The Burroughs Conundrum

Problematizing Criticism

by Edward S. Robinson

On its first publication in 2004, Retaking the Universe marked the dawn of a new era in critical writing on William S. Burroughs. Burroughs had died seven years previous and his voice still echoed around the peripheries of mainstream culture, while his name was synonymous, in certain circles at least, with postmodernism and countercultural cool. The frequency with which Burroughs was cited by writers, artists, musicians, critics and commentators did not obviously correspond with the level of critical attention his writing had received at that point. Of course, mainstream popularity and academic discourse are often entirely separate spheres, but Burroughs wasn’t mainstream per se: moreover, he had long been hailed in some quarters as one of the most innovative writers of the late twentieth century. That the emergence of Burroughs as a writer corresponds with the emergence of postmodernism is by no means purely coincidental, and one could justly claim Burroughs’ work exemplified postmodernism in practice before a theoretical framework had been constructed to accommodate such modes of literature. Yet, despite Fredric Jameson and a handful of other notable theorists citing Burroughs as one of the progenitors of postmodern fiction, few writers on the subject of postmodern literature — or avant-garde literature, for that matter — had taken this citation further and substantiated their observations with detailed critical analysis. Retaking the Universe was appropriately titled: it strove to redress the balance. It served to reclaim the late Beat author’s rightful place on the critical map as a writer who merited academic scrutiny. Moreover, it broke new ground in responding to Burroughs in a way that reflected the nature of his writing and the theoretical difficulties it posed — and tackled these issues head on. 

Where Retaking the Universe differed from anything that had preceded it lay in that it simultaneously presented a diverse range of perspectives on Burroughs’ writing, from a diverse range of writers. While some well-established and eminent experts in the field were, rightly, present, Retaking the Universe saw the emergence of a new wave of Burroughs researchers, who were digging into the complications of his oeuvre from an unprecedented range of theoretical perspectives, each writer possessing a unique voice and, most importantly, unique approach to Burroughs’ output. In this way, Davis Schneiderman and Philip Walsh presented a radical new kind of Burroughs criticism, as was fitting to the author’s own output, and in doing so they were making giant leaps to injecting new life into the field.

Yet the appearance of Retaking the Universe signified more than simply a new approach to Burroughs. To pair a brace of thematically-linked metaphors, it was a watershed. It also opened the floodgates, in a way that could not have been predicted in 2004. It may be difficult to countenance now, but there was a time, not so very long ago, that there was a real paucity of Burroughs-related criticism. While it is not uncommon for authors to only receive recognition posthumously, Burroughs’ case is an interesting and unusual one, not least of all on account of the success he achieved in both commercial and critical terms during his lifetime. Although widely reviewed and a popular interview subject throughout his lengthy career — as evidenced by both Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg’s William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989 (1991) and the gargantuan tome that is Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs 1960-1997 (2002) edited by Sylvère Lotringer — serious in-depth analysis of his work remained scant until well after his death. 

During his literary career, which spanned some five decades, Burroughs was the subject of just three monographs of note: William Burroughs: The Algebra of Need (1977) by Eric Mottram, Robin Lydenberg’s Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs’ Fiction  (1987) and Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William S. Burroughs (1997) by Timothy Murphy, while Jennie Skerl’s 1985 work, simply entitled William S. Burroughs provided a useful oversight and critique of his output to that point. Large portions of the remaining analysis of Burroughs’ work produced both during his lifetime and subsequently are given to his biography, as represented not only by the two main biographies, in the form of Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw (1991) and Barry Miles’ more commercially-orientated El Hombre Invisible (1992), but also in a number of more recent publications, which include This is the Beat Generation by James Campbell (1999), The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963) by Barry Miles (2000) and The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs: Beats in South Texas by Rob Johnson (2006). This focus on the life experience is something common to the Beat Generation more broadly, and it wouldn’t be entirely unjust to suggest that the lives of Ginsberg and Kerouac are of greater interest to many than their literary output. 

Separating the fact from the fiction, the myth from the reality, has long been a challenge for the student of the writers of the Beat Generation, and given the Beats’ propensity for autobiographically inspired fiction, it’s hardly surprising that so much coverage should be given to their eventful lives. But Burroughs always stood apart, on a number of levels. Moreover, as colorful as his life was, and as much as works like Junkie and Queer drew on his experiences, Burroughs was not for the most part an overtly autobiographical writer in the obvious sense, instead preferring to forge an abstract reversionary representation of certain aspects of his life experiences. Moreover, Burroughs strove to remove himself not only as an individual, but also as an author from the writing process.

