Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
Psst!! Want to hear a secret? I don’t really collect Burroughs anymore. Sure, when an Albatross came within reach, I grabbed it and if an Icarus 46 fell into my lap I would be ecstatic, but by and large my Burroughs collection, which is mainly the magazine appearances from 1957 to 1965, has not merely matured but entered into a condition of rigor mortis. Recently, I have purchased some Fuck You items to fill out that collection, which branched off from my Burroughs, but things have slowed down considerably since the glory days when packages would arrive on seemingly a daily basis. I should really be spending my time filling holes in the tangential Burroughs collections that I developed over the years, like Burroughs vinyl or men’s magazine appearances, but I no longer actively search that stuff out.
Want to hear another secret? I don’t even read books by or about Burroughs much either. This past year has been something of an exception. I read all four Oliver Harris editions as soon as they came out as I did Burroughs and Scotland. I bought Soft Need #23 immediately but have yet to read it. I am not one of those Burroughs obsessives who reads and rereads Burroughs constantly. My interests have always been too diverse for that. I am too curious and interested about all manner of creative endeavor to focus exclusively on Burroughs.
My obsession with Burroughs is related but somewhat different. I suffer from paranoia when it comes to Burroughs. While I am reading about all these other interests, I always seem to find something of Burroughs in them or read them through the philosophies or themes of Burroughs. Case in point. I am now reading Geoff Dyer’s collection of essays, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. I discovered Dyer through my intense enjoyment of W.G. Sebald. I have read everything that Sebald ever wrote, which is not difficult since he tragically died in a car accident at age 57 in 2001. Unlike with Burroughs, I never felt compelled to learn anything about Sebald’s biography or to read any criticism about Sebald. Burroughs remains my strongest obsession in that regard. I like to know as much about Burroughs as I can. But after reading all the Sebald novels, I found myself wanting that Sebald vibe so I googled “writers like Sebald” and came across Dyer. I also came across Olivia Laing who wrote a book on writers and alcoholism, The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, which was excellent. I will read anything about writers, drugs, and alcohol. I quickly read most of what Laing wrote. I did the same with Dyer. The first book I read was his book on D.H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence. I don’t care for D.H. Lawrence, but Dyer’s book was one of the best works of creative criticism I have ever read. I would be absolutely beside myself if a similar book were written about Burroughs. So, I moved my way through Dyer’s bibliography, and I am now onto one of his books of essays.
Dyer writes quite a bit about photography and it was while reading an essay on Enrique Metinides that the Burroughs paranoia hit. Previously unknown to me, Metinides is world renowned as the Mexican Weegee. Metinides dominates a larger tradition of Mexican yellow journalism, called nota roja (red note or red news), that goes back centuries. Having origins in the Mexican Inquisition, nota roja became associated with violent crime and murder by the 19th century. As commercial newspapers developed and photography came into play, the depictions within the pages of nota roja became more sensationalistic and graphic. This graphic nature, full of blood and gore, is much more pronounced in Mexico than in American tabloids. Nota roja up to the present day covers organized crime and drug trafficking and has moved into influencing television and the movies. As a result, the individualized nature of the crime stories has changed. Author Carlos Monsiváis, who wrote extensively on Mexican popular culture including a groundbreaking book on nota roja (Los Mil Velorios: Cronica De La Nota Roja En Mexico or The Thousand and One Wakes), states:
In 15 years, the main thing that has changed is the terrible emergency, at times militarized, brought by drug trafficking, that has radically altered the yellow press and has moved it almost daily to the shrine of the front page. The singularity of murders and murderers has disappeared, and crime’s widespread growth also means a massive dehumanization.
Metinides documents scenes of death and disaster in and around Mexico City. Born in 1934, Metinides spent almost fifty years as a staff photographer for the Mexican tabloid La Prensa. He started talking photographs of car accidents at the age of twelve and signed on with La Prensa in 1947 as an apprentice to El Indio, Antonio Velasquez, another notable nota roja photographer. Known as El Nino, Metinides became a constant presence whenever shit when down in Mexico City. Dyer on Metinides: “Stabbings, shootings, suicides, drownings, fires, freak accidents (‘A high voltage cable snaps loose and hits a man walking along Tacuba Street . . .’) natural and unnatural disasters — Metinides’ work is a crash course in the diverse way people get mangled and killed.” That “crash course” kills me. Dyer is full of writing like that.
