William S. Burroughs’ Roosevelt after Inauguration: Autopsy or To See for Yourself

Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Techniques for an Examination

I have a lot of books. When Christmas rolls around, the old adage “what do you get the man who has everything?” comes to mind. In my case, more books. However you look at it, there is always the need, if not the room, for another book.

This year I received Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media and Jerome J. McGann’s The Textual Condition. Add to these the fact that I read Richard Owens’ Damn the Caesars blog in its entirety, and it could be said that over the holidays I attended a graduate seminar in literature in my own home. It was like what I suspect a good acid trip to be: a remapping of your mindscape.

For a number of years, McGann has proven useful as I read through and examine my little magazine collection. McGann writes,

[The Textual Condition] means to change [the focus of textual studies on hermeneutics and reading] by studying those structures of textual variability that display themselves over a much more extensive textual field. Most important, in our present historical situation, is to demonstrate the operation of these variables at the most material (and apparently least ‘signifying’ or significant) levels of the text: in the case of scripted texts, the physical form of books and manuscripts (paper, ink, typefaces, layouts) or their prices, advertising mechanisms, or distribution venues.

McGann’s statement of intent has been the standard operating procedure in the study of ancient manuscripts for quite some time. What McGann called for throughout the 1970s and 1980s was rigorous attention toward bibliographic detail. The Archimedes palimpsest, an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages, or Shakespeare’s Folios garner this type of attention. More modern literature, like that of the Romantic and Victorian eras, has been, for decades now, approached not as as pure text, but as an object with social, cultural, or historical elements encoded in their materiality and production. McGann’s investigations of Keats and Dante Rossetti highlight the wealth of meanings that New Critical close reading ignored. In The Textual Condition, McGann performs close, socio-historical bibliographic readings upon the Modernists, specifically Ezra Pound.

The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, published in 2009, reads Modernist Magazines, such as Blast, The New Criterion, or The New Masses, in the same way. There are 800+ pages of essays that look closely at “the physical form of books and manuscripts (paper, ink, typefaces, layouts) or their prices, advertising mechanisms, or distribution venues.” It was one of the most informative and important books I read in 2009.

The book is part of a three-volume series on the Modernist magazine covering the Western world up to 1955. Of course, that was the year when Allen Ginsberg read Howl at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Howl proved to be The Waste Land of the post-WWII era and jumpstarted the mimeo revolution. The Bibliographic Bunker and Mimeo Mimeo attempt to apply archeology and anthropology as well as historical and literary criticism to the publications of the mimeo revolution. Mimeo Mimeo takes a broad view, but in RealityStudio, I use the bibliography of William Burroughs as a case study in which to explore the same terrain. 

Add into the mix the readings of literature, politics, and economics found in Richard Owens’ Damn the Caesars blog and you have a strong brew. I am particularly (Owens despises this word, which after reading his blog I realized I use like a crutch. New Year’s Resolution: be wary of the use of particular. As you can see it is a day-to-day battle.) interested in those instances when Owens draws his attention to not merely a quote from a poem, but to a bit of marginalia (as in his reading of Robert Berthoff’s copy of Leroi Jones’ The Dead Lecturer) or to a seemingly useless historical anecdote (as in his mediation on a beaver’s balls in reading the British poet David Jones). These readings are close, deadly serious, but also serious fun. It is inspiring to keep up with Owens’ readings of the Joneses.

Examination of the Corpse

Burroughs, William as William Lee. Roosevelt after Inauguration. New York: Fuck You Press, January 1964. Staplebound, wrappers. According to publisher 500 copies. See Maynard & Miles A9 and Eric C. Shoaf’s bibliography for more details.

William S. Burroughs, Roosevelt after Inauguration, Fuck You Press, 1964As a Burroughs collector I may be biased, but Roosevelt after Inauguration is, for me, one of the most famous and most desirable Fuck You Press items, second only to the Mad Motherfucker Issue (Vol. 5, Number 8) of Fuck You, a magazine of the arts, with the Couch cover by Andy Warhol. Ted Morgan describes the text as “a parody or routine in which Cabinet offices are given to pimps, thieves, hookers, and hustlers, which was not that wide of the mark, in a metaphorical sense, given the peculiarities of some members of the first Roosevelt Cabinet.” Like The Talking Asshole and Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Roosevelt after Inauguration has become one of the classic and definitive Burroughs routines.

