Time and China

Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Time, November 30, 1962In the November 30, 1962 edition of Time, there is a short article in the Press section entitled “Bad Reader = Bad Papers,” which summarizes the impressions of Lester Markel, editor of the Sunday Magazine for the New York Times, on the state of journalism. Markel’s article, “The Real Sins of the Press,” appeared in Harper’s, and it demonstrates that the crisis in the newspaper industry is nothing new: “Too many American newspapers are media of entertainment rather than of information”; newspapers have “lost much prestige as leaders of public opinion”; and “bad newspapers could not exist without bad readers.” Leaders of the mainstream press felt that their grip on the minds of the American public was slipping. Yet maybe not — the same Press section reports on the media acquisitions of Philip Graham, owner of The Washington Post, Newsweek, as well as a stakeholder in a news service, who was looking for “another TV station or two — and maybe a pulp mill.” The consolidation of the media industry was in full swing. The editors of Time conclude this section by kicking The Daily Worker, a Communist paper and voice of opposition to Henry Luce’s American Century, while it was down: “The Worker is a failure, a Red newspaper that is printed but not read.” These three articles in Time demonstrate that in the 1950s and 1960s the mainstream press and corporate publishing were in transition, attempting to strengthen their hold on the American public and feeling vulnerable to subversion. In an arena that was consolidating and silencing dissident voices, particularly those on the Left, an alternative publishing community needed to be developed and the presses of the Mimeo Revolution provided that service.

Interestingly, William Burroughs used this issue of Time as the shell for his cut-up masterpiece Time, published by Ted Berrigan’s legendary C Press in 1965. The main reason for choosing this particular issue was, no doubt, the hatchet job performed on Naked Lunch in the Books section. The anonymous review, “King of the YADS,” was not only negative towards the book but full of misinformation about Burroughs himself. All the myths were presented: William Tell, the vast Burroughs fortune, Burroughs’ Van Gogh routine. Like writers for the Daily Worker, Burroughs was a dissenting voice and thus had to be silenced.

Asked in an interview (published by Paris Review in 1965) by Conrad Knickerbocker if he admired Henry Luce, Burroughs responded:

I don’t admire him at all. He has set up one of the greatest word and image banks in the world. I mean, there are thousands of photos, thousands of words about anything and everything, all in his files. All the best pictures go into the files. Of course, they’re reduced to micro-photos now. I’ve been interested in Mayan systems, which was a control calendar You see, that calendar postulated really how everyone should feel at a given time, with lucky days, unlucky days etcetera. And I feel that Luce’s system is comparable to that. It is a control system. It has nothing to do with reporting. Time, Life, Fortune is some sort of police organization.

William S. Burroughs, Time, C Press, 1965Interestingly, on the recto opposite the review of Naked Lunch, there is a full-page ad for Boeing with photographs of futuristic military hardware. This juxtaposition supports Burroughs’ belief that the “Luce system” was “some sort of police organization”: a Cold War media empire that was in league with the United States’ military-industrial complex. In opposition, C Press published Burroughs’ investigation of opium, Red China, the Yellow Peril and Yellow journalism, India, The Cold War, and international drug policy. This classic of mimeo muckraking is one of the high points of Burroughs’ use of the cut-up technique. If the editors of Luce’s Time were going to wield their hatchets, Burroughs would retaliate with his scissors.

Besides the negative review, Burroughs selected the November 30, 1962 issue because its cover story, like numerous others of the period, confirmed Burroughs’ belief that the editors of Time-Life manipulated current events in support of Western Cold War foreign policy. “India’s Lost Illusions” reports on the looming border war between India and Communist China that threatened to explode into a global conflict. On the surface, Mao’s head hovers like a nuclear cloud, yet, for me, it also floats like a puff of opium. The opening paragraph of Time’s cover story, “Never Again the Same,” reads in part: “Chinese troops swept down from the towering Himalayas and were poised at the edge of the fertile plains of Assam, whose jute and tea plantations account for one-fourth of India’s export trade.” The C Press cover collage takes half of the “Lost Illusions” cover of 1962 and joins it to an image of a man looking over a sea or landscape. For me it evokes a landscape, specifically, the fertile plains of Assam. What the Time reporters carefully filter out of their opening paragraph was that these fertile plains historically produced not only jute and tea but also opium poppies. Appropriately, the C Press Time includes an ad about filtering and Burroughs writes, “India’s Lost Illusions told unknown factor.”