At his best Metinides incorporates elements of film noir into his photographs playing with light and shadow in ways that raise the standard sensationalistic fare of nota roja up to the level of art. Metinides:
I lived on a street with three cinemas. It only cost a few pesos to go to the matinees. I would skip school and immerse myself in gangster films, sitting in the front row absorbing everything I saw. I learnt about drama and light from watching these films. I would look at a crime scene as if I were watching a movie.
The first book of his work was published as El Teatro de los Hechos or The Theater of Facts in 2000. In 2003 the first book was published in English along with an exhibition in London. These events established his reputation as a cut above the typical Mexican street photographer. As Metinides’ reputation grew his work found its way into galleries and museums worldwide. Aperture published a coffee table book of his photographs entitled 101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides: Collector of the Unexpected.
Like with Metinides, its most famous and accomplished photographer, over time nota roja has become appreciated as an established art form with accompanying exhibitions that document its highspots and history. Not surprisingly, the coverage of the William Tell incident in the nota roja is prominently featured in these exhibitions. Articles on nota roja sometimes open with a quote by Burroughs or with details of the William Tell Incident. For example, a 2017 article from La Razón opens with a 1951 La Prensa headline on Burroughs. A Mother Jones article from 2012 reviewing 101 Tragedies opens with a Burroughs quote describing Mexico City as “sinister and gloomy and chaotic, with the special chaos of a dream.”
Yet strangely in this review of Metinides, there is no mention of Burroughs’ own place in the history of nota roja. It could be argued that Burroughs was at the center of one of the most infamous crime stories in its entire history. There is a subgenre of nota roja that focuses on high-profile acts of violence involving non-Mexicans as opposed to those dealing with the more representative subject of the Mexican lower class. The execution of Maximilian of Habsburg in 1867, which shocked the world and put nota roja on the map worldwide, comes to mind. Likewise, the assassination of Leon Trotsky received extensive coverage. The pages of 101 Tragedies have several photographs of Norte Americanos in scenes of death and destruction. Car crashes and murders are typical subjects involving people from outside Mexico. The surreal nature of the Burroughs case and the fact that it involved a supposedly wealthy American made it high profile at the time, but Burroughs’ later fame would also make it the act of a celebrity, which has always been standard tabloid fodder. In addition, Mexican readers were fascinated by any crimes committed amongst lovers or spouses. Wives killing husbands. Husbands killing wives. Girlfriends committing suicide. Boyfriends of wives killing husbands. Burroughs killing Joan fit right in with the tradition of self-widows in the Mexican press.
Like all the papers in Mexico City, La Prensa covered the William Tell incident. The papers covered the court proceedings as well. Everything about it was well documented including lots of photographs. I can find no evidence that Metinides took a picture of Burroughs, Joan, or the crime scene. Given how important Burroughs has become in the history of nota roja, it would be surprising if Metinides took any such photographs without them eventually being attributed to him or included in a monograph or exhibition. On the other hand, it would not be surprising if Metinides was at the crime scene above the Bounty Bar on September 6, 1951, in the employ of La Prensa or closely followed the case. As a lover of noir and American gangster movies, Metinides must have been fascinated with a crime story set in Mexico City that involved an American and a femme fatale. Or should I say the Dead Girl?
In The Death of Joan Vollmer: What Happened?, James Grauerholz lists Luis C. Marquez from La Prensa, Carlos Perez Patiño from Novedades, and un-bylined writers from Excelsior, El Universal, and El Nacional as the reporters on the scene of Burroughs’ initial statement to police. He also lists some of the newspapers that covered the story. What Happened?:
We should pause to assess the newspaper reporters whose accounts we will be hearing. El Nacional was the official organ of the Mexican government’s ruling party, which was of course for decades the PRI, or the Partido Revolucionario Institucional. Excelsior was considered “even more conservative” than El Nacional (Anita Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, Putnam’s 1932, rev. 1947). El Universal (with United Press and New York Times wire services) and Novedades were considered reliable enough in their reportage. La Prensa, however, was known to be quite uninhibited, even yellow, in its graphic journalism.