This routine had quite a history in the little magazine scene before reaching Ed Sanders. In June 1961, Roosevelt appeared in Floating Bear #9, edited by Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) and Diane Di Prima. The issue was sent to inmate and writer, Harold Carrington, at a Rahway New Jersey prison. He was on the Bear mailing list. The contents raised alarm with the prison board, and the issue was seized by the Postal Service and the FBI for obscenity in October. Although Baraka and Di Prima were never indicted, Barney Rosset of Grove Press decided to postpone the publication of Naked Lunch due to the negative publicity surrounding a Burroughs text.

Less well known is that the publication by Floating Bear came about only after a rejection by Kulchur. Kulchur 3 was planned as an issue dealing with censorship and pornography. Lita Hornick worried, with good reason, about an obscenity trial and cut Burroughs’ routine out of the issue. After the publication by Floating Bear, the routine was supposed to appear in the City Lights edition of The Yage Letters in 1963 but the English printers refused to print it without edits. Roosevelt after Inauguration was once again redlined from publication.

Sanders documents this publication history in his edition of the routine. Once the front cover is opened one reads: “This routine was bricked out of the City Lights Volume by paranoid printers in England. It was first stomped into print in Floating Bear #9.” This is not a footnote. It is printed on the de facto title page of the pamphlet and not buried later in the text. This page serves as an introduction to the routine. The placement is crucial. Sanders flaunts the bibliographic history of Roosevelt after Inauguration and states his willingness to flout the law.

William S. Burroughs, Roosevelt after Inauguration, title page, Fuck You Press, 1964
The phrase “bricked out” is also crucial here. As far as I am aware, this is not standard printing terminology, but the phrase suggests that the routine was edited out. It was cordoned or walled off. This refers to the City Lights edition, but also may extend back to Hornick’s red pencil in the editing of Kulchur 3. As we know from Oliver Harris’ edition, The Yage Letters was constructed piece by piece for over a decade before its publication by City Lights. The epistolary nature of the correspondence between Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Lewis Marker was fabricated. The original letter to which Roosevelt after Inauguration was attached was also altered in the City Lights edition, as was the routine itself. For example, all references to editing and writing — Burroughs’ typewriter, his planned collaboration with Ginsberg on The Yage Letters, his payment for the recently published Junkie — were erased from the letter portion of the routine. Ironically, Ferlinghetti, Burroughs, and Ginsberg culled the little magazines to put together some of the pieces of The Yage Letters. Even in the Fuck You edition, the letter attaching the routine was heavily edited. The front and back cover of the Fuck You edition are red, which makes the publication a symbolic brick, a piece of the pre-fab construction that is the City Lights edition of The Yage Letters.

In addition, the idea of a wall or barrier interests me. In the 1963 edition of The Yage Letters published by City Lights, Roosevelt after Inauguration is relegated to a footnote.1 It is quarantined. (The routine was also exiled in that it was published in 1961 in Europe in Nul 6.) Why? Because it was sick humor. It was obscene and threatened to infect the entire text. The sick joke is political. Obscenity is clearly tied to sedition. The seizure of Floating Bear #9 highlights how the post office policed the American public for signs of revolt. The Comstock Act served a function similar to the Patriot Act of today. Customs also ties in. In 1957, the second edition of Howl was seized by U.S. Customs as it was shipped from Villiers, City Lights’ printers who operated in England. By 1962/1963, City Lights was still using Villiers and had yet to take their printing in-house or stateside. The English printers feared The Yage Letters would be seized, and they would face obscenity charges. Roosevelt after Inauguration is Sanders’ red badge of courage, proof of his willingness to “print anything.” Yet the English printers shat a brick. They “bricked out” and that shit became the Fuck You edition.

In 1975, The Yage Letters came out in a second edition. Once again Roosevelt after Inauguration was bricked out. Before this edition the routine appeared in the little mag scene on occasion (for example in Notes from Underground in 1970), it was clearly safe for consumption by the general public. In 1977, the routine appeared in Crawdaddy. It was available and sought after by more readers than ever. In 1979, City Lights published the routine as an individual piece in Roosevelt after Inauguration and Other Atrocities. Ferlinghetti’s blatant cash grab — the equivalent of the tax constantly placed on Beatles fans for useless re-mastering and re-packaging — was, as we will see, the real atrocity. In 1988, the routine could be safely encased within the larger City Lights text in a third edition. In my opinion, this decision had little to do with City Lights’ concern over the integrity of the text and everything to do with profit motive. City Lights was once again pushing product on Burroughs junkies.