Burroughs has long and often been cited as a leading exponent of postmodern literature by leading critics in the field, including Fredric Jameson, who demonstrates the diversity of postmodernism by stating that “the works of William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon and Ishmael Reed on one hand, and the French new novel on the other, are to be numbered among the varieties of what can be called postmodernism.”1 As such, the lack of theory-based study into his work is perplexing. Burroughs’ work certainly demonstrates a great many attributes that have become synonymous with postmodern fiction, and Burroughs’ emergence on the literary scene can be seen to correspond with what is broadly agreed to be the dawning of the postmodern age. Meanwhile, J. G. Ballard remarks that Burroughs’ “weird genius was the perfect mirror of his times,” an opinion Jennie Skerl also holds, writing, “decade by decade, Burroughs’s work has been seen as emblematic of his times.”2 This not only presents Burroughs as a writer who evolved considerably during the course of his long career and succeeded in keeping abreast of, or ahead of, the times, but also shows Burroughs as a progenitor of postmodern literature, his work reflecting the dawning of the postmodern world in which much of it was created — not least of all by his incorporation of so many elements of that world within his texts during his pivotal cut-up period. 

Burroughs was highly regarded by his peers: Michael Moorcock called him a writer of “large talent,” and Angela Carter declared him to be “the most radical innovator in fiction since Joyce, and probably of comparable importance.”3 Many other writers also praised Burroughs highly: Ballard considered him to be “the most important writer in the English language since the war,” while Kathy Acker described Burroughs as her “first major influence.”4 Within contemporary literary circles, even during his lifetime, Burroughs’ name was one of the “coolest” names to cite, not to mention one commonly identified as an influence or as an author of remarkable significance. Many critics have also suggested that Burroughs’ influence is immense. R. S. Gill’s proclamation that “Burroughs’s work has greatly influenced many artists, musicians and writers” is posited without providing any examples or evidence of this is not atypical of the critics’ approach to Burroughs’ influence.5 It is unquestionably prevalent, but substantial evidence is sparse. Graham Caveney suggests that “he is a signifier of the terminally hip, a name dropped so frequently that it resurfaces with a (lack of) identity all of its own. He has permeated the very fabric of contemporary culture to such an extent that it is difficult to imagine it without him,” while Barry Miles calls Burroughs “the grandaddy of hip… [whose] influence has exploded way beyond the ethereal realms of the literati into the realms of popular culture.”6

Yet for all of these claims and countless citations, not to mention the two major biographies, critical analysis of Burroughs’ work remained sparse before the turn of the millennium, a point noted by Timothy S. Murphy: 

As the only broadly popular American experimental writer of the post-World War II period, Burroughs’ influence has been vast but difficult to quantify because of the relatively small amount of critical attention that his work has received. However, it is safe to assert that literary postmodernism would have looked quite different without Burroughs’ contributions to its logic of self-reflexivity and paranoid history.7

It is in this way that Burroughs’ enormous influence — qualified or quantified by critics or indeed those who cite him as an influence — can perhaps be seen to emerge as an integral aspect of the author’s significance. In his absorption of external and non-literary elements, Burroughs’ own influences become apparent, and thus through Burroughs it is possible to trace a thoroughly postmodern mode of influence, as engendered by a process of the absorption, assimilation and finally dispersal of disparate sources of reference.

It’s not entirely surprising that throughout his career, Burroughs polarised the critics: his detractors branded his work “obscene”8 “unsatisfying”9 “filth;”10 “tasteless;”11 as something which “gives rise to boredom,”12 and as largely “incomprehensible,”13 while in contrast his advocates commonly proclaimed his extreme talent: Norman Mailer famously claimed Burroughs was “the only American novelist writing today who may conceivably be possessed of genius.”14

Commonly and conflictingly, the virtues cited in Burroughs’ work are those self-same things that his harshest critics cite as the reasons for their objections to him, and these points of controversy are, ultimately, the things which have served to render him such a significant and noteworthy author. Nicholas Lezard suggests that Burroughs’ significance is such that “ignorance of Burroughs leads to an incomplete understanding of the twentieth century,” while Geoff Ward states that his “influence on poets… has been immense,” and calls him “the most influential novelist of the second half of the twentieth century.”15