(Possibly-relevant contemporaneous published sources not yet examined include daily newspapers Las Noticias, El Popular, El Universal Gráfico, Últimas Notícias (Excelsior), Today’s Headlines, El Heraldo; and weekly revistas and semanarios such as Mexican Weekly News, Hoy, Mañana, Nosotros, Nota Roja, El Observador, Criminalia and Sucesos.)
Grauerholz makes brief mention of La Prensa and yellow journalism but he does not focus on the specific nature of Mexican tabloids or the bloody and violent nature of nota roja. In the list of contemporaneous sources he does not make much of the distinction between the typical newspaper and the nota roja. “Although La Prensa was then (and still is) a rather sensational newspaper, the veracity of this account is supported by corresponding versions found in the other papers.” He also does not list the photographers and discuss the photographs taken of the crime, despite the fact that the images that accompany his essay almost all come from La Prensa; instead, he focuses on written accounts.
A shout out to all the Burroughs collectors out there. An interesting sub-collection could be made of the accounts of the William Tell Incident in the Mexican press. The newspapers are fine, but it is the nota roja accounts that are spectacular for reasons that I touch on below. If they are good enough for museums and galleries, they are good enough for your bookshelves. Demi and Jeff, are you listening? Are you game? It might be an entertaining challenge of your book hawking skills. Mike Stevens has a few of the newspaper articles. So, it is possible to track them down.
Interestingly, many of the photographs of the William Tell Incident possess the trademark elements of Metinides at his most artistic. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a series of photographs that were published in a full-page spread in the Magazine de Policia from September 13, 1951, which were featured in a 2017 exhibition on the history of nota roja, A Chronicle of the Red Note: From Posada to Metinides at the Museo del Estanquillo in Mexico City. Sensational photographs and stories would appear on the front and back covers of the typical nota roja; the truly spectacular would get a full-page spread. The William Tell incident was truly spectacular. The photographs in Magazine de Policia are unattributed, but it is hard to look at this spread generally and not be reminded of the style of Metinides:
I saw myself as a director telling a story, just like in the movies. One time, I was asked to cover the murder of three old ladies in Coyoacán. When I arrived, I looked at all the people standing around, and the policeman waiting in the doorway. First, I took a photograph of the outside of the house, then one of the policemen. The third photograph I took was of a parrot in its cage in the garden. . . Whenever there was a crime, I would always photograph . . . anything that would make the story more personal. . . Then I came across their bodies . . . and I photographed those too.
Looking over these photographs individually, there is Burroughs being interviewed by the Mexican police. Metinides on his creative process: “I would photograph not only the body, but the detectives at their work, too, elegantly dressed in their hats, suits, and ties. I would try to capture the whole scene in a single frame — not just the corpse or the weapon, but the entire story. I would arrive soon after the police, but nothing would have moved. These were crime scenes.” The photograph of the empty bottles on the table and the establishing shot outside of the Bounty Bar “capture the whole scene.” The photograph of Burroughs in the ill-fitting suit captures the extreme chaos of the situation at the time. Burroughs puts on another’s clothes in a rush to present himself to the police and the public’s scrutiny. The sweat stains on the suit reveal Burroughs’ panic and stress. The disheveled suit reveals Burroughs’ disheveled mind and broken psyche.
The haunting picture of Billy and Joan is classic Metinides. He often made children and their reactions to extreme violence his subject. This commentary by Metinides on a crime scene of November 20, 1964 is on point:
Four brothers and sisters watched as their father fought with their mother. He shot her and killed her. I chose to photograph the consequences to the family, the sadness of the children, rather than the horror and drama of the killing. Not like the photographs we see today.
Metinides was sensitive to that stare in the eyes of Billy and Julie. On an image of an accident from 1955: “For me, what is interesting about this image is how the children also watch. Rather than being taken away from the trauma, they just stare.”
In fact, the photo of Joan on the coroner’s slab — as gruesome, brutal and sensationalist a photo as I have seen of the crime — is not representative of nota roja (or Metinides) at its most “artistic.” In the quote above, for Metinides, the corpses come last, essential but not the most interesting or evocative part of the crime story. Yet looking at the photo of Joan I was struck by how young she looked. Reading the accounts of her in Mexico, both fictional and non-, she is described as being in bad shape and in the terminal stages of addiction, almost an old woman on the brink of death. Hal Chase on Joan in the days before her death:
[I] saw Joan a few days before she died. [ I met her] in the street, and she shook her head pridefully in that way she had, and [I] put [my] arms around her, because she looked so awful. [I] was badly shaken.
