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Tags: Laura Lee Burroughs
, William Burroughs
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Her signature is interesting (photo where she’s holding the bottle in her lap.) The B is very like her son’s, and his closing hs was almost the same. A later signature of his I have also shows the same gap at the end between the g and hs. Very similar face there, as well (click to look at the photo in full, make a hole with your hand to eliminate everything – hair included – but the face, and take a one-eyed look at a young WSB with red lips!)
Always been a sucker for peripheral Burroughs trivia. Two personal offerings: my father remembers Ian Somerville – vaguely – from school, and Terry Wilson once graciously passed on the same benign curse he’d received from Burroughs about Dreams of Green Base (publication may present considerable difficulties) to some (early, probably dreadful) oneiricist cutups I showed him.
I am thoroughly enjoying your thoughtful, sensitive and very humorous review of this fascinating set of 20th Century publications.
The note about Shanghai and JG Ballard is quite extraordinary. It reminded me that I was recently informed that my own mother may have been in contact with Brion Gysin’s mother. Apparently, she may have worked in Vancouver at St. Paul’s Hospital as a Speech Therapist while my mother became the first Dietician hired at St. Paul’s – 1935. Some day, I may track down the facts of this notion.
When I found a full-set of the three volumes in 1975, I also gave them a close read and noted a few (amazing) linguistic similarities with some of the syntax and sentence construction found in her famous son’s writing.
As for “…William should have been well aware of his mother’s publication…”
According to William, my gift of the three volumes to him in 1978 took him quite by surprise as he told me he had never seen them before. At the time, this implied to me that he had no prior knowledge of them. After all, he was 26 years old when she wrote the first one and rather enmeshed in life in NYC and Chicago during those years.
But, he was delighted to have been given a set to read and I have been delighted to read your review.
Thank you very much for the compliments, Gary. That’s very strange that WSB never knew of his mother’s publications. When he said to you that he had never seen them before, maybe he knew of their publication – I find it almost impossible to believe that he didn’t – but he had never actually SEEN them because you had to send away for them. And he would hardly have been the sort of person to send away to Coke for them. I guess we’ll never know. I’m sure he was fascinated to read them. And a sentence or three in the books could DEFINITELY have been written by him. It’s uncanny.
Interesting note on Brion Gysin’s mother. Our lives sometimes touch and pass through history in odd ways, eh? Makes us look at our mothers with renewed respect!
Thanks again, glad you enjoyed the piece as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Soundalike random text sample example (from P3 of the first volume):
“One Calla plus three leaves plus one Anthurium equals happiness. It might just as well equal chaos. The ability to express happiness in any medium cannot be reduced to an equation.”
Doesn’t that just sound like something WSB would or could have written, especially that last line? A dry factual statement leaving no room for further debate. I wonder if WSB ever was taught anything about writing by LLB, or picked up certain stylistic elements of his personality, and thus his writing, from her.
We’ll never know.
It most definitely does “just sound like something WSB would or could have written, especially that last line?” And I am ever so grateful for the corroboration you have provided to my own experience of her texts. (I’ve been waiting almost 35 years for a discussion with someone about this!)
If I consider ‘nurture’ as a force flowing freely from Mothers towards their offspring, I reckon that William was very definitely taught something about the value of writing and literature by Laura.
As for “…picked up certain stylistic elements of his personality, and thus his writing, from her…” I am moved to consider the ‘nature’ force of genetics flowing from parent(s) to child and finding myself believing that YES, this is entirely possible, even probable.
Boys! (All you boys out there), I think we should always remember, we’re the product of our Mothers.
35 YEARS? You could have written the article yourself, Gary, and saved a lot of heartache and waiting!
I’m only kidding. It’s very odd. When I was reading those books, and they can be read quickly so certain stylistic tics and tremors and themes come through very clearly and are easy to remember, I got weird moments of deja vu when I came across lines like the one above.
If LLB valued books and reading and writing, as she clearly did, she must have passed that word-love on down to her favorite son; after all, Mort was his dad’s favorite, so she would have her own wee darling. And those books are the work of an accomplished writer, not just some word-dabbling dilettante. She must have practiced a lot to get as good as she did. So maybe WSB read some of her stuff and retained it, consciously or otherwise. I wonder how she came to be an authority in flower arranging, and how Coke came to know of her. Wonder if Ivy Lee had a hand in helping her out there.