Writing in 1985, Jennie Skerl observed that Burroughs’ renown largely stems from the interest generated by his breakthrough novel, commenting that Burroughs was “an innovator whose current reputation is largely based on one book, Naked Lunch.16 Tony Tanner, one of the first to offer any serious critical appraisal of Burroughs’ work, needed to defend his position, writing in 1971: “William Burroughs, all too often seen as a peripheral figure mongering his own obscene nightmares and eccentric experiments, in a profound way is an important writer, concerning himself with many of those themes and problems which are central to recent American fiction.”17 Gill describes Burroughs as “a radically rebellious writer” whose novels “dismember and apocalyptically destroy language.”18 Naked Lunch unquestionably broke new ground in literature on many levels, not least of all in terms of its disjointed narrative style and structure, and also in terms of subject matter. Published at a time when “the use of shit and fuck violate[d] a cultural and social taboo,” Burroughs’ use of “offensive” language throughout the book was almost as shocking to some as its subject matter.19 As Karolides, Bald and Sova note, in 1959 it was uncommon for a “literary” work to use “colloquial language to refer to the human body, especially to genitalia” or to strive “for maximum shock effect in… extended descriptions of drug paraphernalia and use and the forced sexual encounters suffered by men, women and boys.”20 Such observations dominate early assessments of Burroughs’ work, and are coupled with a great emphasis on the author’s biography. 

That Burroughs’ work appears to preface postmodern theory should come as little surprise, for as Allen Hibbard notes in the first edition of this very book Retaking the Universe, “Burroughs was way ahead of the theory game. As early as the 1950s… Burroughs grappled head-on with issues that later became central concerns of deconstruction, cultural studies and queer theory.”21 It is, on a certain level, logical that Burroughs’ work should correspond with the theoretical frameworks which have evolved to “explain” such works, given that, as Hibbard again notes,  “Burroughs responded to the same cultural landscape that spurred and shaped so much of contemporary theory.”22 It’s in this context that the influence Burroughs exerts can be seen to correspond with the theories put forward by Michel Foucault. 

Arguing that “influence” is a notion “of too magical a kind to be very amenable to analysis,” when considering “transmission and communication,” and that genre divisions and groupings, such as “science, literature, philosophy, religion, history, fiction, etc.,” are at best problematic, in that these categories can only be applied by “a retrospective hypothesis,” Foucault at first seems to raise more questions than he offers answers. But then, so does Burroughs on many levels, his work problematizing the question of narrative and “the author function” as much as it solves it. However, Foucault also questions “the notions of development and evolution,”23 which, he says:

…make it possible to group a succession of dispersed events, to link them to one and the same organising principle, to subject them to the exemplary power of life… to discover, already at work in each beginning, a principle of coherence and the outline of a future unity, to master time through a perpetually reversible relation between an origin and a term that are never given, but are always at work.24

On an immediate level, then, Foucault’s basic thesis is that the very foundations of literary criticism and literary history are built upon a false premise, namely that of linear development and influence by direct transmission. As such, there is a distinct correlation between Foucault’s theories of history and linearity and Burroughs’, with the latter positing the notion that history was itself a false construct, writing:

We think of the past as being there unchangeable… the past is ours to shape and change at will. Two men talk… if no recording of the conversation is made, it exists only in the memory of the two actors. Suppose I make a recording… and alter and falsify the recording, and play the altered recording back to the two actors. If my alterations had been skilfully and plausibly applied the two actors will remember the altered recording.25 

Significantly, Foucault’s theories also have some degree of relevance regarding Burroughs’ revolutionary approach to “literature,” as he argues that:

…discontinuity is one of those great accidents that create cracks not only in the geology of history, but also in the simple fact of the statement; it emerges in its historical irruption; what we try to examine is the incision it makes, that irreducible — and very often tiny — emergence.26

It’s also important to note that it is highly unusual that works of literature should function in a manner that is so close to the theories devised to scrutinise them, and this clearly adds a layer of difficulty to the analysis of his work. How does one theorize theory? Small wonder many feel intimidated and shy away from attempting to unravel the many layers of Burroughs’ work. But the question remains, if Burroughs’ work is so important and influential why has it been so severely overlooked? Granted, a greater volume of serious academic discourse has become available during the last 15 years, and the last decade in particular, but it remains evident that critics are still struggling to come to terms with Burroughs and his work, and perhaps as a result of this, the majority of the discussions focus on either analysing the meanings of Burroughs’ major texts or trawling over his biographical details. 