William S. Burroughs, with Oliver Harris, ed., Yage Letters Redux, City Lights, 2006Decades later, Oliver Harris’ Redux edition effectively placed the routine in the academy and the literary canon. In my opinion, Harris’s introduction, endnotes, and appendices provide the real value to yet another new edition. They are a wealth of information. Still, Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” comes to mind, with the routine entombed by commentary and footnotes. Like Fortunato, Roosevelt after Inauguration is locked up as the result of its tendency to insult. The routine dared to depict purple-assed baboons fucking members of the Supreme Court. It pissed on President Roosevelt’s grave. Thus it insulted good taste, good literature, Roosevelt’s good name, and the laws of our great country. The routine must be shut up. This piece I am writing is just another brick in the wall.

Just as one can shit a brick, to brick also means to ejaculate. The immortal line from Clerks 2 comes to mind: “Sam flat out bricks in Frodo’s mouth.” Flip through the pages of any Fuck You Press publication and you are going to see glyphs of spurting penises. Roosevelt after Inauguration is no exception. Sanders describes the routine as a Fuck You ejaculation. On one level this refers to Egyptian mythology, but more interesting to me are the theories of waste and useless expenditure of Georges Bataille. In my piece on da levy, I mentioned his Cleveland Prints, in which condoms filled with ink were silkscreened. Like those prints, Fuck You publications are non-productive, masturbatory exercises. Under the counter. Secret Locations. Mailing lists of the initiated.  On one level the Fuck You Roosevelt after Inauguration did not contribute to the general economy and was thus wasted seed or shit.

Yet as Michael Corleone laments in The Godfather III, the market always pulls you back in. To produce, to be productive, to contribute to the general economy. Although it is commonly believed that Fuck You publications were not available for sale and were outside the commercial market, like Semina (again the reference to wasteful spreading of seed) or Floating Bear, this is not entirely true. Fuck You publications were not only distributed freely. The Peace Eye catalogues included issues of Fuck You, a magazine of the arts as well as Roosevelt after Inauguration. They were available for sale. They were also distributed to other bookstores such as Better Books or Indica in London or Asphodel Bookshop in Cleveland. I have several copies of catalogues that were sent to the Village Bookshop run by Howard Frisch. The Fuck You publications were part of an alternative market that had anarcho-capitalist leanings. The door was open to enter the market fully and the drift into enthusiastic participation of mass consumer culture proved to alluring for many to resist. If it can be resisted at all. 

If Roosevelt after Inauguration is wasted seed or shit, it is good shit too. Or maybe Roosevelt after Inauguration is the seed that has to be picked out of your stash. Either way there is a reference to drugs, as pot, heroin and cocaine are all packaged in bricks. A brick is a kilo of pot. Likewise, Roosevelt after Inauguration is part of the illicit market, the underground market. Copies were passed hand to hand; they were smuggled. The mailing of an issue of Floating Bear to the New Jersey prison was a smuggling operation. The file in the cake. The balloon of heroin in the ass. Reading the routine would have helped Harold Carrington to laugh, to think, to dream and to escape. Interestingly Carrington was released from prison in 1965. He went to Atlantic City where he lived for two weeks and then overdosed and died. He was 25 years old. Roosevelt after Inauguration was a fix for Carrington the writer and addict. And at Rahway Prison, it was treated, like drugs, as contraband.

William S. Burroughs, Roosevelt after Inauguration, ad, Fuck You Press, 1964In the raid of Peace Eye in early 1966, Roosevelt after Inauguration was among the publications seized as obscene. Like sex, drugs, and rock and roll, underground publications were one more weapon in Sanders’s total assault on the culture. On the back cover, the acronym LAMF appears after Allen Ginsberg’s name: Like a Motherfucker. This phrase germinated in street-gang slang of 1950s New York. In 1967 Evergreen Review published Leroi Jones’s (by then Amiri Baraka) poem “Black People,” which alters the phrase and politicizes it. It reads “you can’t steal nothin from a / white man, he’s already stole it he owes you anything you want, / even his life. All the stores will open if you will say the magic / words. The magic words are: Up against the wall mother fucker / this is a stick up!” “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker” surfaced in the Columbia student uprising in 1968 both in graffiti and in the closing paragraph of Mark Rudd’s letter to Columbia President Grayson Kirk announcing the rebellion. In 1968, the Lower East Side anarchist group Black Mask changed their name to the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, shortened to the Motherfuckers. One of the original founders of Black Mask/Motherfuckers, Dan Georgakas, interviewed Burroughs in 1970: “William Burroughs Rapping on Revolutionary Techniques.” The interview provides one of the best glimpses into Burroughs’ stance on the counterculture revolution. This interview and Roosevelt after Inauguration would appear together in a mimeographed collection by Cold Turkey Press in 1972. The commonality between the pieces in the collection was their revolutionary nature.

