The Writing of Perilous Passage
Terry Wilson in Conversation with Ian MacFadyen
As his book Perilous Passage is published by Synergetic Press, Terry Wilson talks with Ian MacFadyen about the 15 years he spent creating this unique work which embodies and develops the radical Third Mind techniques of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Wilson was a friend of Gysin and Burroughs, both of whom appear as characters in the “true fiction” of Perilous Passage. Wilson’s collaboration with Gysin, Here To Go, is now recognized as a seminal work. Perilous Passage was critically acclaimed on its first publication, in a limited edition, in 2005. In this extract from a tape made in December 2011 by Ian MacFadyen, Terry Wilson talks about the psychic techniques of The Third Mind, adventures on the road with Jim McCann, Brion Gysin’s special methods of teaching, William Burroughs and Charles Fort, ayahuasca, and the relation of memory and fiction.
“According to Brion Gysin, I was an Apprentice to an Apprentice and I have never claimed otherwise. In my work I have always done absolutely what I wanted to do at the time. I have been fortunate and privileged to encounter and become friends with some incredible people.” — Terry Wilson
IM: Could we talk about your book Perilous Passage, first published in a limited edition in 2005, and now being published by Synergetic Press? It was written over many years, between 1986 and 2000, and took some time to appear in print.
TW: Soon after Brion Gysin died in 1986, until near the end of the ’80s, I was writing Perilous Passage. . . I stopped in ’89 when I went to Tangier and that’s when I wrote a piece for that book, Paul Bowles by His Friends, the book edited by Gary Pulsifer, which came out in ’92. So I wrote that short text, called “Tangier 90,” and that was one of the additions that fell into place in Perilous Passage, and the book was extended. . . In ’89 I’d thought the book was finished, at the point where the character KJ and I clink our glasses of Irish coffee and toast “the beginning of a new age.” Because I was interviewed at the time and asked how the book ended, and that’s what I’d told the interviewer, in ’89.
IM: In fact, you said to him, “That’s where I’m heading for!” In other words, you thought you’d finished Perilous Passage and you were heading for that “new age” announced by the toast with Jim, but it turned out that the book would have its own momentum and before you were finished fate would have quite a few surprises and difficulties lying in wait for you.
TW: You can say that again.
IM: So you wrote “Tangier 90” for the Bowles book and then that took its place in the third main section of Perilous Passage, the section called “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.” “Tangier 90” appears in the opening part of that section, a chapter called “THE FLAW (Inevitable Cops).” The chapter begins with you and “KJ,” the infamous entrepreneur James Kennedy McCann, driving on the autobahn out of Berlin and witnessing a horrific car accident, and it moves through this mystical Islamic system into the time you were in Tangier, 1990 — “It really hit the fan in Tangier. Inevitably. It’s the place for it.” And so you managed to flood the hotel room there, even though there were “only four hours of running water in Tangier so you have to remember to turn the taps off but we were in no condition. . .” And you also recall your visit at that time to Genet’s clifftop grave in the Spanish cemetery at Larache. . . Mohammed Mrabet, Ira Cohen, David Herbert, Paul Bowles and others appear, but the Tangier scene at that time is mixed with flashbacks to the character Bedaya, based upon Gysin, in Paris years before, and his ashes scattered at the Cave of Hercules. And then, again, there’s your European travels with the cultural impresario KJ, based upon Jim McCann, and scenes from the London period and your visit to La Roche-Guyon with Philippe Baumont, who’s called Vogue Etiquette in the book, immediately after Gysin’s death in 1986. . . So Tangier in 1990 is a crucible around which all these past and future events and these characters swirl phantasmagorically, as Gysin/Bedaya’s legacy is fought over and engenders all these disparate strategies and conspiracies and power plays. . . Perilous Passage would have been quite different if you hadn’t written and extended the book with “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM,” the third section of the book, and the final chapter of the entire work, “THE UNIVERSE IN OTHER WORDS,” set in Peru in 2000 when you took ayahuasca.
TW: I wasn’t worried so much about the book in ’89 and ’90 because I had three other books out at the time, Dreams of Green Base, Here To Go, “D” Train, and also Brion’s The Process had been reprinted, and then everything changed when Brion died, like the power had gone out of the whole thing. . . I mean, I seemed to be at the height of success, the way these things go, and I’d got an advance from Quartet, the publishers, a considerable sum back then when you’re living on practically nothing, and yet nobody was interested in Perilous Passage at that time. I submitted it to Peter Owen, but they rejected it, and Black Spring Press, too. You know the routine — they couldn’t think of anything else quite like it, it was quite unique, they really admired it, and so on, but they didn’t know how they could possibly sell it. . .
IM: That’s always the thing, they need to follow something they recognize as a success, a model they can adapt and hitch their star to. When they say, “nothing else quite like it,” it isn’t praise at all, it’s actually a lament — “We don’t know what it is, we can’t figure out what to do with it.”
TW: Yes, of course, that’s it. So then a lot of extensive travels with Jim McCann followed, a period when I didn’t do too much writing at all. Jim was working his way up to allegedly setting up an exhibition of Brion Gysin’s big painting the Makemono in Morocco, which was why Philippe Baumont and I were in Tangier in 1990, though Jim said, in an interview, very shortly before we arrived, that he was sending his special team to Morocco to organise tribesmen in the Rif Mountains to overthrow the King! Great! Thank you, Jim, and this perhaps explains the kind of hospitality we received from Gavin Young, among others. . . Gavin was staying up the road from David Herbert’s place on the Old Mountain, and he was very eager to hear the news and find out about our “mission.” . . And the American Legation, too, well, you can imagine, and it was out there on the jungle telegraph. . . Really, it was a devilish thing for Jim to have done, so we arrived blazing all this “arranging an exhibition” stuff, and it just came over as an unbelievable cover story. . . Then Ira Cohen and his son Raphael arrived, and Jim was paying for it all, and Ira was filming and writing everything down in his notebooks, and we were plunged into this crazy scenario, though it was fascinating, sure, and everyone opened their doors to us, not to mention their ears. . . Now all these old characters have left us, so being back in Tangier this year with Philippe, we didn’t know anybody. . .
IM: And after Tangier in 1990 you travelled through Europe with Jim?
TW: Yes, a lot of travelling, from the late ’80s actually, with trips to Berlin and Dusseldorf and Strasbourg, and hair-raising points in between. Like, I’d had these extraordinary, magical times with Brion, and now I was with Jim and it was equally powerful and disturbing, but in a different way, and I had no idea what was going on. . . So that third part of Perilous Passage, “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM,” was written out of what happened with Jim, hours and hours and hours of driving with him across Europe at amazing speeds, he is the most incredible driver, and I had to keep awake to keep rolling him joints, and I didn’t feel nervous when he was at the wheel because, as I say, he’s a genius driver. . . So Jim, as “KJ,” appears in “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM,” the third part of the book, but also in the second part, “CHATEAU-ROUGE,” bringing along the usual chaos in his wake.
IM: And you felt that your experiences with him were an extension, on another level, of what you had gone through with Brion Gysin?