Joan was almost a beauty. She carried herself a little awkwardly, swinging one arm more than the other. She had an incurable blood disease. She had open running sores, and knew she was dying. She was thin-haired … had lost some of her hair.
“I’m not going to make it,” she said.
Here’s Eddie Woods from 1985:
She didn’t seem to have any upper teeth, she always seemed a little drunk and giggly — I should speak better of the dead. Just seemed like a decrepit, aging broad to me. Falling apart, didn’t take care of herself.
In the pages of Magazine de Policia, you are reminded in sobering fashion that she was only 28 years old and still potentially had a long life to live. The hint, the glint of a brighter, healthier future came be seen on her youthful face.
What are we to make of Burroughs’ appearance in the pages of the nota roja? Did it play into his work as an author and artist? In his introduction to the Restored Nova Express and elsewhere, Oliver Harris writes on how Burroughs utilized newspapers and magazines in his attack on the Reality Studios of the Time-Life media empire and the mass media generally. Harris focuses on Burroughs’ recycling magazines, like Time, and his cutting up of English language newspapers, in Paris (in the case of Minutes to Go) and in the United States (in the case of Nova Express). Harris (Nova Express):
In the society of the spectacle, Burroughs understood that “the real battle” is over the production of reality itself: of what counts as real in the first place. Given the balance of power in his rivalry with Time, Life, and Fortune, cut-up methods were necessarily terroristic, waging asymmetrical warfare against a global media empire seeking to maintain what Luce had envisioned as a permanent American Century. In that context Nova Express brilliantly dramatizes how cybernetic feedback could coincide with imperial blowback by reversing the function of Time magazine. For once the news is understood as not reporting the past but projecting the future, Burroughs reasoned that to physically reorder the news is to scramble the reality it produces . . .
In the case of the C Press Time, Burroughs created an alternative magazine in response to the Luce empire’s control and domination of the dissemination of information including the spreading of misinformation about Burroughs’ personal life. In cutting up newspaper articles on topics such as viruses and cancer, Burroughs attempts to discover the messages hiding within the lines and to see if the future leaks out. Yet Harris does not focus on tabloid journalism specifically and does not refer to nota roja. In writing on the C Press Time and China, I touch on how Burroughs complicates turn-of-the-century American yellow journalism’s narrative of the Chinese and drug culture as well as suggest that Burroughs saw the Time-Life media complex as another form of yellow journalism.
Like the Time-Life complex and yellow journalism of an earlier era, the nota roja also had an influence on Burroughs on a creative and psychological level. Most immediately, the deadpan, factual account of criminal behavior in Junkie might be a reaction to the sensationalism of the accounts of the William Tell Incident in the nota roja. Although Burroughs began Junkie months before Joan’s death and had a substantial draft, his immersion in the Mexican tabloids may have convinced him that rather than present the exploitation common in pulp fiction, his instinct to go in the other direction and provide something approaching new journalism — the elements of fiction intermingled with factual reporting in which the reporter becomes part of the story — was the correct one. Given the fact that Burroughs was recently portrayed as a criminal in a brutal and gruesome manner in Mexico, Burroughs may have doubled down on his matter-of-fact tone in Junkie to present his criminal activity as a drug user in a more sober and even-handed manner. Interestingly, María Dolores Estévez, or Lola La Chata, was a nota roja staple in the 1930s and one of the most well-known criminals in that journalism’s history. A series of photographs of her were featured in the Chronicle of the Red Note exhibition in 2017 alongside those of Burroughs. Such coverage of Lola La Chata foreshadowed the current obsessions of the Mexican tabloids, which are now dominated by drug trafficking and the related violent crime associated with it.