The Motherfuckers cut the fences at Woodstock, making it a free concert. Yet the term Motherfucker was ripe to be co-opted back by commercial forces, like those that motivated Woodstock. The Jefferson Airplane, the epitome of sell-out rock under the revolutionary banner, plagiarized the Motherfuckers in their song “We Can Be Together.” Complete parody would be the next step, as Patty Hearst rebel-yelled Baraka’s call to arms in an SLA bank robbery. By the time of the Heartbreakers’ 1977 studio album, L.A.M.F., the acronym’s flipside as lame-ass motherfucker moved to the forefront. This slipperiness of meaning was always present. Mark Rudd’s white boy co-opting of Baraka’s phrase is one example. To call Allen Ginsberg a motherfucker is also charged with meaning from his homosexuality to his troubled relationship with his mother, as described in Kaddish and elsewhere.

Sanders received the manuscript of Roosevelt after Inauguration from Allen Ginsberg in late 1963 or early 1964. Ginsberg often used the Peace Eye store as a second office during his time in New York in the mid-1960s. He was a fixture in Fuck You publications appearing in the pages of the magazine and catalogs. Ginsberg drew and designed the front and back covers of Roosevelt after Inauguration. Ginsberg had a hand in every aspect of the routine’s creation and publication. In 1953 when this routine was written, Ginsberg rejected Burroughs’ “tired, old cock.” By stenciling the covers, Ginsberg makes up with Burroughs, gives the text a handjob, and helps it spurt into existence. Roosevelt after Inauguration is after all a “Fuck You ejaculation,” which is hammered home by the image of the spurting penis.

The covers feature numerous Ginsbergian touches, such as a skull with a daisy in its teeth within a star of David. There is also a flag with dollar signs instead of stars. This example of concrete poetry would be repeated by da levy in his Visualized Prayer for the American God #6, which created a swastika out of dollar signs. The flag motif is incorporated into the pamphlet itself with its red, white, and blue pages. The multicolored pages and the Ginsberg covers make this publication one of the more distinctive offerings of the press. I have also seen rare book dealers describe the covers as pink. Red or pink suggests socialists or communists, pinkos or reds. Like the Soviet Union, the United States is a totalitarian police state. The paranoia of Sanders and Burroughs was validated by the events in Chicago during the Democratic Convention of 1968, which they both attended. Burroughs would draw on Roosevelt after Inauguration in his account of the Convention, printed in Esquire in November 1968. The article was titled “The Coming of the Purple Better One,” which featured purple-assed baboons.

The small size (14.1 x 10.9 cm) and odd-shaped pages add to this effect. I own several Fuck You publications and for the most part they are 8.5″ x 11″. In the case of Roosevelt after Inauguration, he either used a different mimeograph (see the video on Make Better Books for such a machine), such as da levy used to great effect, or he cut the paper down to size. Sanders put a single fold on several long signatures and saddle-stapled them together. As a result, the book starts on the verso and switches to the recto half way through. Sanders specifically wanted this size otherwise he could have printed the book on larger sheets and side-stapled them like the rest of his publications.

William S. Burroughs, Yage Letters and Roosevelt after Inauguration
Why? The key is in the footnote to the City Lights edition of The Yage Letters. As I mentioned earlier, the footnote explains the publishing history of this section. It also mentions that a pirated edition has been printed and is available for sale at City Lights. This is the Fuck You mimeo edition. The size of the pamphlet refers to its status as a pirated City Lights Pocket Book. It mimics the iconic format of a book like Howl.

I like to think there is a criticism through parody of City Lights and Ferlinghetti here. As Oliver Harris has demonstrated, this routine, far from being out of place in The Yage Letters, fits in thematically. As the Floating Bear incident proved, the routine was potentially explosive. Ferlinghetti shat a brick as much as the English printers. He was not thrilled with the routine and was wary of its satire of Roosevelt. Instead of cutting the routine himself, he shifted the blame to the “paranoid printers.” At the same time, he happily sold the piracy at City Lights through the mail for fifty cents. The same price as a Pocket Book. Ferlinghetti clearly did not want to be on the hook as publisher, and thus responsible to defend it in court. He relied on Sanders to shoulder that responsibility.