Nehru’s predecessor and mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, ran a campaign against opium in Assam in 1921 around the time Gandhi was invested with executive power on behalf of the Indian National Congress. About the opium industry, Gandhi stated, “It will be no defence to urge that the vice has existed in India from time immemorial. No-one organized the vice, as the present government has, for the purposes of revenue.” The “present government” was the fading British Empire, which organized the opium industry in India as a means to penetrate Chinese economic markets in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The British lacked an import that the Chinese wanted or needed on a large scale, so the East India Company flooded China, which had a long cultural history involving opium, with an Indian grown supply, which tipped the economic scales in favor of the British Empire and wrecked havoc on Chinese culture. In 1832, the opium crop, such as that cultivated in Assam, accounted for a sixth of the gross national product of British India. Around the same period, roughly 1% of the Chinese population was addicted (about four million people), but in some areas like Kwangtung and Fukien — provinces where smuggling occurred and the Chinese interacted with foreigners — ninety percent of the adult population was addicted. In 1882, the sale of opium accounted for one-sixth of the revenue of British-controlled Hong Kong. It can and has been argued that the British Century (the 19th) was built on this opium trade.

If the British were responsible for introducing the international opium trade to China, the Chinese paid it forward by passing it on to the United States. From its founding, the United States struggled with its addictions: to alcohol, to tobacco, and, in the form of patent medicines, to opium. But it was the Chinese who introduced Americans to the casual use of opium smoking for the purposes of pleasure. As the American West opened up, Chinese immigrants flooded the country as a source of cheap labor to support the Gold Rush and to build the railroads. In cities like San Francisco, opium dens soon followed. The first white man to smoke opium in the United States is said to have been a gambler named Clendenyn in an opium den in San Francisco in 1868. Drug hysteria quickly circulated. A San Francisco doctor, Winslow Anderson, reported on the “sickening sight of young white girls from sixteen to twenty years of age lying half undressed on the floor or couches, smoking with their lovers. Men and women, Chinese and white people, mix in Chinatown smoking houses.” This was one of the first associations of race, sex, and drugs in what would become standard operating procedure in drug propaganda. In 1875, San Francisco passed an ordinance forbidding the smoking of opium, the possession of opium or drug paraphernalia, and the organizing of an opium den. The City by the Bay became the first US metropolis to treat the addict, not the supplier, as a criminal. American drug policy was born.

The C Press Time includes one cut-up relating to World War I. In the text, Burroughs had inserted lyrics from “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Another popular poem of the day was Lt. Col. John McCrae’s “”In Flanders Fields,” which opens “In Flanders Fields where poppies blow.” Burroughs knew the Great War marked a shift in the history of opium in the United States. With the invention of the hypodermic needle and the discovery of heroin, opium smoking in Chinese dens faded as a cultural threat. In addition, the pre-War junkie landscape Burroughs immortalized in Naked Lunch was endangered territory: the rural drugstores, the addicted doctors and old spinsters, the Chinese laundries, the seedy rooming houses run by Mrs. Murphys. “No Glot … C’lom Fliday” was becoming an echo from a bygone era. The modern age of the addict was emerging. Soon after World War I, the present-day War on Drugs began, which happened to coincide with the first Red Scares of 1919 and 1920. With the United States positioned as a major power abroad, the time was ripe for the US to get its own house in order. Drug hysteria, racism, and Red scares served that purpose. William Randolph Hearst and the fledgling mass media industry were at the forefront of this process. It could be argued that the modern media industry, such as the Time-Life control system that Burroughs so despised, arose out of the sensationalistic news coverage lavished on the issues of drugs and the Chinese. Yellow journalism grew out of the Yellow Peril and the main practitioners of such media practices were the Hearst papers, like The San Francisco Examiner. The reason for Burroughs’ fascination with William Randolph Hearst becomes clear. Characters modeled on Hearst appear throughout his work, particularly in The Dead Star, Ah Pook is Here, and The Unspeakable Mr. Hart.