TW: Well, Jim’s behaviour was shamanic. There’s no other word for it. I mean, you’d arrive in Paris at midnight and he’d decide to drive to Strasbourg to get a haircut! [laughter] He’d help you and then he’d just disappear, like he’d book several hotels in one city, and you had no idea which hotel he was actually in, or whether he was in any of them. One time he abandoned me in Berlin and I had to sneak into another hotel where I thought he’d gone, and I had no money, no German, and it was nerve wracking. That’s the way he was. Brion gave me a sort of preparation and Jim followed this with his theatre of total bullshit, but it worked, of course, and no end of crazy scenarios lived out for real, as they say. . . After the illusion trickster identities of Brion Gysin with his magical happenings, it was the sheer shamanic madness of Jim, going out into the world and drawing the heat and facing the music, the trickster guru inexplicability of his behaviour. . . Because after Brion’s death, it really was that time, all these power groups and nefarious businesses and fabulistic intrigues, never knowing what was going on. . . And Jim, KJ, he was so brilliant and funny and mercurial and fearless, an outlaw of his own making, and so I had this crash course into the power groups of this world, and he really stood everything on its head and played the crazy wisdom card to the maximum. . . Brion had been like a father to me and Jim was like. . . The Godfather! [laughter] Everything was a cover story to Jim, he just brilliantly made it all up as he went along, acting out his own “KJ” character, our loveable international practical joker, with a serious identity habit, which fitted in its way with Gysin’s masks, the playing with identity, and his own mythomaniacal fabulations. . . So, yes, they both played games, but those games can rebound on you, like being ostracized by the Paris artworld or kidnapped by the mafia or a bullet through the window or locked up in a high security prison. . . So, yes, those were crazy times, dangerous days, and “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM” section of Perilous Passage emerged out of that period of uproar. The material accrued from the late ’80s and was written from 1990 onwards. . .
IM: Jim was arrested in Paris in 1991, so “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM” was written after that?
TW: Yes, and it still took many years for the book to be completed because ten years after all the madness with Jim, I went to Peru with Philippe and took ayahuasca and out of that experience I wrote “THE UNIVERSE IN OTHER WORDS” which is the final chapter of Perilous Passage. So, I started the book in ’86 and finished it in 2000, and Synergetic Press decided they wanted to do it in 2001. John Allen was very enthusiastic, and he wrote me about it. He really got it.
IM: Perilous Passage works perfectly as a book with the addition of that material — it’s not actually “additional,” it was essential to the book as it now exists. The book came together through a complex process, and it drew upon crucial, but diverse experiences you had over about 15 years.
TW: I wanted to open up out of the claustrophobic situation of “D” Train, my previous book, to escape the intensity of the relationship between Whelme and Vogue which I’d described there. And then I found myself in West End, in Southampton, and I just became extremely receptive, as if everything I read or heard or saw on T.V. was streaming right through me. Like those sections of “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM” called “THE DARKNESS CURSE (Playing For Time)” and “THE CALL OF AURAL BEECH (Remote Viewing),” they draw upon lots of old black-and-white films I was watching on T.V. in the afternoon, these old melodramas and thrillers, and books I was reading, and things I just came across, and these characters and plots and phrases just started to strike me, some of it very funny but also with this power and urgency, like there’s these references to organophosphates which I hadn’t planned on and I didn’t think originally that it was going to be part of the book. . . It takes the reader into this area of toxic poisoning, and ME and MS and AIDS, the entire viral maelstrom. . . Because that’s what was coming through. . .
IM: And so you were picking up on these things, however bizarre or disparate, and recording them, and seeing how they might connect, following them though their association tracks, figuring out the story, and this would be a kind of mosaic of receptivity, of your own psyche during that time, a process akin to the Third Mind initiative of tracking through different media and making a map of consciousness, which Gysin and Burroughs explored through their scrapbooks and tapes at the Beat Hotel. . . You mention and draw upon John Buchan’s The Power House, a text very well known by Burroughs and Gysin, and also Dickens’ The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, but also Captain C.T. Arbuthnot, CDM, DFN, and his magisterial work My Battle Against Athlete’s Foot, a work I’m afraid I’m not familiar with. [laughter]
TW: Which really did exist, of course, unbelievably — and that was just the first volume, apparently. Yes, all this material began to come through, insistently, and I was in a condition of extreme receptivity, and as well as cutting-up a few things, I was incorporating and switching phrases as they struck me, like “The Great Itself,” “The Only No One.” . . Actually, both those phrases came from something you’d written about Brion at that time, it was typed on this now yellowing paper, and you’d written about “The Great Desert,” and I recombined a few of your phrases. . . The section in “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM” called “ALL RATIONAL THOUGHT (The Lone Rider)” is like Charles Fort incorporating himself into his own notes via a short story. I could see this section as an extension of Fort’s technique, though I didn’t know at the time that Fort had tried to do that until you sent me the story he’d written. . . Of course, there are quotations and cut-ups of Fort in every book I’ve written. Fort was turning supposedly factual reports and scientific materials into fiction, or rather showing their eminent fictionality, treating facts and history as fiction. . . And I said to Burroughs, in regard to his statement “All history is fiction,” which is in Nova Express, that it came from Fort in his book Wild Talents, and William kind of grumbled something about how those farmers were lying about fish coming out of the sky, that kind of dismissive thing, but then he said, “Well, yes, that is one of the founder statements.” Actually, he’d nicked it verbatim for Nova Express. Like “Sir William Barroon” in Brion’s Beat Museum / Bardo Hotel, saying “the germ theory is a nonsense,” echoing Doc Schaffer in Naked Lunch, well, Burroughs said that Fort had said that, but he hadn’t, because Fort said, “I’m not saying that the germ theory is a nonsense,” although, in fact, that’s exactly what he was saying! . . . Well, Burroughs was very influenced by Fort, but he hid it. You know, psychic assailants, defenestration, spontaneous combustion, the Mary Celeste — William and Brion were fascinated by all this, and by Fort’s sorcery in Wild Talents. . . I think William just shied away from Fort because there were, for example, later associations with Pauwels and Bergier’s The Morning Of The Magicians, and William and Brion did not want to be linked by default to Gurdjieff or Fort or anyone those people were into. . .
IM: As well as the fiction of history, these parts of the book introduce special techniques like “remote viewing” and “scattering,” both of which would play an important part in your next book, Days Lane, techniques which are crucially bound up with the special meaning of tandra “Day-Dreaming,” the concept and practice at the heart of that work. And these sections of Perilous Passage are produced by techniques which are psychic, not literary, techniques related to Gysin and Burroughs’ Third Mind. These sections of the book seem to deal with suppressed and unaccountable memories.
TW: Yes, like the reference to Mr Oak, the strange shaven-headed character I’d encountered many years before, in a gay pub in Notting Hill, The Champion, who looked at my fingers and told me that my days were numbered. And he was telling me that all these rare diseases were making a comeback, like kuru, this fatal degenerative disease supposed to have died off with the cannibals in Papua, New Guinea. And he’d come up with this “Virus X” which was apparently triggering all these unrelated diseases like TB and encephalitis. . .
IM: And he had the antidote.
TW: You bet he did! Some guck to cure an illness which he himself had invented. But there have been larger operators in that area.