Another reason the comparative lack of detailed textual analysis of Burroughs’ output is surprising relates to the attention lavished on the so-called “Beat Generation.” Granted, Burroughs went to considerable lengths to distance himself from the beat “movement” and his bleak, dystopian worldview provided a counterpoint to Ginsberg’s ideology centered around the countercultural collectivism which the hippie movement of the 1960s took as their leitmotif. (Take, for example, Ginsberg’s encouraging people to make peace with their neighbour, and to offer a police officer a flower, with Burroughs’ remark “the only way I’d like to see a policeman given a flower is in a flowerpot from a high window.”27) Nevertheless, his presence alongside and influence upon Ginsberg and Kerouac is integral to the Beat legend. Even in the 1980s, arguably his most commercially fruitful period, Burroughs presented himself as being largely disenfranchised on a personal level and appeared, to a greater or lesser extent, anachronistic in theoretical terms: his ideas concerning space travel in the context of the Star Wars race were certainly at odds with the zeitgeist when he suggested that “man is not looking for space. He’s looking for more time. The space program is simply designed to transport one insoluble temporal impasse somewhere else.”28 From the mouth of an author who had written of galactic wars in the 1960s and who claimed that his purpose was “to write for the space age,” such comments may seem curiously lacking in enthusiasm for mankind’s stepping toward the future. 

Beyond the satirical commentaries of Naked Lunch, in particular his denunciation of capital punishment by notoriously graphic means and his analysis of power relations as represented through “the algebra of need,” neither he nor his texts engaged to a great extent with day-to-day mandated politics, and Burroughs avoided the sloganeering and activism that Ginsberg made his focus at the height of his fame. It is perhaps for this reason that Burroughs can sometimes be perceived as an apolitical writer. Proffering that politicians should “Tell the truth once and for all and shut up forever,” Burroughs wasn’t simply cynical and distrustful of politics and its practitioners, but argued that any political activity was in itself simply another smokscreen:

Political conflicts are merely surface manifestations. If conflicts arise you may be sure that certain powers intend to keep this conflict under operation since they hope to profit from the situation. To concern yourself with surface political conflicts is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, you are charging the cloth. That is what politics is for, to teach you the cloth. Just as the bullfighter teaches the bull, teaches him to follow, obey the cloth.29

But Burroughs was highly political, on a global and cosmic scale. It may be for this reason that it is only comparatively recently that the political aspects of Burroughs’ writing have come to be explored. However, it is only on entering the age of globalization that the relevance of his works has begun to be revealed.

Issues such as free speech and censorship concerned Burroughs and 1960s America, but if the Internet — the most obvious tool and evidence of globalization — was supposed to liberate us, the actuality is very different indeed. As Burroughs claimed, any purported freedom is illusory, a part of the invisible control mechanisms to keep the people passive: likewise the “total freedom” that was mooted as being core to the Internet’s limitless potentials, has ultimately transpired as an instrument of total global control. Yet in contrast to Ginsberg and Kerouac, Burroughs maintained a much more marginal position in political and commercial terms, despite his writing possessing a considerably greater theoretical depth. Burroughs strove to attack “invisible authority” through subliminal tactics, something that Caveney also aligns to the influence the author exerts:

One of the reasons why Burroughs’ books may not be as widely read as his profile suggests is that he himself has not written them. Or not in any conventional manner. Burroughs is an artist who thrives on collaboration… He resists our traditional notion of the autonomous author… His sources range from newspapers to tape-recordings, thus challenging our assumptions about what it means to be literary. He is a disc jockey of the word, sampling and restructuring the languages that society speaks. Small wonder then that his novels can be reified without being read — his work already exists all around us, his material constantly affecting us almost by a kind of osmosis.30

It was Burroughs’ intention to create a body of writing which not only worked in opposition to established conventions regarding the formulation of literature, but also to break the continuity propagated by the canon, the academy, and linear literary ascendancy. This he achieved in many of his books by dispensing with conventional narrative forms, and by introducing random elements beyond his immediate control. And while Burroughs claimed that it was strictly not his intention to produce works that were unreadable or overtly “difficult,” he was keen to produce works that challenged the reader, and core to his output is a tendency to problematise the act of reading, and to challenge established notions of authorship. In keeping with this, the very nature of his disparate output, much of which featured in small underground magazines and through small presses, renders any assessment of his output as a whole and as a single body of work, a problematic process.