William S. Burroughs, Cut-Up featuring Annie Laurie, from Time, C Press, 1965Another tune, “Annie Laurie,” floats through the pages of the C Press Time. It is an old Scottish love song based on a poem by William Douglas. In the context of the C Press Time, Annie Laurie is linked to newspapers: “ir paper on the city Fresh southerly winds st- ‘The Boy’s Magazine’? Mister.’ ‘Never called retreat, Annie Laurie?’ in the last review: the old files new stand — freckles folded away in cold on the thin boy with porch falling leaves sun from an old calendar back pieces faded sepia smile page 3 column I./” The old files, new stand, the page and column number, and the calendar reference control systems, like the Mayan Calendar and the Luce media empire. As Burroughs no doubt was aware, Annie Laurie was the pseudonym of Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils, who wrote as Winifred Black for the Hearst syndicate and as Annie Laurie for the San Francisco Examiner. In the early 1920s, Hearst set his sights on the San Francisco drug problem and assigned Black to write the articles. She wrote over 100 articles as Winifred Black and Annie Laurie on the dope menace including: “Unseen and Insidious, Drug Habit Creeps In,” “60 Percent of All Convicts Are Addicts,” “Danger in Parole: Weak-kneed Judges at Fault,” “Winifred Black Declares Dope Parley Farce,” “Drug Ring Havoc,” “U.S. Drug Slave Nation Says Authority,” “Paradise Alley is Fetid Hell-Hole of Lost Souls.” Black and others of her ilk, the so-called Sob Sisters, wrote accounts full of Yellow Perils, young girls in trouble, drug-crazed murderers, threats of miscegenation, and decreased vitality coupled with increase immorality. In 1935, Time Magazine printed an obituary on Black depicting her as a legendary reporter and a respected muckraker.

In 1928, Black wrote a classic in drug propaganda and misinformation, Dope: The Story of the Living Dead. The enemies in Hearst’s and Black’s drug war were clear: “Don’t make any mistake about it — there’s a dope peddler in your neighborhood — a Mexican, a Japanese, a Chinese, a negro.” She writes of drug addiction, “You are back again in the dark and the dirt and the rags, with a black man on one side of you, stretched on the same couch and a yellow man too.” Black labeled drug addiction as “Creeping Johnny” and compared it to malaria. It is no coincidence that drug addiction was presented as a yellow fever. The name Johnny coupled with a nationality was used in British slang to refer to any foreigner. Such sensationalistic stories on heroin, as well as cocaine and marijuana, became primary evidence in support for increased drug legislation and a beefed-up drug enforcement bureaucracy as championed by Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The Marijuana laws of 1937 are a case in point.  

William S. Burroughs, Time, C Press, 1965Leafing through old issues of Time, it is clear that Luce’s publications were mouthpieces for American Cold War policy, just as The Daily Worker was for Communist ideology. After Mao took control of China in 1949, the mainstream press’ anti-Communist hysteria kicked up a notch. The threat of Red China was a major topic for Time. The C Press edition of Time inserts a Time article on Mao within its pages and then Burroughs surrounds that text with cut-ups in order to quarantine and provide an antidote to Time’s demonization of Red China, which Burroughs calls “the mewling thrilling Tan Dynasty hysteria utter babble and ambush..” It should be noted that, as Burroughs makes clear in interviews, he is not a Marxist (nor a Maoist) but instead sees through the hypocritical and manipulative nature of United States’ Cold War ideology as well as both Red China’s and the Soviet Union’s propaganda. For Burroughs, the articles in Time merely show one fascist state attacking another through the power of the press. 

Interestingly, the rise of Red China corresponded with the growth of the heroin trade in the United States. In the mainstream press, this influx of heroin was quickly linked to a Red Chinese conspiracy designed to weaken the morals and sap the physical strength of the American public. For Burroughs such stories merely merged Yellow Peril with Red Scare. It was the same old song and dance to the tune of “Annie Laurie.” In Time, Burroughs writes, “China, remember ‘Annie Laurie’ spluttering burning blood here distant stump an arm marks the spot X.” In a roundtable discussion on drugs attended by Harry Anslinger and published in the February 1970 issue of Playboy, Burroughs states his case:

The present hysteria on the subject of drugs has been fomented by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, local narcotics agencies and the sensationalism of the press. Drug control is a thin pretext, and getting thinner, to increase police powers and to brand dissent as criminal. The pretense of looking for narcotics gives the authorities the right to search any person or premises at any time, and the police are continually lobbying for more anti-narcotics laws and stiffer penalties. Many of the laws passed under this pressure are very dangerous to our so-called freedom. In some states, for instance, it is a crime to be an addict. Penalizing a state of being, apart from any proven illegal act, sets a precedent that could be extended to other categories of “offender” including anyone opposed to official policies. To classify all opposition as criminal is, of course, a simple device by with a fascist regime takes over a country.