IM: And in Perilous Passage there are all these intelligence agents like “Marshall Peck,” Ivor Powell, the friend of Gerald Hamilton and Tom Driberg, and your fictional creation “Mr Green,” and the connections between Intelligence operatives and the esoteric world is crucial, like the “cadre of Indo-Celtic fifth columnist bolshies. . . Same crowd described by Doug Marshall in his book Mysticism.” Because the hermetic is precisely the area of secret information, and so we get all those ex-Etonians in the Foreign Office, ex-Guardsmen and diplomats with their Masonic connections and their affiliations to various magical brotherhoods, and the secret societies and the security services overlap and the elite move smoothly from one world to another. . . Politics, after all, like magic, is the realm of secrecy, the profession of non-disclosure, the transmission of secret knowledge. And this is something both Gysin and Burroughs knew, and had experience of — the symbiosis of the intelligence agencies and these esoteric organisations. The history of that is indisputable. Like Ira [Cohen] told me about these faux hippies who found their way to his door in Nepal, they were just looking for a bong, of course, a bang of a bong, apparently, but actually they were the Yale brotherhood, young CIA recruits sent out on a testing mission, and putting their gap year to some use before taking up their positions in aeronautics and academic think tanks and the burgeoning computer and electronics companies. . . Even Ira knew he had to keep his mouth shut around those types. It was the perfect work experience for aspiring agents in the field, penetrating the esoteric networks, getting their stars before going back to Washington and Dallas and Seattle. . .
TW: Sure, sure. And you have these racist strands running through esotericism, you know, the supposed fascist connections of Evola, the Great White Brotherhood, and all that is the tip of the iceberg. You step into murky waters here. . . Western esotericsm based upon these “root races” as in Blavatsky, and the Nazis really took that to heart. . . And Brion and William thought that Pauwels and Bergier were reactionaries. Their book, The Morning Of The Magicians, had a considerable impact, and they were really onto Hassan-I-Sabbah, but also fascinated by Nazi occultism, that was the big lure. So Brion in Here To Go, he refers to their magazine Planète as that “pseudo-scientific magazine.” . . I mean, it’s inevitable, all these esoteric groups claim the true lineage and wage their magical wars, and it gets bound up with these notions of ideology and purity. . .
IM: The true elect, the one and only, the divinely chosen. . . Could you say something about the technique referred to in Perilous Passage which is called “remote viewing” — in the book you have a footnote: “Another old technique, much practised by Intelligence agencies. Far away places and far away names. . . “
TW: The term comes from the Second World War, and although Brion didn’t use this term when I knew him, it’s impossible that he wasn’t familiar with it, given his wartime experiences, and the circles he travelled in, like the psychic Eileen Garrett. . . “Remote viewing” refers to the development of psychic abilities, a form of shamanism essentially, which was directed towards spotting subs in the Atlantic, or reading a document at a distance, gaining entry to some place when you’re miles away, accessing material and experiences without having to go through them physically. . . Like “Bi-Location” today. . . And this was related to learning a language just incredibly fast, as Brion had learned Japanese very fast, and he was in Intelligence during the Second World War and picked out by people in Intelligence to work in this area, developing the potential to project oneself through space and time. . . It was all very top secret, and we only have rumours, and cryptic suggestions, like with anyone who was in Intelligence, until the documents come out, the doctored non-evidence. . . But Brion had psychic abilities as well as linguistic abilities, that’s for sure. . . Actually, ayahuasca is related to this because the drug, like remote viewing, takes you “everywhere in space,” projecting you beyond the accepted limits of space and time. In that sense, the section “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM” prepares the reader of Perilous Passage for the final short section of the book, “THE UNIVERSE IN OTHER WORDS (Ayahuasca).”
IM: Perilous Passage is an account of an avant-garde, shamanic apprenticeship, but it’s also an esoteric guide, taking the reader from cut-up and receptivity to remote viewing and “scattering” techniques for the radical opening up of consciousness. Scattering, I think, might be defined to some degree as the picking up of hints and clues, these riddles left hidden by a teacher or previous initiates, an esoteric form of teaching in which a certain process must be engaged with and developed in order to access the strategically hidden. . . So in the context of the book, this, if you like, “recruits” the reader, turns him or her on to a different way of reading, of experiencing the power of words and certain signs and connections to reveal a radically different way of thinking, of experiencing. . . It’s very much akin to what Burroughs says about Gysin’s painting, which you quote towards the end of the book — “a certain path like a row or series of patterns. . . a series of neural patterns which already exist. . .” What I mean is that the scattering of clues is a trail that already exists, in potential form, in the brain, and the process of engaging with cut-up and other Third Mind techniques, opening up your receptivity, engaging with remote viewing, taking ayahuasca, and so on, all these are part of a creative process which both triggers and mirrors those neural patterns. Because Perilous Passage is more than an account of that process, it takes that very form, it’s produced by it, using the loaded, trigger phrases of cut-up, but also these techniques of rerouting fictions and so-called memories, to try and create a Third Mind consciousness in the reader, in effect to transport the reader along those lines. . . Which involves destroying established “time lines,” the linear, historical constructs which hold quotidian consciousness in place. And the experience which the text procures in the reader, it isn’t available to conventional analysis, intellectual criteria, literary interpretation, so there’s a very real, even visceral, psychic effect, but this cannot be transposed or reduced by critics to something else, put on to some other plane of reference and so categorised, analysed according to current literary theory and so assimilated, nullified.
TW: Yes, that’s a very accurate way of putting it, I think, though just try and stop certain critics from doing exactly what you just described. Because if they don’t get it, and they won’t, I assure you, because they’ve already decided what it is and how to go about deconstructing it and explaining it away, then they’ll just dismiss it and say it’s a “collage” or something, and then write whatever they think or have been taught to think about that. . . Much good will it do them, of course. Well, the book hopefully works on the ideal reader as a preparation for the out-of-the-body consciousness of ayahuasca, and it reprises the kind of preparation which I’d gone through myself, though at the time I didn’t know that it would lead to my experience of ayahuasca in Peru.
IM: And that “scattering,” again, it’s the clues you pick up on and trace in the book, it’s very much like Brion Gysin has left this trail for you, it’s like he has set these tests and traps for you to pass through, and left indicators in future time for you to follow and unravel.
TW: An esoteric method of teaching, sure.
IM: How could he do that? By predicting the course you would take, or by setting you on that path, and planting signs along the way for you to encounter, a psychic paper chase. . . Or beyond that, the projection of his own spirit through your own life, so that you were making his presence manifest. . . And this would be an example of the “living experiment” and “experiment in living” of Burroughs and Gysin’s Third Mind work. . . You’ve said that Gysin was this great Teacher who was absolutely reluctant and disinclined to teach anyone, but this is a kind of teaching, as you say, which he has left you, a hermetic process you have to engage with in order, in effect, to teach yourself and become self-sufficient, and also go further, to continue The Third Mind. . . Gysin, as Bedaya, appears at key points in the text, his spirit manifests through unaccountable memories and apparitions and his loaded words come through — it’s the transmission of his “special knowledge” which nobody wants to know about, which has been dropped after his death, but however difficult the conditions, you feel you have to take up this great experiment, The Third Mind, “an experiment that failed but which is still going on. . .” Because this very definitely isn’t The Third Mind as scrapbooks, as artworks or artefacts in museum vitrines, it’s a process of psychic exploration, of deconditioning habitual behaviour, usurping fixed notions of identity — an extreme emotional and spiritual reorientation. The book homages Brion Gysin and his spirit inhabits the book. You were clearly haunted by his loss, and possessed by the desire to undo or overcome that loss — a recognized stage in the process of mourning, along with denial, and anger, and the rest.