By removing himself, as an “author figure,” from the equation in the formulation of his work, and living up to the el hombre invisible tag in more ways than his cultivated physical anonymity, Burroughs leaves only the bare texts for the reader to engage with.31 Moreover, by approaching literary influence in such an hitherto unheard of manner, and being so meticulous in his recording and historicizing of his techniques, Burroughs could be seen not only to have a mode of “influence dispersal” inbuilt and embedded within his works, but also to have purposefully encouraged latter-day receivers of that influence to follow his lead. The point is that Burroughs’ work functions on almost countless levels, and is riven with conflict and contradiction.

Herein lies perhaps the greatest obstacle to the analysis of Burroughs’ work: that during his career his output took so many different forms and broached — as well as pre-empted — so many theoretical perspectives that to attempt to compress his entire output into a single unified framework is as much a false construct as the linear narrative methodologies that Burroughs strove to dismantle through both his cut-up phase and his final trilogy of the 1980s. 

Through the years, critics have not only been compelled to justify their position, but to attempt to reconcile the myriad contradictions of Burroughs and his work — and indeed, reconciling Burroughs himself with his work can be a challenge, before one even begins to consider the disparity between some of the shifting viewpoints across his career. Rather than attempt to impose a false unity on Burroughs’ work, Retaking the Universe embraces those contradictions in order to approach the author’s work from a host of different and disparate angles. None is wrong, but simply reflects the intricacy of the author’s work. Collectively, the essays contained within the book enable the reader to piece together their own Burroughs jigsaw, and to appreciate and unravel those internal contradictions. Postmodern literature makes no apology for its disparities and paradoxes, and Burroughs’ work embodies that ethos wholeheartedly.

The field of Burroughs studies has undergone rapid and immense expansion over the course of the last decade. Moreover, just as Burroughs (and related) criticism has undergone a massive expansion and changed dramatically since 2004, so technology has also continued to develop apace. The Internet has certainly provided a means of bringing Burroughs scholars and fans alike from around the globe together in a way that was hitherto unimaginable, meaning the exchange of ideas is more intense and vigorous than ever before. The way in which research is disseminated has also changed dramatically, with many says and conference papers appearing online. This of course can only be a good thing, even allowing for the downside of so much information being available meaning that standards of output can vary wildly. But what’s crucial is — as Burroughs always maintained — the availability of information. 

With so much research easily accessible in the public domain, the scope of debate has broadened and taken on something of a life of its own. Like language itself, Burroughs studies have mutated and diversified. However, it’s here that a small number of resources have developed reputations for excellence, depth and focus.. RealityStudio has, through the years, come to prominence as the hub for Burroughs and related research of an exceptional standard, on a par with many academic works published via conventional channels. This shouldn’t be entirely surprising given that the site has featured articles by respected academics and contributors who are otherwise experts in the field. It nevertheless remains fair to say that no other single publication to date has achieved quite what Retaking the Universe achieved in terms of its ambitious scope and breadth of analysis. For this reason,  Retaking the Universe — now renewed and revitalised for the digital age, and perfectly coinciding with Burroughs’ centenary — stands as an essential introduction to Burroughs studies, as well as an invaluable source established scholars of Burroughs continue to revisit. 

