the ability to write about his experiences, came to Mailer’s attention. The intelligence on display in Abbott’s book, In the Belly of the Beast, excited Mailer into lobbying for Abbott’s release. Six weeks after getting out of jail, Abbott stabbed a man to death in an altercation. In 2002, Abbott committed suicide.
If Abbott was Mailer’s psychopath as intellectual, then Burroughs was his intellectual as psychopath. Junkie, killer, homosexual, the satanic Burroughs was an Angel fallen from the heavens of America’s elite. At the time Mailer encountered Burroughs’ writing, el hombre invisible haunted the edges of Western civilization and flouted the conventions of the Establishment, which were his birthright. He challenged the Law, both in his lifestyle and in his writing. Labeled as evil in act and mind by mainstream society, Burroughs did more than violate conventional morality; he questioned the validity and construction of morality as a concept and suggested that the established moral code was in fact amoral. It was not enough to change a system from within; forms of Control had to be destroyed and replaced with forms of anarchy ranging from pirate utopias to the simple act of minding your own business. Mailer, on the other hand, no matter how much he tried to shake it, ultimately retained the mind of a conservative. Existing systems needed only to be tweaked, corrected. This is clear in Mailer’s political aspirations, such as his running for Mayor. Mailer would have liked to be President, as his writings on Presidential Conventions demonstrate. Burroughs, as he wrote in Harper’s, never would have considered such a role.
Burroughs was a black sheep and a sheep-killing dog. Like Byron, “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Mailer tried very hard to measure up but his personality and his writing show the effort. They sweat and labor to be daring and obscene. For example, for all the sex in his writing, Mailer’s conception of sex is rather traditional. Alfred Kazin described it as “a typical Jewish attitude towards sex — that sex can be turned into a concept, the way Freud did.” It seems to me too tied up with the marital, patriarchal, and physical. No matter how much Mailer wanted to break from his traditions, his thoughts on sex were Puritanical, tied to anxiety, guilt, and punishment. He wanted more of fucking and a philosophy of fucking (what he described as “serious promiscuity”) and more freedom outside of marriage to explore them. Burroughs viewed sex as more than the mechanical act, but a physical, mental and emotional possession, the schlup. For me, Burroughs’ concept of tying sex to a philosophy of addiction has a breadth, complexity, and transgressiveness missing from Mailer’s. Eventually, Burroughs questioned the whole conception of sexual relations, going so far as to wonder if women were a biological mistake.
Mailer’s conventionality is also reflected in his writing. Mailer is a mainstream novelist. He wanted to write that most traditional of literary grails, the Great American Novel. Burroughs was an experimentalist who challenged the concept of the book and sought (ultimately unsuccessfully) to rub out the Word, to destroy the power of Language, and to remove himself as an Author and retreat into silence. Mailer loved the sound of his own voice. When you think of Burroughs you think of a conman preying on the Squares; Mailer was a preacher to the Squares, spreading the gospel of Mailer.
Naked Lunch and the Great American Novel
Is it far-fetched to consider Naked Lunch the Great American Novel? By challenging the American way of life, Burroughs’ masterpiece, to my mind, came closer than anything Mailer ever wrote. Naked Lunch is a complex rumination on evil. Profane and obscene, it attacked the holy image of the American Dream by examining its politics, economics, religion, and sexual mores. It was Burroughs’ genius to suggest that the true nature of America is based in evil and a Faustian impulse for domination. Burroughs writes, “America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.” Never an Eden, always already fallen. According to Burroughs, this is America’s open secret. That is why Naked Lunch was taken to court by Customs, the Post Office, and the Courts, the last work of literature to be so challenged with the full force of American bureaucracy. Deer Park was only censored by Mailer’s own editors, who felt the book might offend the genteel sensibilities of the general public. Burroughs’ work was more than just sexually explicit; it threatened entire foundational systems from language to economics to government. The contenders to the Great American Novel, from Moby Dick to Invisible Man, all explore this dark side of America. Therefore, Naked Lunch is in the discussion.
However, for me, Naked Lunch lacks one key element that a novel such as Moby Dick makes central to its concerns. As Charles Olson wrote in Call Me Ishmael, his monumental study of Melville’s novel,
I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy. It is geography at bottom, a hell of wide land from the beginning. That made the first American story (Parkman’s): exploration.