TW: Absolutely. But when I was writing “THE NERVOUS SYSTEM” in West End, I didn’t want to languish in my own emotions, and I became more textually and source creative, I was doing what I wanted, bringing anything in, because everything was a propos, an advantageous state for an artist to be in but exhausting, too. . . It was like a release, total freedom, freedom of access, just nothing was too weird or stupid or too recondite, because at one level I didn’t know what something might mean and how it might work, and yes, I do think this kind of receptivity could be understood as a form of remote viewing, because you can see the scenarios appear and develop as if you’re witnessing it happening. . . In those years in the country, in West End, I was getting into these extraordinary states of mind, very little internal dialogue, a quieting down of all that in order to become more receptive, and receptivity clears out all that taking of your own pulse. . . I could sit still for extended periods with nothing going on in my conscious mind, I was going into samadhi quite easily, which I lost when I came back to London in 2009. Taking ayahuasca in 2000 increased that ability, made it much deeper, and it was at that time, in that kind of condition that I finished Perilous Passage, the final section, “THE UNIVERSE IN OTHER WORDS (Ayahuasca),” and I couldn’t wait to write ayahuasca descriptions and cut them up, because I knew that was the way to go, to use the cut-up technique in that way, on those experiences, that was what I wanted to do and I knew it would work. It was the ideal subject matter for cut-up, and cut-up was the ideal method. . . Like Burroughs had the ayahuasca experience before he experienced cut-ups.
IM: Yes, so ayahuasca is the psychic experience which laid the ground for Burroughs’ reaction to and reception of cut-ups, and cut-ups are prefigured in certain ayahuasca-inspired sections of Naked Lunch.
TW: It was a relation between the two, between ayahuasca and cut-up, which I really had been waiting for, to put cut-up at the disposal of the drug. . . And it makes a real tour-de-force ending for Perilous Passage, you know, ayahuasca and cut-ups — an incredible combination. And that was the way to end it and make a great finale. . . Then I stopped writing and the receptivity went into another area, it wasn’t any longer about the desire or necessity of writing, of using words and creating images, all that stopped, and it was like these meditations went “clear,” went deeper than the receptivity related to the creative process, and I could sit in the sun or the shade for hours and I had all these classical types of chakra experiences, with all the colours, like a succession of colours from the gentials to the solar plexus, to the heart and the crown, behind the eyes, and I opened my eyes and it was like it was raining, like I was sitting under a fountain, drops of coloured spray, and I felt wonderful, a very Kundalini yogic kind of thing. . . I wasn’t in the lotus, I was in a chair in the garden with Penny, the cat, and all these colours were going all the way up, the way the brain works, colours clicking on in succession. . . I can’t remember the colours and the parts of the body, but I could feel it, it was spectacular. . . And the lawn looked like it was under frost. . .
IM: The first part of Perilous Passage is called “MAN FROM NOWHERE” and that is more directly about what happened to you both before and after Gysin’s death, the situation in Paris and these various spooks and culture collectors who were on the scene, or behind the scenes. Actually, I’m stepping into that trap, because Gysin is not “Gysin” in the book, he’s “Bedaya,” and you’re not “Terry Wilson,” you’re “Toller Whelme.” But this isn’t merely the use of pseudonyms to protect or hide the innocent, or the guilty, it’s a deliberate confrontation and contradiction of any possible objective, biographical account, and it questions the projection of identity through naming, the gap between “identity” and “identification.”
TW: Again, I wasn’t writing an official history because there is and can be no such thing. It’s fiction, “as ‘real’ as I can make it,” and when I’m asked to write my so-called “life story,” as if that would be the “real thing,” I can only point to Perilous Passage and my other books and say, “There it is.” If someone can’t get that, they’re holding onto this distinction between fiction and a “true and proper account” of “something which really happened.” It’s absurd! At the same time, the “real names” of these characters, dead or alive, apparently, do creep in later in the book, so that “Mr Green” is revealed to be Murray Smith, and “Vogue” is Philippe, and so on, because actually that makes the point — that all you have to do is use someone’s official name rather than a pseudonym, and some readers then take it as biographical, true and proper, but in fact the supposed biographical account is as written, as subjective, and unreliable as any fiction. Again, it’s Burroughs’ appropriation of Charles Fort’s maxim, “All history is fiction.” And William and Brion, they absolutely understood the significance of that statement, and it was crucial in their work and radically informed how they saw and experienced their lives, because otherwise you’re an automatic believer, you read something, whoever wrote it, whatever it might be, and you accept it at face value or you argue that it’s not correct, you believe the opposite, which is just as bad, if not even worse.
IM: So to accept a fictional universe is to stop being, as you say, an “automatic believer?” Like you read something like, “In 1954 the Mongol-Turk Khazers liquidated the white Adamic race in the name of the Soviet Anti-Christ,” and you just refuse to buy it.
TW: No, come on, that’s so obviously a fiction!. . . Isn’t it? [laughter] No, I mean you hear or read something like we’re being overwhelmed by immigrants, or the stock market is collapsing, or the weather’s going to be awful tomorrow, and instead of raving about it and getting incensed and crazy and yes, believing in it, you just stop! It seems like a simple thing to do, to just stop all that, but it’s not easy. And Brion and William deal with that in The Third Mind procedures. . . Read the Herald Trib, really read it, look at the way it’s all put together, look at how it’s written and composed, and don’t believe it!
IM: A lot of the news, of course, is pure prophecy and wish fulfilment. Still, I have that problem, I have this veneration of the word, I have a real word habit.
TW: You’re over-intellectualized, Ian, and you know it. And you’re conditioned to be reactive to words. But you can stop it, because you understand the problem and it comes from you.
IM: I practically live in a library. Actually, thinking about it, I do live in a library.
TW: Get rid of the library!
IM: Like in Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé.
TW: There you go again.
IM: OK, so Perilous Passage plays upon what is supposedly “true” and what is fiction, it explores authenticity and belief. And you’ve said to me that by writing your “memoirs,” so to speak, as fiction, that turns your life into a fiction, or affirms its essential fictionality.
TW: Yes, but there’s no deliberate falsification in the way I approached this, despite my quoting the Amazonian shaman Don Juan Tuesta, affirming what he calls “a deceit in the service of truth.” The book is about games of deception, ulterior motives, the shadow realm, power plays, all of that, but also how people deceive themselves, how easy it is to believe in these supposedly rational, accepted ways of thinking and behaving, to believe without even questioning where these beliefs come from. . . No, however irrational and crazy the book might seem, it’s a “true deceit,” the best possible account I could give of my experiences. . . It’s the case that I had some grievances when I was writing it, like Friends of Bedaya and this shaman on the make in the jungle, but I didn’t go out to misrepresent, precisely because I was not making that distinction between “true” and “false. . .” I was questioning the “reality” of people and events via memory, and playing upon the reader’s belief in what is, or was, “real” or invented, and making clear that the “truth of fiction” is an important consideration in regard to how each of us thinks and speaks and writes, what we think we know, what we believe did or did not happen. . . Whatever the confusion it generates, this whole area is vital, as William and Brion knew, it isn’t some philosophical talking shop, it’s the great imperative of “a new and different knowledge.” . . It’s a paradox, of course, because to insist upon fictionality, that all history is fiction, is actually to refuse to subscribe to Maya, the whole illusion world that we are born into, educated into, and supposed to spend our lives subscribing to. . .