The fact that Burroughs was traumatized by the murder of Joan as well as by his portrayal in the nota roja and that he dealt with it creatively is suggested most convincingly in his collage practice. Throughout the 1960s, Burroughs used tabloid headlines and images of disasters for his collages and scrapbooks. For example, the “223 Dead” collage recreates a tabloid front cover. The “Espana Sucesos” collage does this even more directly. Could this refer to the nota roja that Burroughs experienced in Mexico? In his list of publications that covered the Burroughs story in Mexico, Grauerholz lists Sucesos amongst a group of other nota roja. Harris: “Those ‘city desks’ of newspaper offices parallel the sección de sucesos in his Nova Express collage and were a clear reflection of Burroughs’ vision in February 1964: ‘Why not write a novel as if you were sitting at the city desk?'” Harris focuses on traditional newspapers, not the tabloid press, and the primary city here is New York, but it is also Mexico City, and the news story that the Nova Express collage deals with is on one level The William Tell Incident. Images of train wrecks were a trademark of Mexican street photographers, like Metinides, and were ubiquitous in Mexican tabloids. Perhaps Burroughs displaced the tabloid from Mexico to Spain (the España appears to be collaged over the original title) to give himself some creative distance and help distance himself from the “events” depicted by the Mexican tabloids that were a source of such trauma to Burroughs throughout his life.
As with the cut-up reconstruction of the C Press Time, Burroughs was perhaps trying to write his way out as well as deal with the trauma of not just the William Tell Incident itself, but also the trauma of being presented as a malicious, premediated murderer and criminal in the Mexican tabloids. Take the coverage of Burroughs’ defense in court. From What Happened?:
As the newspaper stories indicate, if anything, Mexicans were over-sensitive to such accusations [of bribery], and were offended by the evasive tactics of Jurado and Burroughs and the others. Look at these newspaper headlines:
THE AMERICAN SEWARD TRIES TO MOCK JUSTICE
THE COVER-UP OF THE AMERICAN WITH BAD AIM
NOW THE NORTH-AMERICAN WHO KILLED HIS WIFE SAYS IT WAS AN ACCIDENT
IT APPEARS THAT SEWARD USED HIS WIFE AS A BULL’S-EYE
BURROUGHS CHANGES HIS VERSION ABOUT THE DEATH OF HIS YOUNG AND LOVELY WIFE
SEWARD CONSTANTLY CHANGES HIS STORY
ENORMOUS SUSPICIONS THAT BURROUGHS DID NOT KILL HIS WIFE ACCIDENTALLY
SEWARD TRIES TO MOCK THE AUTHORITIES
A SERIES OF CONTRADICTIONS IN WHAT THE NORTH-AMERICAN WHO KILLED HIS WIFE SAYS
In addition, thinking specifically of the horrific images and sensationalistic story in the Magazine de Policia, it is hard not to see his collage transformation of the American tabloid Police Gazette into the “Nova Police Gazette” as an attempt to re-write this past narrative with a selection of new images and contexts. Instead of a criminal, Burroughs becomes a Nova policeman fighting the Nova Mob. The references to the E-meter and apomorphine suggest potential cures to his damaged psyche and weapons at his disposal to fight Nova crime. These are also cures to help pardon Burroughs of his own crime against Joan. In these collages, “the news is understood as not reporting the past but projecting the future.” By writing his way out, Burroughs projects a future in which he no longer experiences the guilt associated with the death of Joan. He is “scrambling [his] reality.” Like “España Sucesos“, the “Nova Police Gazette” serves as a nota roja companion to Nova Express, where Burroughs is fighting simultaneously his own personal demons, the Mexican press, and the global media network as exemplified by the Time-Life empire.
As Oliver Harris’ research into the two distinct cut-up “trilogies” proves, Burroughs was meticulous and calculated in selecting the materials he cut up. This process was not arbitrary, and, in most cases, Burroughs chose something for personal, historical, cultural, or literary reasons. Or all four. There are references, allusions, and juxtapositions galore. If Harris’ has delved into the archives relating to the A-titles, the mass of cut-up experiments in little magazines remain largely unstudied to say nothing of the overwhelming number of textual materials in the various archives. Alex Werner-Colan is a notable exception. This is even more true of the collages and scrapbooks. Few if any have attempted to read into why Burroughs selected certain images, where they come from, and the meanings these selections hold. Harris in the restored Minutes to Go suggests a possible path to take with this unexplored territory. I hope this piece demonstrates just a bit that such a study is worth the effort. Plus, it is fun.
In the Introduction to Queer, Burroughs says definitively that he had to write his way out of the Ugly Spirit:
I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from passion, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.