Depending on whom you talk to Ferlinghetti was a countercultural revolutionary or a war profiteer. Jack Spicer (see his “Dear Ferlinghetti”) and Charlie Plymell saw Ferlinghetti as an opportunist, pure and simple. In my opinion, the treatment of Roosevelt after Inauguration was not one of Ferlinghetti’s finer moments. This is indicative of Ferlinghetti’s stance on Burroughs in general. Ferlinghetti felt Naked Lunch was disgusting. Ferlinghetti did not publish any of Burroughs’ cut-up novels in the 1960s. Granted Grove had the foot in the door, but the non-commercial nature of the work probably lessened the blow for Ferlinghetti. The publication of The Yage Letters appears to me like Ferlinghetti’s late move into the Burroughs business. By 1963, Burroughs was a media sensation and a money-maker. The reprint history of The Yage Letters proves that Ferlinghetti made a wise publishing decision. He did not see Burroughs’ literary value until later and it is hard to separate Ferlinghetti’s flip-flop from Burroughs’ shift in monetary value. I like to think that while the Fuck You edition does Ferlinghetti’s dirty work, it also flips him the bird.

Cause of Death

The City Lights Yage Letters (1963) is black and white. Pure package. Emptied of content, it does not need to be opened. It encourages me to put it on a pedestal.. The Fuck You Roosevelt after Inauguration is red (and blue and white) and it demands to be violated. Its appearance seduces me and it is “asking for it.” Mimeo vs. Offset. A false opposition. I realize that this issue is not, like City Lights publications, not simply black and white. I am aware that I have closed my eyes to the value of City Lights and am blinded by the aura of Peace Eye Bookshop. I am aware that the current City Lights edition is readily available and affordable and that the Fuck You edition is a luxury item. I am aware of and own both the mimeo Fugs handbills and the Fugs’ Reprise LPs. I am aware that mimeo can be the most boring and mechanical of productions and that the hand directs offset printing. But I am sick. I suffer from nostalgia. For me the cure is to acquire books and research their history.

I fight my illness, but in the end the case is terminal. For example, it is a cliché to privilege the original, the authentic, the manuscript, but that does not stop me from doing so. Roosevelt after Inauguration was most powerful and dangerous when it was enclosed in a letter to Allen Ginsberg on May 23, 1953. In Redux, Oliver Harris has explained the political undertones of Burroughs’ trip to South America. Cold War intrigue and agents were everywhere. McCarthyism was in full swing. The American-ness of every citizen was under trial. Nobody was safe, not even the Army. For Burroughs to send Roosevelt after Inauguration through the mail in this atmosphere was practically an act of terrorism. This routine is the literary equivalent of a bomb or, more on point, anthrax. The publication of the routine and the study of those publications spread the disease, but they also provide the cure.

1 Here is the footnote from the City Lights edition:

“This is Burroughs’ first routine, ‘Roosevelt after Inauguration.’ The form took a life of its own, like the talking asshole in Naked Lunch; subsequent letters to Ginsberg developed much of the material in that volume. ‘Roosevelt after Inauguration’ was printed in Floating Bear No. 9; editor Leroi Jones was arrested for sending and issue through U.S. Government mails; after a year of harassment Jones was vindicated. Copies of a new pirated edition of this routine are obtainable from City Lights Books at 50c postpaid.”

In the Yage Letters Redux, Oliver Harris discusses this footnote. For example, in the original letter to Ginsberg, Roosevelt after Inauguration is called a skit. The idea of the routine as a literary form had yet to be developed when it was written. The City Lights edition specifically deletes skit and stresses the routine as a form. The italics in the footnote is in the City Lights text and is not my addition. Also reference is made to the Talking Asshole routine. The reason for the change from skit to routine is to exploit the value of the routine as a literary form. The routine is not obscene but valid and praised by critics. Ferlinghetti is protecting himself from prosecution, i.e., infection. Interestingly, Harris does not mention that the City Lights footnote reveals the secret of Naked Lunch: the letters to Ginsberg. By 1963, the role of letter writing in Burroughs’ work was an open secret; it was out of the closet. Or in an opposing view, it was locked in the closet of a footnote.

As Harris states, the footnote in the 1975 City Lights edition cuts the final line of the original footnote. In the third City Lights edition the footnote changed again:

This is Burroughs’ first routine, ‘Roosevelt after Inauguration.’ The form took a life of its own, like the talking asshole in Naked Lunch; subsequent letters to Ginsberg developed much of the material in that volume. ‘Roosevelt After Inauguration’ was deleted from the original edition of The Yage Letters by English printers. The routine was first published in Floating Bear #9 by Leroi Jones. That issue was seized and an obscenity case brought against it when copies were sent to someone in a penal institution. Subsequently the piece appeared in a mimeo edition from Ed Sander’s Fuck You Press, and was published with other short essays by City Lights Books in 1979 as Roosevelt After Inauguration and Other Atrocities.

Like Roosevelt After Inauguration itself, which is not satisfied with its inclusion in The Yage Letters but demanded its own book in 1979, this footnote fought against its quarantine. Like a virus, it mutates, replicates, and spreads.

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Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 1 February 2010.
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