IM: Playing around with literary genres and pushing these fantastic scenarios, you’re stretching the reader’s credulity while simultaneously the pseudonyms give way to the real names, you’re challenging the reader’s ability or desire to accept the validity of the text or treat it as a fantastic subversion. . .
TW: I was playing with literary genres and scenarios, sure, mixing and pushing them to the point of craziness, but this was the process, an extraordinary receptivity taking over to a certain extent. . .That material had its own volition and it was also entirely a propos the circumstances I found myself in, those scenarios and that mayhem and confusion, it was all going on, in and out of the book itself. Like there were all these “Old School” Intelligence agents, so I let loose with my own Sapper-Bulldog Drummond-John Buchan, obtuse, over-the-top kind of Doctor Benway creation. . . And the names of the characters emerged from the receptivity of the writing experience. Like Burroughs is “The Old Man,” a play, of course, on Hassan-i-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain. . . Brion connected William with Sabbah, and vice versa, but I also saw in a newspaper the phrase “the old man and I drew in the nets,” and it caught my attention, and I thought immediately of William and Brion in the Beat Hotel and later in London and Paris, attracting acolytes and pulling in the nets, drawing in people like myself and Udo Breger and others. . . So in Perilous Passage “Burroughs” is historically located while the “The Old Man” is fictionally, mythically at large, but it’s the same character, created through words. People will bring to it what they think they know about Burroughs, and project that, but where do their ideas of “William Burroughs” come from? So I guess one aspect of this approach is to affirm that “William Burroughs” is a fictional character, a fictional creation — as are we all.
IM: And Brion Gysin is “Bedaya.”
TW: A bedaya is a traditional Moroccan waistcoat, maybe originally it was Persian, the kind which Brion and William both wore, and as I’ve said, Brion gave me Antony’s, in Paris, after Antony’s death and William commented, “He has every right to wear it.” So it had a symbolic, fraternal function. . . But also, I asked Brion what the name of a garment like the waistcoat was, what a Moroccan would call it, and instead of answering me aloud, he wrote it down — “Bedaya.” And it was odd, as if he didn’t want to repeat the word, he didn’t want to speak or pronounce the word out loud for some reason, so I spoke it aloud, pronouncing it, and he confirmed this as correct. So that was maybe some kind of ritual, because I never heard the word from his mouth. . . I thought it might well have been an esoteric name, even his Secret Name, or related to that, but when he wrote it down that time, I thought he was writing his signature, and it looked like his signature, curiously, like a name, or like he was writing his own name. . . But there it was, “Bedaya,” so I took it for his name in my writing, and that’s where it came from, and he’s referred to as Bedaya all the way through “D” Train. . . For many years Brion wasn’t seen without that kind of waistcoat, he had a couple at least, until the last couple of years when he stopped, I think. “Bedaya” means “covering the heart” I believe, or “heart contact,” a Sufi connotation . . . Well, Philippe used a Ouija board to come up with his own fictional alter ego, “Vogue Etiquette. . .” And my name in my books, “Toller Whelme,” it was the name of a house in the country in Southampton, and it struck me that it had my initials and of course Whelme is overwhelmed from the beginning of Dreams Of Green Base to the end of Perilous Passage. . . “Mr. Green” is based on Murray Smith and the name relates to another Green, Gerald Green, who was associated with J G Bennett. It’s like Brion in Here To Go, he says that he didn’t know his “true name,” or so he claims . . .
IM: Because Gysin was fascinated by his own name, the letters and their combinations, and he kept changing it, looking for the right fit, and the way he signed his paintings and drawings changed — “Brion Gysin,” “Brion,” “Gysin,” “BG,” writing over and correcting his own signature, and using this apparently aristocratic Swiss family emblem, which is actually more like a Sufi glyph, so that the name and the signature are unstable and they mutate, signalling and embodying the problematics of his own image and sense of identity. . . And he roller-painted his name, and deconstructed it, and developed his own “bean sprout” calligraphic signature, and played upon other people’s names, turning them into these funny monikers based upon sound play, these sobriquets with a real scorpion sting. Like Angus MacLise was “Angus MacFangus,” playing upon MacLise’s fascination with Jaguar Cults and his wearing a tooth on a leather thong around his neck. Ira told me about MacLise and his Jaguar obsession. . . Well, Gysin’s joke names were loaded with meaning, it was a game but it related to his profound disturbance about his own identity, and how to be born is to be named, and the birth and the name are both fated and imposed. And it’s like every person is turned into a fictional character, or a representative type. You’re born, not asked, and you’re named in the process, and most people suffer their given name or vaunt it for all their days.
TW: Susan Sontag was “Susan Snotrag. . .” Kate Millet was “Mate Killit. . .” Evelyn Waugh was “Evilin Wog. . .” Aleister Crowley was “Aleister Growley. . .” and so on.
IM: Sort of childish, I suppose, but very funny and extremely acute. “What’s in a name?” It’s like Robert Hughes in his debunking of the art world in the ’80s, he has “Julian Snorkel,” “Jean-Michel Basketcase,” “David Silly,” and so on.
TW: Well, there may be true names, official names, pseudonyms in fiction, or someone like Jim with his incredible multiple aliases and proliferating passports. . . I’d been out there in the world with Jim and he had so many aliases, all these different cover stories, and Brion, as you say, he made all these changes to his name. . . I blow the pseudonyms at the end of Perilous Passage, and also in the book’s Introduction, and then there are the photographs of Brion and myself and Udo Breger’s photograph of William and Brion with Jim, and these will be taken to document the text, however unbelievable. . . In the case of that picture of Jim, a very good picture by Udo, it unbelievably confirms that Jim apparently really exists, or existed, and isn’t, or wasn’t, my own deranged invention. . . Because I needed a big change, to pull right out of the claustrophobic and incestuous scene, to get out of there and have an overview, to open up and widen the scope, so it’s like I leave “Whelme” and all those characters and their “real life” counterparts behind. . . The book had achieved its purpose, for me.
IM: Could you say something about the second part of Perilous Passage, called “CHATEAU-ROUGE?”
TW: Well, the first section “MAN FROM NOWHERE” continues on from my previous book “D” Train, and it delineates what happened subsequently, and Brion’s death, but when I got to the second section, “CHATEAU-ROUGE,” I really was trying to find my way out of this situation, the doldrums I’d been plunged into. Brion had died in ’86 and it took a while to get onto a different track and this section really takes the reader into what happened when Jim, or “KJ,” began to increasingly take over the scene in his own unique way. . . Because Brion had left this “area of total conflict” between different factions and vested interests and of course Jim liked nothing better than a situation like that, and he decided to push his Academia Foundation and exhibit Brion’s Makemono painting, which he owned, and had financed, and to make a film and all these other great plans and ideas which naturally never came to anything and caused all kinds of mayhem and grief, while having a great deal of fun and thrills in the process. . . So there’s KJ getting his whole show on the road and the beginnings of my times with him, but it’s in this section that something very different happens that begins to set the scene for the rest of the book and for my later work Days Lane, because Philippe’s apartment in the late 80s was in Barbes, next to the metro station Chateau-Rouge, and there was a lowlife bar there on the corner, called Chateau-Rouge. Well, I began to go into these memories, these tandra “Day-Dreaming” type messages or visions, which were tandra recapitulation-type episodes, memories which I apparently had which appeared in my consciousness but which I couldn’t account for. . . So I went into these memories of training establishments, “little factories” in different locations, and one of them was the Chateau, and for some reason that name, “Chateau-Rouge” just seemed to fit, transposed to a chateau in the French countryside, like taking a piece of Gysin’s Paris with me into the countryide after his death, and this was activated by the process of writing the book.
IM: So the book, to some extent, helped to produce those memories, which I think helps show how the book was reciprocal, and it generated and embodied the very Third Mind emanations which stimulated it and which it recounts. Writing makes it happen — Mektoub: It Is Written. Writing as an active shamanic agent in the entire process, which you were trying to use in that way. . . And that act of writing is foregrounded at different points in the text, like “I sat back from the typewriter” and “He sits back from the typewriter,” and there are photographs of you writing at the typewriter, so that the creation of the book is an essential part of the story being told, which is still being written as the reader reads it, and the writing of the text is a key element in the psychic process . . . So the book is happening, it’s being written as you read it. . . The writer in the first person and in the second. . . You start by describing something which apparently happened, and then you enter the scene and it’s happening in real time, and it’s being written. . . And that pronoun switch is telling, too, showing the disjunction and also the merging of author and alter ego, the split between the character as “real life protagonist” and the writer as a fictional creation, the “I” and the “He” of self-recreation. . . The Chateau scenario seems related to Burroughs’ Academy 23 project in The Job and his Mayfair articles, the all-male training establishment which Burroughs dreamed of setting up, maybe at Boleskine, Aleister Crowley’s place on Loch Lomond, which Jimmy Page acquired. It was an extension of the idea of the psychic group in the Beat Hotel, but looking to the future, the necessity of having initiates rather than acolytes and to train them and deprogram them, to create a new school of practical enlightenment. . .
TW: Yes, sure, there’s that connection but I wasn’t emulating that or playing with a version of it, I was remembering these episodes, these unaccountable but vivid memories. . . Memories arising, which I couldn’t account for, but which were no less “true” than so-called “real” memories.
IM: Those “memories” do suggest that idea of the enclave with initiates as another key part of The Third Mind, not only as a kind of version of the Beat Hotel itself, but as a necessary psychic accompaniment to the project of re-educating the self, that one cannot do this without others. Pascal was right, we die alone, but we don’t live alone. Hell may well be other people, but other people, they are life itself, like it or not, and we can at least choose our friends. . . Actually, Perilous Passage is so much about you feeling alone and isolated and lost, and so this could be read as a projection, a reaching out for continuation of everything you’d loved about Brion, inseperable from his teaching — even though he refused to teach! [laughter] So what you were remembering was maybe a projection at some level of that vital part of the process, the essential need for brotherhood. . . To some degree a recognition of that area of recruitment and transmission, and those strange memories of this training Chateau, they recur later in the “NERVOUS SYSTEM” section of the book where they’re connected to memories of La Roche-Guyon where you went with Philippe after Gysin’s death, “the white stone village” outside Paris, and this is like the Third Mind technique which continually transposes written material and scenarios and memories, changing them and re-contextualising them, moving them around in space and time, a technique related to echo edits and Donald Cammell’s flash cuts in film, so you get these déjà vu glimpses and fragmented replays moving back and forth in the text and in the mind — it’s a way of developing memory in a different way, not to remember and preserve memories but to shift and concatenate and fracture and reassemble them.
TW: I’d say it’s both a conscious decision in the writing process and the emergence of those ideas through the process. . . It’s not a literary technique, it’s true to the experiences involved, and that’s the most important thing.
IM: So it’s not a literary technique, as critics would have it, it’s a way of altering consciousness and the experience of temporality, it’s absolutely a method, one that takes a number of different forms, and utilizes cut-up and tape layering and transposition, using the printed word to alter the brain itself and confute habitual responses, to make the reader aware of the processes of connectivity and the multiple levels of meaning — that’s the transmission from the writer to the reader, and it’s so complex that the effects cannot be predicted or controlled by the writer.
TW: That’s it, you can try to express these states of consciousness, but at some point it really is transmission. Which isn’t to say that finally, as a writer, you don’t select and edit and decide upon what does this best, what works and doesn’t work.
IM: Of course, very importantly, Burroughs’ techniques of cut-up and fold-in and scrapbook orientations and dreaming, these make the writer his own reader in a very special sense, because the writer discovers what he has apparently written by reading the results of the processes used. At one level what Burroughs is doing is mind screwing, that’s the only way to put it, I think, and that’s something the critics fail to notice or refuse to say, along with the sheer beauty of the writing. And Burroughs’ writing works on the reader’s memory and not just by creating memories of reading. . . It’s a tool of rapid connectivity, a “neural shuttle,” and triggers the synaptic flashing of images from different time locations in the brain, it impacts on the psyche and it’s carried on by the reader, quite helplessly. The effects will emerge not only in dreams but in waking life, I mean so-called waking life, and as you’ve said, this visceral possession is not something critics wish to talk about or consider at all, it doesn’t fit their literary and theoretical templates.
TW: That’s their form of protection. They have a certain theoretical understanding, but even that is hopeless, it just means they’re writing and talking about something they have no experience of, but they have their articles and lectures to prove otherwise, naturally. To “understand” cut-up, you have to do it. And that goes for everything else in The Third Mind. They really ought to try “rubbing out the word” — their own! You have to engage, you have to go through these processes and learn, and then you might write, because you might have something to say, or be in a situation to transmit something.
IM: Actually, to deal with this writing as “literature,” it’s a category error. . . I mean, no one can deny Burroughs’ effect on “American Literature,” and this is fine as far as it goes, but that’s the point, that’s absolutely as far as it goes — for the trained exegetists. I think the inability to get Burroughs carries on to the reception of your own work — you’re seen as creating this complex, rarefied, difficult or perplexing form of “literature,” or it’s a “cut-up autobiography” that’s also somehow invented, maybe, and they just wish you’d just write your story exactly as it happened. . . or on the other hand, a recognizable narrative fiction, something that could be called “a novel. . .”
TW: My books do tell my story and I’m not interested in whatever these self-elected scholars and critics are so busy explaining to one another in their colloques and symposiums, I’m out of all that, definitively, and always have been.
IM: Surely the psychic impact of Burroughs’ writing is the most important thing. It’s writing as the teleporting of the reader from one place and time to another, not the escapist seduction of the reader into a particular story or period, and the old suspension of disbelief, but something quite different from that immersion in another world, on the contrary, it’s the vertiginous jumping from one setup to another, from one fictional scenario to another and back again, and the vivid awareness of that experience of transition, which shatters perceptual and mental concurrence and fixity. . . It’s commonly said that this is the result of cut-up, but it also comes from the other techniques which Burroughs and Gysin explored including journeys out of the body, the teleporting of consciousness, the projection of other lives, so-called “false memory syndrome. . .” There’s no doubt that Burroughs rewrote his own memories through textual and psychic processes which altered the written material in order to change the brain’s formatting of these memories, and memory patterns. . . And so memories can be textually generated in variant form, a cyclical process which is actually in accord with what we now know about the storing and activation and re-contextualization of memories. . .But the point is that Burroughs actually recreates and develops his “own” memories, and at this point, of course, you could bring in psychoanalysis and start writing about manifest versus latent memories, and screen memories, insisting upon the “real” episodes which Burroughs is supposedly exorcising, or attempting either to locate or obfuscate, but his methodology actually invalidates that hunt for “what really happened.” Burroughs is just too fast for that, in every sense, beyond even the “space age” of the ’60s in which he located his practice. Because cut-up smashed commonplace notions of cause and effect, and Sigmund Freud will never read The Soft Machine. [laughter]
TW: Again, and I guess it can’t be said too often, because nobody will listen — “All history is fiction!”
