Blade Runner


Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Blade Runner Photocopy

Blade Runner. Berkeley: Blue Wind Press, 1979.

Philip K. Dick’s copy. The novel is entombed in a clear, crystal clamshell box. In 1990, upon acquisition, the book was photocopied and bound as a reading copy for the owner. This photocopy has since been scanned into various digital formats and stored on various disks and drives. The entire archive of the original and copies is in stored in a safe behind van Meegeren’s Jesus among the Doctors. Location: In the private collection of an undisclosed Japanese businessman.

An annotated book is a doctored text. This can be exploratory surgery to save a book from oblivion, an autopsy to see what makes a book tick, or a botched abortion killing what was once living within its pages. While the annotator is, on one level, a doctor, he is also a medieval scribe. To annotate is to copy. A writer in a Borgesian universe might meticulously create a pornographic version of Don Quixote by rewriting it word for word in the margins of the first edition.

Burroughs’ Blade Runner doctored Alan E. Nourse’s 1974 novel The Bladerunner into a movie treatment. Thereafter Hampton Francher, the screenwriter of the film version of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, discovered Burroughs’ screenplay and, with director Ridley Scott’s urging, paid Burroughs for the right to copy the title. Stare into the blade. What do you see? It runs from A to Z: Aleph to Zahir. The entire universe or the monolith. 

Philip K. Dick’s edition of Burroughs’ Blade Runner contains no underlining or symbolic annotations. Instead, Dick copies, in blue ink, phrases and sentences that arrest his attention. Good artists copy; great artists steal. In Scott’s Blade Runner, the perfect (or is it imperfect?) replicant become nearly human due to a storehouse of (false) memories. By copying Burroughs’ words, Dick makes them his own; he sears them into his memory, but Dick also changes Burroughs’ text forever and writes a new novel — a home movie version. Dick’s emotional life, his reading life, his personal history alter and distort Burroughs’ intended meaning. Yet that meaning died the instant Burroughs put it to paper. Or more accurately, the meaning multiplied endlessly.

Dick’s annotated copy of Blade Runner is a piracy of a Burroughs’ original. But as Nourse’s book suggests, Burroughs’ original is itself a copy. Did a true original ever exist? We are back to Borgesian mirrors and mazes. Can we be anywhere else? Is there any way out? In any case, by the publication of Blade Runner, Burroughs had moved on and created his own bootleg novel, his own novel on piracy: Cities of the Red Night.

Return to the Library of Interzone

Blade Runner Disks
Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 31 October 2012.

One thought on “Blade Runner

  1. About a year after my publishing company, Blue Wind Press [that’s the cover of our 1st edition pictured] published Burroughs’s book BLADE RUNNER, we were contacted by Hollywood film production company “Marble Arch Productions,” re: film rights for the book.

    They already had a lot of film in the can, having started with a script based on WSB’s book, not realizing it had simply been plagiarized without acknowledgement.

    Once they realized that a copyrighted original source existed (to whose author and publisher they were going to have to pay for rights) they abandoned that script and moved on.

    Apparently the next screenplay was some kind of “Frankenstein in Outer Space,” which was then abandoned for Philip K. Dick’s novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP (which became the basis for the film by Ridley Scott — who wasn’t the original director).

    Marble Arch Productions, not realizing that titles cannot be copyrighted, insisted on paying Burroughs for use of his title. And because they did keep that title, people have been forever confused about whether WSB’s book BLADE RUNNER was the source for Ridley Scott’s film.

    Which it was . . . and wasn’t.

    When we moved into this neighborhood in north Berkeley, California, Phil Dick was in fact our neighbor (though we never knew it). In fact we frequented the same bar on Solano Avenue (“The Solano Club” — $2.25 for a whole shaker full of Margaritas).

    It was at a time when Dick was having trouble finding a publisher. If only we had known.

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