Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
#3: The Fuck You Press APO-33 (1965). An Installment in Jed Birmingham’s series of the The Top 23 Most Interesting Burroughs Collectibles.
Several years ago I drove up to Brooklyn to Jon Beacham‘s studio in order to pick up a mimeograph machine. Jon got it from an engineering professor at a local college who was on the verge of retiring. Leave it to Jon to find just what I needed. Jon is not just a great printer; he is an inspired book scout. He has a detective’s eye for books. His exhibitions at The Hermitage were ahead of their time; he was always a step ahead of the book game and as such he was totally out of touch. Yet touched by genius.
Anyway I triumphantly took the Gestetner 120 home like a hunting trophy. It weighed about the same as an elephant head. Jon also had a nice collection of supplies: stencils, stylus, paper, ink. I was already to jump in and become a fucking mimeographer. Anybody can do it, right? Publishing for the people. Ed Sanders, Jeff Nuttall, da levy. And maybe, just maybe, Jed Birmingham. Oh, to be one of the greats practicing a lost art. Maybe I would even resurrect it to its former glory. I spent about 20 minutes fiddling with the machine and the supplies and proceeded to not only get ink all over the entire basement and over every inch of my body but I also broke the machine. And I learned a valuable lesson. Mimeography, like pimping, ain’t easy. One of the great myths of mimeo is that it was fast and simple. Relatively speaking that is true when compared to publishing a hardcover book with illustrations, but working a mimeo machine is like tinkering around with the rusted body and busted engine of a 1963 Corvette Stingray in your garage. There are hours of trial and error, lots of mistakes, and a fuckload of blood, sweat and tears. But then there is the finished product. Wow!!
After breaking my prized Gestetner 120, I immediately gained a new appreciation for the Fuck You Press APO-33. According to history, this is one of the legendary failures of the Mimeo Revolution. Let Maynard & Miles fill you in on the particulars:
According to Miles a print run of 5,000 copies was projected for this edition. Since mimeo would not print the full width of WSB’s columns before it faded, the columns were typed down the page and a new column was started at the top again, which resulted in the columns changing a bit from WSB’s manuscript. Also the illustrations, done on electrostencil, did not turn out too well and were glued to the finished text at places different from where they were in the original manuscript (one was glued over some text). A copy was sent to WSB and he thought it was a “pasteup dummy,” which disappointed Sanders. Burroughs expressed his nervousness about the column changes, which further disappointed Sanders, making him so embarrassed that he abandoned the project; but the ones he had already collated (Sanders said “maybe as many as ten or twenty”) had been distributed beforehand.
The bibliography does not mention that Peter Orlovsky was entrusted with the gluing and the pasting. Poor Peter was speeding away at a million miles a second at the time, like much of the Lower East Side counterculture, and as you can see from the scans on RealityStudio he made a glorious mess of it. The whole project could only come from the addled mind of a speed freak. Five thousand copies!!! That is just fucking insane. It is like levitating the Pentagon, particularly when you take into consideration all the typing, pasting and collating involved. All parties involved would have had to work around the clock and not sleep for months in order to finish it. But really, who had time to sleep in the Sixties? There was too much art, music and writing to do. Think about this next time you watch Andy Warhol’s Sleep and think it is stupid or boring. Warhol was never stupid or boring. The film is a brilliant commentary on an entire art scene.
After breaking my machine and covering myself in ink — and let’s be honest, drinking a few beers — I felt some solidarity with the impaired Orlovsky. At that moment, the failed APO-33 became near and dear to my heart, even if, due to its rarity, I knew I might never own one myself. Add in the fact that APO-33 encapsulates Burroughs collecting as a whole and you have the makings of the ultimate collectible. Collecting Burroughs is a perversion. The Burroughs collector takes a writer whom most of society considers marginal, criminal, disreputable, evil, and worst of all illegible and exults him to the status of a deity. “All the cops are criminals and all the sinners saints.” Furthermore consider that some collect his cut-ups, writing that even most Burroughs fanatics consider marginal and illegible, writing that Burroughs himself sought to make more respectable through narrative, and then you can see the appeal of APO-33. Collecting Burroughs’ Mimeo Revolution appearances is all about turning topsy-turvy the hallowed concepts of the masterpiece and craftsmanship, which traditionally are the hallmarks of collecting. It is about appreciating the glorious failure. As Jacques Bonnet recounts in his delightful Phantoms of the Bookshelves, a rumination on his 40,000 volume book collection and memento mori on the fading art of book collecting generally, there is a lithograph by Daumier called “The Book Lover in Heaven,” which shows a man thumbing through a little book and explaining to another book lover: “I can’t tell you how happy I am . . . I’ve just found the 1780 Amsterdam edition of Horace for fifty ecus — it’s very rare, because every page is covered with misprints!” This captures exactly the magic of APO-33. It does not belong in an institutional library, like the Burroughs Archive at the NYPL, but in a cabinet of curiosities. It is a freak of publishing, a unicorn’s horn or a mermaid’s tail. Or maybe it should be kept in the closet. About its existence: Don’t ask, don’t tell.