IM: You’re trying to express these experiences of other states of consciousness in writing, and to procure and transmit something of those experiences, so it’s not an account but psychically generative. Burroughs said that a writer needs his readers, and that’s the key — the Sender needs the Receiver. The software, the anti-program, must be installed — to use a contemporary, commonplace version of the cybernetic imagery which was not metaphoric but literal for Gysin and Burroughs when they employed it in the Beat Hotel. The key is that the Word is understood as being transmitted as a virus — because it replicates, because it spreads. . .
TW: Yes, that’s it, you want to have an effect which conveys the dynamics of consciousness. In London in ’86, after Brion’s death, I had this onslaught of spectacular fireworks, a psychic experience, what Krishnamurti called “The Process,” which of course has some relevance to the title of Brion’s novel and others have used this term in regard to initiatory experiences. Well, for about six months after Brion’s death I was seeing with my eyes closed, I had this rush of psychic experiences which is conveyed hopefully to some extent in Perilous Passage, a real psychedelic fandango, and it felt as if momentarily all this power was passing through me, the way he had felt throughout his life, that’s what I felt, producing the most extraordinary psychic fireworks, quite different from the receptivity and deep meditations which I experienced later, and different from ayahuasca, too. . .
IM: In the book you describe seeing a blue sea and then you’re projected onto a movie screen before being swept away by “some uncontrollable volitionary force from one infinitely inconceivable metamorphosis to another. . .” You pass through a cavern of mirrors and you’re attacked by all these “quasi-human creatures,” and what I find so interesting is that you get out of this psychic pit by actually conjuring another kind of fear, your own fear of heights, by inducing vertigo, and by doing this you escape the “psychic fireworks” — it’s a method of overcoming a state of terror by invoking an inculcated psychic and physical fear. And significantly, your vertigo itself disappears during this process. It’s a lesson in learning to combat one terror with another, to induce a further terror and to pass through both.
TW: But at the time, when you’re going through something like that, it’s not like you can think it through, or employ some strategy. . . There was this electrical energy crackling through me, and cracking me up physically and mentally, to the point where I thought I would die, overloaded with the voltage, as if that was what Brion had lived with. . . It was enormously debilitating and I felt I was being rewired. Such experiences seem impossible to describe, but that’s something I felt I had to try and do in Perilous Passage, it’s one of the functions of the book to see just how far I could go, to find ways to express these states, and not just provide an account, as you say. . . Writing as a method, one among others, to procure access to that kind of state, or communicate how it felt . . . And of course cut-up would seem to be the perfect method to use for expressing these states, as with ayahuasca. . .
IM: The time gap between the first parts of Perilous Passage and the last two sections shows how the book was written out of unexpected, unforeseen experiences which actually entered the book and changed it. And it was not “recollected in tranquillity,” it wasn’t written after the fact, looking back — it was lived.
TW: My approach was not systematic, though I kept it strictly in the order in which it was written. Within that you have all these flashbacks and episodes moving back and forth in time, but there’s a chronology of writing. . . I wasn’t writing what had happened, I was writing it as it happened. The book was part of what happened during the years in which it was written, it was inextricably bound up with those experiences which created it.
IM: And which in turn it helped to create. Even when you weren’t writing during this period, you were still a writer, and that is a crucial thing. Does a writer, can a writer, stop being a writer? If not, then that impulse, desire, necessity always plays a part. How do you feel about your own role, or profession of writer, the compulsion, or curse, of being a writer?
TW: I like writing, I enjoy it, but I distrust the artistic process. I don’t like the idea of being addicted to it. Sartre in his book on Genet, I think, he says that you show him someone who calls himself a writer, he’ll show you a slave, someone in chains. . . So I said, after Dreams Of Green Base, and after Perilous Passage, and other times, that I wasn’t going to write anymore, at those times I felt I’d said all I wanted to say. Then with Days Lane, I wanted to explain “The Gysin Level,” and tandra “Day-Dreaming,” to get at the quintessence of The Third Mind, so it’s a small book, very concentrated, like that, focusing on all the experiences I’d gone through in that area, a kind of summation, the final statement, if you like.
IM: Burroughs wrote so much, he wrote all the time, and the material he generated overflowed the published books. . . It was for many years an extraordinary, astonishing process of writing, an organic, Amazonian flood of writing without end, this “orchidaceous splendor” flowing in all these directions. . . Totally uncontainable, a real river of writing in total flood. . . An absolutely unparalleled practise of writing — writing as addiction, out of addiction. . .And Gysin’s written and published oeuvre is comparatively small compared with that, and was directed to a few distinct projects, realized or otherwise. I think your own writing went through these years of experiences and experimentation, and each book developed so as to incarnate a particular stage in your development, I mean, your psychic development and what you were learning. . . So each book incarnates a particular period but also a crucial stage of initiation, from Dreams Of Green Base to “D” Train to Perilous Passage and then Days Lane.
TW: Yes, like Days Lane. After the experiences in West End I found it impossible to believe in a hostile, predatory universe. And the experience of ayahuasca didn’t contradict this, even though the experience was terrifying. . . I went through it, but it didn’t contradict those experiences, no, it was beneficial but you have to integrate it, because once you’ve taken it, it’s inside you. . . Some people benefit enormously from ayahuasca, others seem unaffected. It depends entirely upon who’s taking it, the psycho-physical setup. . . At the very end of Days Lane, I wrote about seeing and accepting “that the beauty of existence is never exhausted and is ultimately invulnerable, and that Entire Being — the universe, in other words — is total elation.”
IM: Perilous Passage is very much the account of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but the Sorcerer has gone, the Apprentice has to navigate alone, contacting the Master through these strewn clues and psychic manifestations. Or he’s helpless, a conduit for these transmissions, set on the “shattering course.”