It should be made clear that Red China during the period of the 1950s and 1960s was extremely brutal and repressive. Mao ravaged and terrorized the Chinese and China’s environment. In typically brutal fashion, Mao eradicated the drug problem in China, severely regulated drug exports and imports, and signed the 1953 UN protocol in which opium producing countries agreed not to sell on the international market. In fact the cultivation of opium poppies was banned by Mao. Mao and Red China were clearly not supplying the United States with heroin. So where was the heroin coming from? The Golden Triangle, particularly Burma, it turns out. One of the foremost drug suppliers out of this region was not the Red Chinese, but exiled members of Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT army. In an effort to raise money for the purchase of arms needed to invade Red China, the KMT became heavily involved in the heroin trade and created an independent government within the borders of Burma. One of the KMT’s primary allies in building this illicit network was the CIA, which supported the KMT’s drug enterprise, either directly or indirectly, through Air America, arms, and military advisors. The CIA viewed a strong KMT as a necessary evil in the war against Communist China. It would be the same old song and dance in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam as the CIA backed anti-Communist para-military groups in the drug trade. The genesis of the Golden Triangle in the 1950s was not the work of the Red Chinese but the good old Red, White, and Blue. When questioned on who was responsible for the current American drug situation in 1961 (in The Journal for the Protection of All Beings), Burroughs states, “Old Army game: ‘I act under orders.'”

The idea that the United States was leading cause of its own heroin problems applies to other drugs as well. The November 30, 1962 issue of Time includes an article entitled “The Blood Business,” which dealt with the use of blood transfusions to cure various maladies. The article details the struggles of a Wisconsin housewife to lose weight. “The doctors were fed up with the 286-lb woman patient: they were sure that she was cheating on the strict diet they had prescribed.” As APO-33 demonstrates, doctors’ prescriptions included massive quantities of amphetamines. The image of the housewife attacked by her appliances in Naked Lunch comes to mind. Perhaps she was suffering from amphetamine psychosis. Not surprisingly the section on the overweight housewife in Time is surrounded by a perfume ad and a full page ad for Chivas Regal scotch. In a queer way, the Burroughs family in New Waverly and Mexico City provided a funhouse mirror image of the post-WWII American nuclear family, who were mass consumers addicted to corporate media junk, over-prescribed speed, and alcohol. This is the American Dream that the United States media exported, and continues to export, to the rest of the world. Unlike the 19th century when the objective was to get China hooked on opium, the new “opium of the masses” flooding China is American popular culture and mass consumer goods. Junk has been superseded by junk food and junk culture.

William S. Burroughs, Nova Express in a Suitcase, from Time, C Press, 1965It should be noted that Burroughs was not above smuggling his own product onto the American market. The C Press Time includes a photograph of Nova Express and issues of Luce’s Time packed like contraband in a suitcase. Like opium, Naked Lunch first came to the attention of Americans by way of San Francisco, namely the San Francisco Poets issue of Chicago Review in 1958. From San Francisco to Chicago to New York. The publication of Naked Lunch by Olympia Press provided a French Connection for American and English readers. The distribution of Naked Lunch paralleled the distribution of heroin. By 1962, Burroughs had successfully distributed his product to the underground. That same year Burroughs threatened to inject his writing into the mainstream consciousness. According to Time, Burroughs “wrote an unprintable book called Naked Lunch, which no one had read but which everyone said hit the veins like a jolt of heroin. Now all this is changed: Naked Lunch will now be available at the friendly neighborhood bookstore, right there beside Youngblood Hawke and The New English Bible.”  

Like Red Chinese heroin, which was not actually heroin at all, but Maoism as presented in the Little Red Book, Burroughs’ “jolt of heroin” had to be confiscated at customs and quarantined. Thus the dismissive review and the misinformation, which were the standard operating procedures of the Luce control machine. The result was an obscenity trial, which forced Naked Lunch‘s defenders to present the novel as a moral, anti-drug text, instead of a searing, pornographic indictment of Cold War American life and policy of the 1950s. Make no mistake, Naked Lunch was and is pornography, in the sense that Voltaire’s work was sold as pornography in pre-1789 France. Both were offenses against and offensive to the agents of Control. Both would lead to a revolution. Within the pages of the C Press Time, Burroughs cuts up Naked Lunch. Paradoxically Burroughs did not feel that such cut-ups adulterated Naked Lunch or any of his writing but instead revealed hidden meanings and essences. Similarly Burroughs’ cut-up of Luce’s Time revealed the lies and hypocrisy underneath the surface of that publication’s supposedly objective reporting. The Red Scare, the Yellow Peril, drug hysteria, and beatniks were, in part, media creations designed to inspire fear in the masses in order to legitimate increased legislation, heightened security and surveillance, and restricted personal freedoms by the United States government. Burroughs’ take on Time’s “Lost Illusion” cover story demonstrates that Luce’s American Century was a pipe dream.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 27 September 2010. See also Allen Ginsberg reading “CIA Dope Calypso.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *