Electronic Revolution

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William S. Burroughs

(Expanded Media Editions, 1971)


In the beginning was the word and the word was god and has remained one of the mysteries ever since. The word was God and the word was flesh we are told. In the beginning of what exactly was this beginning word? In the beginning of WRITTEN history. It is generally assumed that spoken word came before the written word. I suggest that the spoken word as we know it came after the written word. In the beginning was the word and the word was God and the word was flesh … human flesh … In the beginning of WRITING. Animals talk and convey information but they do not write. They cannot make information available to future generations or to animals outside the range of their communication system. This is the crucial distinction between men and other animals. WRITING. Korzybski, who developed the concept of General Semantics, the meaning of meaning, has pointed out this human distinction and described man as ‘the time binding animal’. He can make information to other men over a length of time through writing. Animals talk. They dont write. Now a wise old rat may know a lot about traps and poison but he cannot write a text book on DEATH TRAPS IN YOUR WAREHOUSE for the Reader’s Digest with tactics for ganging up on digs and ferrets and taking care of wise guys who stuff steel wool up our holes. It is doubtful if the spoke word would have ever evolved beyond the animal stage without the written word. The written word ist inferential in HUMAN speech. It would not occur to our wise old rat to assemble the young rats and pass his knowledge along in an aural tradition BECAUSE THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF TIME BINDING COULD NOT OCCUR WITHOUT THE WRITTEN WORD. The written word is of course a symbol for something and in the case of hieroglyphic language writing like Egyptian it may be a symbol for itself that is a picture of what it represents. This is not true of an alphabet language like English. The word leg has no pictorial resemblance to a leg. It refers to the SPOKEN word leg. so we may forget that a written word IS AN IMAGE and that written words are images in sequence that is to say MOVING PICTURES. So any hieroglyphic sequence gives us an immediate working definition for spoken words. Spoken words are verbal units that refer to this pictorial sequence. And what then is the written word? My basis theory is that the written word was literally a virus that made spoken word possible. The word has not been recognized as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host…(This symbiotic relationship is now breaking down for reasons I will suggest later.)

I quote from MECHANISMS OF VIRUS INFECTION edited by Mr. Wilson Smith, a scientist who really thinks about his subject instead of merely correlating data. He thinks, that is, about the ultimate intentions of the virus organism. In an article entitled VIRUS ADAPTIBILITY AND HOST RESISTANCE by G. Belyavin, speculations as to the biologic goal of the virus species are enlarged … ‘Viruses are obligatory cellular parasites and are thus wholly dependant upon the integrity of the cellular systems they parasitize for their survival in an active state. It is something of a paradox that many viruses ultimately destroy the cells in which they are living…”

And I may add the environment necessary for any cellular structure they could parasitize to survive. Is the virus then simply a time bomb left on this planet to be activated by remote control? An extermination program in fact? In its path from full virulence to its ultimate goal of symbiosis will any human creature survive? Is the white race, which would seem to be more under virus control than the black yellow and brown races, giving any indication of workable symbiosis?

‘Taking the virus eye view, the ideal situation would appear to be one in which the virus replicates in cells without in any way disturbing their normal metabolism.’

This has been suggested as the ideal biological situation toward which all viruses are slowly evolving…’

Would you offer violence to a well intentioned virus on its slow road to symbiosis?

‘It is worth noting that if a virus were to attain a state of wholly benign equilibrium with its host cell it is unlikely that its presence would be readily detected OR THAT IT WOULD NECESSARILY BE RECOGNIZED AS A VIRUS. I suggest that the word is just such a virus. Doktor Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz has put forth an interesting theory as to the origins and history of this word virus. He postulates that the word was a virus of what he calls BIOLOGIC MUTATION effecting the biologic change in its host which was then genetically conveyed. One reason that apes cant talk is because the structure of their inner throats is simply not designed to formulate words. He postulates that alteration in inner throat structure were occasioned by virus illness … And not occasion … This illness may well have had a high rate of mortality but some female apes must have survived to give birth to the wunder kindern. The illness perhaps assumed a more malignant form in the male because of his more developed and rigid muscular structure causing death through strangulation and vertebral fracture. Since the virus in both male and female precipitates sexual frenzy through irritation of sex centers in the brain the males impregnated the females in their death spasms and the altered throat structured was genetically conveyed. Having effected alterations in the host’s structure that resulted in a new species specially designed to accomodate the virus the virus can now replicate without disturbing the metabolism and without being recognized a virus. A symbiotic relationship has now been established and the virus is now built into the host which sees the virus as a useful part of itself. This successful virus can now sneer at gangster viruses like small pox and turn them in to The Pasteur Institute. Ach jungen what a scene is here … the apes are moulting fur steaming off them females whimpering and slobbering over dying males like cows with aftosa and so a stink musky sweet rotten metal stink of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden…

The creation of Adam, the Garden of Eden, Adam’s fainting spell during which God made Eva from his body, the forbidden fruit which was of course knowledge of the whole stinking thing and might be termed the first Watergate scandal, all slots neatly into Doc Steinplatz’s theory. And this was a white myth. This leads to the supposition that the word virus assumed a specially malignant and lethal form in the white race. What then accounts for this special malignance of the white word virus? Most likely a virus mutation occasioned by radioactivity .All animal and insect experiments so far carried out indicate that mutations resulting from radiation are unfavorable that is not conductive to survival. These experiments relate to the effects of radiation on autonomous creatures. What about the effects of radiation on viruses? Are there not perhaps some so classified and secret experiments hiding behind national security? Virus mutations occasioned by radiation may be quite favorable for the virus. And such a virus might well violate the equilibrium with the host cell. So now with the tape recorders of Watergate and the fall out from atomic testing the virus stirs uneasy in all your white throats. It was a killer virus once. It could become a killer virus again and rage through cities of the world like a topping forest fire.

“It is the beginning of the end.” That was the reaction of a science attache’ at one of Washington’s major embassies to reports that a synthetic gene particle had been produced in the laboratory …”Any small country can now make a virus for which there is no cure. It would only take a small laboratory. Any small country with good biochemists could do it.”

And presumeably any big country could do it quicker and better.

Electronic Revolution was first published in August 1971 by Expanded Media Editions in Göttingen, Germany. This first edition contained a German translation by Carl Wiessner followed by the English text. It was printed in an edition of 1,000 copies. (Maynard & Miles D27)

Several months later, in October 1971, Blackmoor Head Press published another edition in London. This version contained the English text and a French translation by Jean Chopin. It was printed in an edition of 500. (Maynard & Miles A21)

This excerpt appears courtesy of the publisher Sans Soleil, which holds the English and German rights to the text. You can purchase this or a number of other interesting works by Burroughs at Sans Soleil’s web site.

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