This is oft quoted, but two paragraphs before this passage are also crucial:
Brion Gysin said to me in Paris: “For ugly spirit shot Joan because …” A bit of mediumistic message that was not completed — or was it? It doesn’t need to be completed, if you read it: “Ugly spirit shot Joan to be cause” — that is, to maintain a hateful parasitic occupation. […]
I had bought a Scout knife in Quito. […] It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, a few days after I came back to Mexico City, and I decided to have the knife sharpened. The knife-sharpener had a little whistle and a fixed route, and as I walked down the street towards his cart, a feeling of loss and sadness that had weighed on me all day so [much that] I could hardly breathe intensified to such an extent that I found tears streaming down my face. […]
The discovery of the cut-up by Gysin is related directly to the death of Joan. Burroughs writes: “The small Scout knife with a metal handle, the plating peeling off, a smell of old coins, the knife-sharpener’s whistle. Whatever happened to this knife I never reclaimed?” The answer: The “Scout knife in Quito” became the Stanley knife of Gysin, which gave Burroughs the means to scramble reality, in novels, collages, and scrapbooks, thus allowing him to write his way out in his lifelong struggle with the Ugly Spirit.
In the collages discussed above, Burroughs takes control of his own narrative away from corporate and tabloid publishers, but perhaps more importantly from the nota roja, and performs an “Operation Rewrite” on his past, present, and future portrayals as regards the William Tell Incident. As Harris makes clear, this goes hand in hand with his publishing practice throughout the sixties, which was defined by his active and persistent participation in the Mimeo Revolution and underground press. In My Own Mag and elsewhere, Burroughs became the editor-in-chief of his own column within a tabloid of sorts and exercised control not only over his creative work but also over his image. This DIY spirit proved liberating creatively and, maybe more importantly, psychologically in the face of his manipulation and exploitation in the mainstream and tabloid media as demonstrated by the coverage of the William Tell Incident, particularly in Mexico, and the reviews associated with the publication of Naked Lunch.
I am on record as stating that the Introduction to Queer is the most shameless and despicable piece of writing by Burroughs. Joan did not have to die for Burroughs to become a writer; yet seeing the photograph of Burroughs sitting in the courtyard of the Lecumberri Prison (photographs of prisoners at Lecumberri, particularly murderers and serial killers, were another favorite subject of the nota roja) about himself on the front page of the September 7, 1951 edition of La Prensa (“HE WANTED TO DEMONSTRATE HIS MARKSMANSHIP, AND HE KILLED HIS WIFE”), there is actually a grain of truth to this claim even if it was not Burroughs’ intention in the introduction. Given the fact that the William Tell Incident has now been institutionalized as art and art history, it can be argued that the murder of Joan was Burroughs’ first published act as an artist even if this was only recognized as such decades later. Sick, right?
Postscript: After reading the essay on Metinides, I started frantically searching on my phone for connections between him and Burroughs. After searching for about thirty minutes, I checked my email to find a notice from Amazon asking if my purchase of Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition was to my satisfaction. What is it that Burroughs wrote: “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.”
Postscript Part Two: On Tuesday May 4, 2021 at 7:23am, I woke up to find the news story of a rail disaster in Mexico City being pushed to me on my iPhone. In particular, a story from the Washington Post. “Mexico City subway overpass collapses; at least 23 dead as metro cars topple.” Twenty-three dead. A photograph of a mangled subway car. A mention of fire in the downtown station highlighting the ubiquity of Mexican rail disasters. A focus on the children of the tragedy:
“I’m looking for my son,” one weeping woman said in an interview with TV Azteca. She said her 13-year-old child, Brandon Hernandez, had called her shortly before the accident from one of the subway cars, as he traveled from the city center with a friend. “He was on the metro. I can’t find him anywhere,” cried the woman, who did not give her name.
Yes, this is paranoia on several levels, but I also thought of the Butterfly Effect. By writing my piece on Burroughs and nota roja did I write this disaster into existence? By writing on cut-ups did the future spill out? For Burroughs, the cut-up was a combination of paranoia and the Butterfly Effect. Think of the scissors as butterfly wings. When Burroughs was cutting up the images for the nota roja collages, did the past, present, and future move? Life is a game of inches. As the scissors flapped, did the winds of time shift? Did a bullet rise in its trajectory just a couple inches? Did glass shatter upon the floor? And did Joan say, “Well, Bill, now I guess for our next trick you’ll just have to cut me in half.”