Endnotes

1. Fredric Jameson. “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” Postmodern Culture, p. 111

2. William Burroughs Obituary by J. G. Ballard, quoted by Graham Caveney. The “Priest,” They Called Him, p. 217. Jennie Skerl. Forward to Retaking The Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization,  p. xi

3. Michael Moorcock, letter to the Times Literary Supplement published 21 November 1963, reproduced in Burroughs at the  Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989, p. 48. Angela Carter. Review of Ah Pook is Here, The Guardian, 10th October 1979, reproduced in Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings. London: Chatto & Windus, 1997, p. 462

4. “Ballard of an Indignant Man.” Interview with J. G. Ballard in the online magazine The Age, 1 November 2003, available at http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/10/29/1067233240703.html [4 April 2005] Ellen G Friedman, “A Conversation with Kathy Acker” contained in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1989, Volume 9.3

5. R. S. Gill. The Fiction of William S. Burroughs: Human Imprisonment and Thought Control, p. 17

6. Graham Caveney. The “Priest” They Called Him: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs, p. 15. Barry Miles, El Hombre Invisible, notes on dust jacket

7. From the Burroughs entry by Timothy S. Murphy in “The Literary Encyclopaedia” available at http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=662, [6 February 2005]

8. Reviewer’s response to letters to the editor published in the Times Literary Supplement 21 November 1963, letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 28 November 1963, reproduced in Burroughs at the  Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989, Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern  Illinois University Press, 1991, p. 49 Such an accusation should hardly be taken as the greatest of insults, however, as Burroughs himself wrote that Naked Lunch is “necessarily brutal, obscene and disgusting.” (Naked Lunch, pp. 11-12)

9. David Lodge. “Objections to William Burroughs.” Originally published in Critically Quarterly 8 (Autumn 1966) pp. 203-12, reproduced in Burroughs at the  Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989, pp. 75-84

10. Edith Sitwell, in her letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 28 November 1963, reproduced in Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989, p. 49

11. Victor Golancz, in his letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 28 November 1963, reproduced in Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989, p. 49

12. Mary McCarthy. “Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.” Originally published in New York Review of Books, 1.1 963, pp. 4-5, reproduced in  Burroughs  at the  Front: Critical Reception 1959-1989, p. 36

13. Jennie Skerl. Forward to Retaking The Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization, p. xi

14. Barry Miles. El Hombre Invisible. London: Virgin Books, 1992, p. 15

15. Nicholas Lezard. “Angry Old Man” review of Last Words. The Guardian, Saturday 16 June 2001. Geoff Ward, “The Mutations of William Burroughs,” contained in An Introduction to Contemporary Fiction, ed. Rod Mengham, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999, p. 120

16. Jennie Skerl. William S. Burroughs. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985, preface.

17. Tony Tanner. City of Words: A Study of American Fiction in the Mid-Twentieth Century. London: Jonathan Cape, 1971, p. 109

18. R. S. Gill. The Fiction of William S. Burroughs: Human Imprisonment and Thought Control. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2004, p. 7

19. Judge Julius J. Hoffman, writing in reference to passages of Naked Lunch which appeared in Big Table prior to the novel’s American publication in June 1960, quoted by Ted Morgan in Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs, p. 298

20. Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald & Dawn B. Sova: 100 Banned Books: Censorship Histories  of World Literature. New York: Checkmark Books, 1999, p. 394

21. Allen Hibbard. “Shift Coordinate Points: William S. Burroughs and Contemporary Theory.”  Retaking The Universe, p. 13

22. Ibid.,  p. 13

23. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 1972, p. 24

24. Ibid., p. 24

25. William S. Burroughs and Daniel Odier, The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (1974). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1989, p. 35.

26. Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 31. 

27. Interview with William Burroughs by Jeff Shiro, quoted by Barry Miles, El Hombre Invisible (London:  Virgin Books, 1992), p. 13.

28. “Women Are a Biological Mistake” — interview with Regina Weinreich, 1981, reproduced in  Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs 1960-1997, ed. Sylvère Lotringer (Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext(e) 2001), p. 516.

29. Interview with William S. Burroughs by Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, 1961, reproduced in  Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs 1960-1997, p. 42

30. Graham Caveney: The “Priest” They Called Him, p. 18

31. Burroughs was often referred to as El Hombre Invisible on account of his ability to become almost unidentifiable. His trademark attire, which consisted of a grey suit, thick-rimmed spectacles and a trilby  hat, gave him the appearance of a businessman (“reminds you of your bank manager”), and was not easily reconcilable with his notorious lifestyle. This is detailed in Barry Miles’ biography,  appropriately titled El Hombre Invisible, Virgin Books, 1992. “The purpose of the suit was always anonymity,” Miles remarks on p. 2.

Written by Edward S. Robinson and published by RealityStudio on 8 March 2014.

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