This “central fact” is at the heart of On the Road, another contender to the throne. Although Naked Lunch rewrites On the Road in its opening section, tellingly entitled “And Start West” in Jabberwock which published the section in 1959 and included in Naked Lunch: The Restored Text, this concern with American geography and manifest destiny is abandoned in favor of an exploration of Interzone, a dystopia that is at once everywhere and nowhere. Naked Lunch is a study of the space in-between, not space writ large. Burroughs’ exploration is largely interior, not a trek through “a hell of wide land.” He fails to take into account what Olson described as “as restless a thing as Western man” in terms of physical exploration. Burroughs sheds light on the underworld, but unlike Melville’s Moby Dick or Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, he does not portray the physical journey to get there.
Naked Lunch also lacks epic scope. It is not “Large, and without mercy.” True, Naked Lunch with its lack of a defined beginning, middle and end, its lack of plot or continuity, and its invitation to enter at any intersection point, is, in a sense, an endless novel. Yet the novel is, in fact, a quick read and does not have the necessary heft. The Great American Novel must be large and sprawling like America itself. Encyclopedic, the sheer number of pages reflects American excess and runaway production. Naked Lunch is too concise, too on point. Burroughs cuts away the excess; Naked Lunch is a masterpiece of editing, a thousand-page manuscript reduced to essence. After Naked Lunch, Burroughs would explore the cut-up, which would pare down the Naked Lunch word hoard to key phrases and images.
Yet as Mailer recognized, Naked Lunch is in the discussion as the Great One. As “greatest living writer,” Burroughs threatened to reign supreme over Mailer and his contemporaries. And this is where Mailer’s assessment comes into play. By recognizing Burroughs’ genius, particularly at a time when others proclaimed Burroughs a Know-Nothing Bohemian, Mailer implicitly proclaims his own genius. Over time, this recognition has become almost as important as Burroughs’ writing itself. Throughout his career, Mailer had a parasitic relationship to genius. He fed off of others’ power rather than generating his own. This is true from Muhammad Ali to Marilyn Monroe to Jesus to Hitler to Picasso. His true talent was in journalism, reporting rather than creative writing, although his great innovation was to introduce literary devices into objective journalism. To my mind, Burroughs’ creative genius trumps Mailer’s recognition of it, although this does not seem to be the case, as Mailer’s assessment must be appended to all accounts of Burroughs in order to give him legitimacy. Burroughs work is not allowed to speak for itself; Mailer’s voice has to introduce it. This fails to take into consideration just how much Mailer’s voice, particularly in “The White Negro” period, is a ventriloquism of the Beat manner of speaking. The Beat conception of Hip resurrected Mailer’s career and made him relevant. People forget that figures like Burroughs in essence also legitimated Mailer.
“Sentences That Stab People”
The hold that Burroughs had over Mailer’s imagination is demonstrated in an interview published in the February 1961 issue of Mademoiselle. (Readers of Mademoiselle might have been aware of Burroughs as he appeared in the magazine roughly one year earlier.) In the interview, Mailer still presents himself, several years after the publication of “The White Negro,” as the authority on the hipster. He states, “I’m a hipster, for example — a middle-aged hipster. I’ve turned terribly philosophical and mellow but still that’s what I am.” Mailer had yet to move on to a new topic and style. He was still living off past events; he was retrograde; he was middle-aged. Mailer’s philosophical bent on the hipster is the equivalent of a comb-over to be more relevant, younger than he was. Burroughs, also middle-aged, did not have to try so hard to be Hip. He and his mind just were.
Mailer proclaims himself an authority on drugs, more specifically, marijuana. Once again he was prophetic in the importance of drugs as a central fact of the 1960s, but he was far from the authority he pretended to be. Whereas drugs for Burroughs were a way of life, Mailer was at heart a recreational user. He was the “Ivy League, advertising exec type fruit” riding the A-train seemingly hip to grass and slang, “a square wants to come on hip … Talks about ‘pod,’ and smoke it now and then.” In Peter Manso’s biography of Mailer, Ginsberg repeatedly describes Mailer as naïve and square.
In discussing marriage, Mailer states, “Well, I can say that America is about as totalitarian and vicious and — I’m going to coin a word — liquidational — about the uses of marriage as the Soviet Union is about the uses of the proletariat. It’s been the great scandal of our national life.” Coin a word, really? I am reminded of a passage from Naked Lunch: “It will be immediately clear that the Liquefaction Party is, except for one man, composed entirely of dupes, it is not clear until the final absorption who is whose dupe… The Liquefactionists are much given to every perversion, especially sado-masochistic practices…” Mailer and Burroughs viewed marriage as the cornerstone of morality and sex, an institution that was perverted by its opposition to perversion. It became a matter of control, power, sadomasochism. Am I wrong in seeing liquefactionist in liquidational?