As I keep saying, we’ll never know the answers to some of these questions, but it’s interesting to think through and construct possible hypotheses about. I wonder what WSB thought himself when he read the works, thanks to you. Now THAT would have been interesting to know, if he had made the same connections we have here. Maybe not. A writer is often the poorest judge of his own work, and if WSB was so close to his mother he may not have been able to see their similarities. But I’ll bet he appreciated the artistry and clean lines involved in their writing.
And we are DEFINITELY (literally) the product of our mothers.
Now that most, if not all of the key parties have passed on and are therefore unable to litigate, this bit of trivia may be of interest, given the content of the exchanges taking place between Graham and myself about these Laura Lee Burroughs books.
In the early mid-1970s, after receiving copies of “A Descriptive Catalogue Of The William S. Burroughs Archive,” from Richard Aaron of AM HERE BOOKS, I became more than obsessed with several of the photographs of WSB reproduced in that book.
I designed a suite of silk screen prints based on the photos, – Gysin’s photos for the most part, if not all.
I wrote to Richard Aaron in the hope of getting copyright clearance to proceed with my mad plans.
Richard generously gave me the sought after permission and also sent to me an actual photo of the reproduction on the pageÂ immediately prior to page one of the Catalogue. An interesting and lengthy correspondence then developed between Richard Aaron and myself.
Life went on.
Then, in 1975, I found the LLB Flower Arranging books in a junk/second-hand store.
I became enchanted with the picture of Laura, – I forget which volume – showing her in a beautiful dress/gown(?), primly seated on the settee behind the glass coffee table and the flower arrangement, holding a frosty bottle of Coca Cola in her aristocratic hands.
I decided to somehow include this image in my suite of silk screen prints and mentioned this idea in a letter to Richard Aaron, including a colour xerox of the image of the page from the flower arranging book.
Richard Aaron swiftly replied, advising me to forego any such plan for the picture of Laura in my project, as William was “extremely sensitive” and, if memory serves, “protective” about his mother.
Needless to say to some, I dropped the Laura picture idea from the project immediately.
Thank you for your interesting reminisces, Gary. They all help flesh out LLB and her relationship to her son, and what he thought of her. The picture of her on the settee is from Volume 3, and it’s a good and revealing snap. I must admit, talking like this makes me wonder about LLB and want to know even more about her. Maybe that’s something I will get around to sometime. We’ll see.
Interesting what a random article can throw up, eh?
Dear Graham, I came upon the notes from Gary Lee Nova and was pleased to see that he is still about. I still carry his “Small Electrical Storm In Element County” – thought what he was doing back then was exquisite and hope he is doing well. I’d be glad to hear from him. I continue selling books as always -many thousands of books listed on Abe in my Am Here Books listings. Love to all, Richard
Thank you so much for this and the references page as well. I am currently writing a psychoanalytic account of Burroughs’ life and writing that will become part of my dissertation at SUNY Buffalo, where I am attending this fall as a 1st year PhD student. This article was very helpful in rounding out a few details of Burroughs’ psychical life involving his relationship with Laura.
Thank you Jamie. I think I speak for Supervert as well when I say that you can feel free to quote this in your dissertation if you want – just give us a mention and send us a copy! I personally would be fascinated by a psychoanalytic account of WSB’s life, though I get the feeling that’s an incredibly difficult job to undertake. Good luck with that!
Thanks Graham, I would be glad to. I’m writing an article on Burroughs that will hopefully be published sometime early next year. My teacher/mentor is in the process of looking for a publisher for me and a group of other students doing psychoanalytic stuff at the moment. But I’d be glad to send you a copy, official or unofficial when it comes out. Also: would you happen to know of any way to get ahold of James Grauerholz? He would be an excellent resource for this project, as well.
Also, be advised that the essay/article will be a bit thick with psychoanalytic jargon (lots of stuff about melancholic preservations and anal sadism). But I would be interested in writing a more accessible version of the essay for this website. Sound good?
Sounds good to me. You can always contact us through this site when it gets done with. I’ll let Supervert tell you if he’s interested in an accessible version of the perversion verse you’re writing or not. As for psychoanalytic jargon, well, don’t sweat it, I ain’t a dummy, I can figure it out. Melancholic preservations and anal sadism are a coupla my fave pathology paths! And if you’re looking for a next pathology study after WSB, might I recommend Eminem? His new album is, after all, a psychiatrist’s wet dream…talk about an insane mother fixation, shit…