What is crucial and important about the Fuck You APO-33 is that Burroughs rejected it. In addition to the issues described above, Miles writes in Call Me Burroughs, “Ed had also failed to instruct Elaine [Solow, a volunteer typist,] to keep the columns exactly as Burroughs had composed them, and they got changed during her typing because she was using a different typewriter with a different face.” Even in mimeo productions, Burroughs carefully considered typography, layout and design. The rejection proves that Burroughs had very specific ideas about how his work should be presented. This runs contrary to a popular myth about Burroughs, or maybe it is just one of my own making, that Burroughs was insouciant about how he was published. Personally this idea stems from the haphazard nature of the publication of the Olympia Naked Lunch, which as legend would have it came about almost entirely by chance. Of course this is not really true. For example, the novel’s structure at Olympia was in part dictated by how Naked Lunch was published in little magazines, like Chicago Review, up until the summer of 1959. Burroughs deeply cared about his public appearance, in dress as well as in publishing, and so should we. It is important to study and interpret all the forms and formats in which Burroughs’ work appeared, such as those of Naked Lunch. Oliver Harris’ archival research demonstrates a similar importance for the cut-up trilogy and other works. How are the Fuck You, Beach Books, and RealityStudio APO-33 different or related; how do these editions change meanings and receptions; what does each edition say about the history of Burroughs or the history of the book?
The Fuck You APO-33 demonstrates one aspect of Burroughs’ authorial intention: he did not want his work to be chaotic. Despite his thoughts on control in society, in terms of publishing literature, Burroughs could express a rage for order. For example, Burroughs was upset that Jeff Nuttall did not clearly number the issues of My Own Mag, which made ordering the issues difficult. Nuttall began numbering only on Burroughs’ insistence. This should be remembered when reading Issue 4 in which Burroughs publishes a grid-text, “Warning, Warning, Warning, Warning,” that he instructs to be “read any which way.” The paradox laid out right there. Liberties with the text should be taken with caution. In publishing, Burroughs was not a complete anarchist. As such we should pay careful attention to the bibliographic details.
I like to place Burroughs along with Duchamp and Warhol as one of the great artists of the 20th century. The key to Duchamp and Warhol was that they were shameless; they were beyond criticism and public opinion, to which they did not defer but instead shaped or reflected. APO-33 reminds me not so much of the work of Duchamp, but of that of Warhol. Sanders took up the mimeograph machine in the summer of 1962 at precisely the same time Warhol took up the silkscreen. Interestingly, both men would initially focus on Marilyn Monroe. APO-33 with all its imperfections mirrors the misprints and fades of a Warhol silkscreen. da levy would do this intentionally and that is why he is the great artist of mimeography, but APO-33 by means of Orlovsky’s drugged incompetence deserves a place in the Warhol conversation. Warhol courted incompetence and, thus, made masterpieces, particularly in his films. As a director, he did not direct; his actors could not, or would not, act. They just fucked around. The film just rolled until it ran out and the result was pure magic. Making something out of nothing; isn’t that the essence of magic? APO-33 does more, as it is seemingly something less than nothing. Quite simply it looks like shit; for example, the rubber cement stains suggests that Orlovsky actually wiped himself with the pages. Yet this shit is truly the shit when it comes to Burroughs collecting. Orlovsky is like a baby playing with his shit in the summertime. Not a care in the world. APO-33 is fecal and funky, sensual and seminal; it is all about excrement and excess. APO-33 is mimeo as practiced as orgasmic joy and with reckless abandon. APO-33 is a manifesto that screams: Who gives a shit about art; let’s just let go and fucking do it!! That is a true total assault on the culture. Burroughs would only experience this pleasure, this release, late in life in his artwork. Similarly, the late Warhol would piss and cum on canvases.
Like Duchamp and Warhol, Burroughs and Sanders were notorious for being shameless. Yet APO-33 was a source of embarrassment for them both. There is room for some debate on how Sanders really felt about APO-33. The bibliography depicts him as ashamed, but in Call Me Burroughs, Miles states otherwise: “Ed sent a couple over to Burroughs, who at first thought they were some sort of markup or proof copies. When he realized that this was what the book was going to look like he quickly dispatched Brion Gysin to the cigar store on Times Square where Ed worked to inform him that Bill was displeased and was not prepared to let it go out that way. Ed disagreed; he thought it looked beautiful. His feelings were hurt but he kept his mouth shut: ‘Burroughs was Burroughs.'”
If Sanders was not ashamed, he was definitely deferential. If Sanders could fuck over Pound by pirating the last Cantos, he could definitely have flipped off and pissed off Burroughs by issuing APO-33 despite whatever reservations he may have had. Sanders did not. This clearly demonstrates the respect Sanders had for Burroughs. A comparable figure would be Charles Olson. Awe and respect. Pound was also an elder, but also one respected by the Establishment. The opportunity to fuck with the Cantos was to good to pass up. Sanders went all in with his bootleg and forced Pound’s hand in finishing his epic poem. I would have llke to see Sanders defy Burroughs as well. Weak sauce, Ed!!!! But not as weak as Burroughs who could not even do his own dirty work. Sending out Gysin as a hired gun waltzing into Sanders’ cigar store like a Capone gunsel strolling into Dion O’Banion’s flower shop. Frankie Yale working for the Harvard boy. What a pussy!! For a man who defiantly crossed boundaries or even knew no bounds, APO-33 was a limit, a line he would not cross. Shame on Burroughs!!
That said, like Warhol and Duchamp, Burroughs collectors are truly shameless. There is no limit to the lengths such a collector will go to acquire APO-33. As with junk, the collector will crawl through the gutter to get a copy. Yet collecting is not about addiction, go to your shrink and he will tell you that collecting all about taking a shit. Or trying to get your shit together. Collecting APO-33, spending thousands of dollars for a complete piece of shit, is an act of utter depravity. Yet it possesses the strange, untutored beauty of outsider art and adding it to your collection would produce the feeling of ecstasy that comes with degrading yourself. It is collecting as erotism. Bataille would want it in his library.