The interview makes clear that Burroughs was on Mailer’s mind. The interviewer asks, “How important is style to you?” Mailer responds,
Style? Style’s an embrace. If I were to choose a style, I think a man who writes better than I do is William Burroughs. I think he is going to last a long time after me because his is more intense. He’s got a quality I don’t have. I mean, I write sentences that embrace people. But he writes sentences that stab people and you never forget the man who stabs you. You can forget an embrace.
For Mailer to make this admission of Burroughs’ superior talent is huge. I think it is genuine. Mailer realized that he was all style and that Burroughs was not only a better stylist, a better writer, but also more authentic. Mailer describes Burroughs as “more intense” and admires Burroughs’ “quality.” This is merely to say more real, more true to his nature. Burroughs was not playacting. For sure Burroughs required an audience, yet that could be a single passionate reader, like Ginsberg. For a time in the 1960s, Burroughs listened within himself and ignored the general public, preferring to stab them with the razor, the scalpel, the scissors — the tools of the cut-up technique. Mailer, like the bad boy acting out for attention, sought the general public’s embrace and embraced them with his reader-friendly style in turn.
A key here is also lifestyle. Burroughs can be viewed as a true outlaw, the intellectual as psychopath. Burroughs was Mailer’s existential fantasy come to life. Mailer could not live up to his fantasies, although that did not stop him from trying. Mailer conducted this interview in mid-November of 1960. On November 22nd, he would stab his wife with a kitchen knife in the chest at the tail end of what the media described as a Beatnik party. Is it too much to see this act of psychopathic violence as Mailer’s pantomime of a similar drunken act of evil that occurred in September 1951 — the William Tell shooting of Joan Vollmer? Maybe so, but given Mailer’s interview just days before the incident it is interesting to consider. Mailer’s stabbing of his wife was the culmination of roughly five years of experimentation with the lifestyle of the White Negro. Mailer as psychopath. The stabbing of his wife was the act of courage that would place him at odds with society and legitimize his pose.
Yet his actions after the incident reveal him not up to the responsibilities of his actions. At his arraignment, Mailer addressed the court: “It is important for me not to be sent to a mental hospital, because my work in the future will be considered that of a disordered mind. My pride is that I can explore areas of experience that other men are afraid of. I insist I am sane.” Mailer falls back on his rationality, his Puritan mind, his sense of Order. On the other hand, I like to think Burroughs embraces his madness, his schizophrenia, his possession by the Ugly Spirit. In Naked Lunch and elsewhere, Burroughs explores the very areas Mailer pridefully claims as his own. For me what makes Naked Lunch a masterpiece is that, as Ginsberg writes in “On Burroughs’ Work,” he does not hide the madness or rely on his sanity. The book is obscene and amoral, the product of a satanic mind, found guilty of genius by reason of insanity before the Law of mainstream society.
Yet Burroughs, like Mailer, had his moments of what I am tempted to call weakness. The writing of “Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness” is but one example of Burroughs bowing down before the pressures of the Law. Burroughs’ introduction to Queer is even more damning. Years after Mailer stabbed his wife, Mailer told James Atlas of The New York Times Magazine, “A decade’s anger made me do it. After that I felt better.” As Mailer’s biographer Mary V. Dearborn writes, “The remark is reminiscent of the self-referential thinking that characterized his behavior before the stabbing. It was all about him. Adele, the victim, was forgotten.”
Burroughs takes a page out of Mailer’s book in the introduction to Queer. He writes,
I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and the constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except o write my way out.
Burroughs places the genesis of his genius at Joan’s death. He wagers that his good works, i.e. his writing, will pardon him for his act of evil. As with Mailer, “It was all about him. [Joan], the victim, was forgotten.” So much so that discussions on the RealityStudio forum can attempt to justify Joan’s shooting with the writing of Naked Lunch. Such a justification is impossible. What is possible and what many do not want to admit is that a great artist can also be capable of evil. However, Burroughs was not merely the psychopath of Mailer’s fantasies or, even, of my own. Good and Evil. Both/and not either/or. Like every human being, he was capable of, and committed, both. The evil may always be there waiting, but so is the good.