TW: You know that Brion didn’t want to be my teacher, but one of the last things he said to me was, “You have only been an Apprentice to an Apprentice.” So there was someone, something, behind him, and what happened to me after his death was something which he could not show me when he was alive. . . Well, I’ve spent time with artists and practitioners, shall we say, and some of these were involved in those shifting worlds of intrigue and psychic power, and I learned that an artist is a self-conscious shaman and not a public entertainer. . . For William and for Brion, art wasn’t a religion and it wasn’t art for art’s sake, it was intended to have some effect, it was an instrument in the transformation of consciousness, directed at changing the circumstances of living, the experience of human existence. . . It wasn’t party politics but a disenfranchised electorate attacking existing ideologies, recruiting the disaffected and the rebellious. . . William and Brion were serious practitioners of a revolution in awareness, they were researching “a new and different knowledge,” creating an esoteric factory, going back to the roots of magical artistic practice and developing these shattering techniques through technology, surprising “the springs and traps of inspiration,” all of that and more besides. . . And that attitude has been essential for me and for my work, because these notions of so-called “art” and “literature,” all of that is quite beside the point. . . Brion taught by example, through allegory and incredibly intricate, complex story-telling. He taught elliptically, and through demonstration — he would show you something and leave the rest up to you. It was the opposite of didacticism, even though Brion had his own very pronounced views on things. I remember one time, someone ran out the room when Brion was telling this story because it just drove him crazy. . . It was at the time of the publication of Queer, or it was just about to be published, and we were there in Brion’s apartment in rue St Martin and William was in one room talking about the shooting of Joan, he was in Brion’s bedroom, actually, that’s where he’d installed himself or found himself with this audience listening to him, and, of course, they were rapt. . . And William was talking about possession, the version given in the introduction to Queer, no doubt. . . But I stayed in the main room with Brion and he was talking to me about looking after Bet, saying you have to look after your mother, you know, that was axiomatic, you had to do that, even though Brion had not done so with his own mother and felt considerable guilt about it. . . Well, this conversation took place while William was in the next room talking about the shooting of Joan, and maybe that misogyny theme arose, like the two were in conjunction — the shooting of the wife, the apparent desertion of the mother, and the terrible guilt involved. . . I was feeling very uneasy about what was happening, like some kind of double act they would put on, but this was actually very distressing and weird, and then Brion went into this incredible tale about some unbelievable character who went to vernissages and openings and salons where he proceeded to stamp on women’s feet! [laughter] This was Brion as a Fortean “Wild Talents” operator, telling me apparently out of the blue about this phantom foot stomper, some guy who just appeared and did this crazy thing and then ran off until the next time and how he became the curse of fashionable society. It was hilarious, incredible, and I had no idea why Brion was suddenly expounding upon this, and then he said that this man was his hero, he was the man he admired most in the world, you know, really lauding this character and enthusing about him and laying it all on, and as he described all these crazy incidents, I couldn’t stop laughing, but of course, I thought he was making it all up, but then he opened this drawer and came out with a whole load of press cuttings about this guy, like in seven languages, all of which Brion could read and proceeded to do so. . . The Phantom Foot Stomper, going around all the society hot spots and jumping on women’s feet before fleeing into the night. . . And meanwhile William is talking about the tragic killing of Joan, and the guilt he feels, and the “Ugly Spirit,” and we’re howling uncouthly with laughter in the next room, or at least I was, about this society foot fetishist . . I mean, what did that mean? Why did he suddenly come out with all that stuff and show it to me? I know it’s connected to his mother and to Joan through this idea about stepping on women, but at the same time it was so bizarre and freakish and unaccountable. It certainly wasn’t happenstance, because Brion wasn’t like that. It was teaching. . . it meant something that could not have been said in any other way. And he was the devil who made me react in the way I did, and I really couldn’t help myself — it was hysterically funny, and it was teaching, teaching through overturn, to shatter all your preconceptions and totally turn you around, like that. . . He made me laugh like crazy till I suddenly stopped and thought, “What just happened?” That was his way — something hidden in the telling, and you’d never forget it, though its meaning is ineffable. . .
IM: Perilous Passage is very funny indeed, as well as scary and disorienting. Burroughs and Gysin could also be naturally very funny, but humor, like in your work, it had a strategic purpose for them, too — laughter, laughing out loud, the un-containable explosion of laughter, like, “you’re killing me.” . . It has a vital function in shamanism and in overturning self-control and the imposition of social control. Gysin and Burroughs were profoundly serious men, but they knew the value of wit and delight and fun, as well as the weapon of humor — the satiric, scatological sketch that ridicules some divine tyrant and turns him into a laughing stock forever. And how great is that. . . But what a lot of people think of first and foremost about Burroughs’ work, I’m sure, is the grotesquerie, the satire and scathing polemic, the caricature and the one-liners. That’s just one reason why the cut-up trilogy is less popular than some of his other works, though I think it’s his greatest achievement after Naked Lunch. Quite apart from the intensive cut-up employed, which is so incredibly heavy and like being machine-gunned, it’s far less pantomimic.
TW: It might seem crazy or totally misguided that in a book which deals with very serious issues, the Third Mind and the death of Brion Gysin, that I have this insane slapstick with references to some retired General’s magnum opus on athlete’s foot and so on. . . But yes, you’re right, it’s a very necessary corrective to some “imparting the wisdom” setup. . . I owe much of that to Jim, I mean he was such a great performer and a perfect character for the book too, but it was more than that, it was an education, really — a terrifying education, sure, but I guess I learned a lot, and I realized that that was part of the process, which had begun with William and Brion, and now here I was with Jim and his antics and all this mayhem. . . When you’re with someone like that, even though there is no one else like that, you certainly see and experience things differently. And of course, Jim was the opposition, I mean he was against all these vested interests, he represented Brion’s interests, as far as I was concerned, because he’d financially supported Brion when Brion was ill and dying, and he’d financed and arranged for Brion to be able to paint his big Makemono, the multiple panels of the painting Calligraffiti of Fire, which he wanted to exhibit, and then he wanted to make a film of Perilous Passage, based upon the book I was writing, and this was 1990, and it seemed absolutely the way to go, because Jim was really pushing Brion’s work and my own work, and he believed in it.
IM: The big advertisement for the proposed film, it appeared in that big issue of Screen International promoting the Cannes Film Festival, it was in May 1990. And Jim believed in Perilous Passage and the techniques employed, he saw it as the true continuation of The Third Mind. I have a copy of that big one-page poster here, it reads, “Who Is The Man From Nowhere? Perilous Passage by Terry Wilson. The Legacy of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. A Mind-bending Mega Trip Into Interior Space.” And then the whole project unravelled and fell apart, which isn’t unusual in the film world, it happened with Burroughs and Gysin and Tony Balch when they tried to make a film of Naked Lunch, though that took years and years before they finally gave up on it, or rather, accepted that they were being struck down with illness and it just wasn’t going to happen. But even though it all fell apart, Jim had seen the film potential of Perilous Passage, and he picked up on the filmic scenarios and film setups in the book. . . He saw the possibility of bringing Third Mind techniques to the big screen.
TW: And then someone fires a gun through the window, just one of the things that went down at that time, as I mention in Perilous Passage.
IM: The sound of breaking glass seems to have been a feature of the shenanigans, psychic and otherwise. And flickering lights. . .
TW: Well, it all came to an end in any case when Jim was arrested and locked up, and that was the end of the idea of any movie. But that craziness which Jim brought along with him, it went into the book along with all this slapstick material that I was picking up on from various sources, and I’d chuck it in, and in a way it was like Brion taking a sci-fi chapter from some novel and sticking it in The Process, and Burroughs writing to Ginsberg about putting Junkie and Queer together, one written in the first person and one in the second person, because that kind of disjunction seems crazy but it was entirely appropriate. . . It’s the juxtaposition of different kinds of knowledge which was part of that process, and the humor is very much in the ludicrousness of this very disparate material dragged in. . . And it was complex, like the quotation from The Last Buffalo Of The Black Hills, it isn’t a quotation at all, it’s actually a cut-up I made, but it doesn’t appear to be a cut-up or read like a cut-up! But a reader might assume it’s a genuine quotation since I mention that book earlier on in the text. The reader may be puzzled, or elsewhere feel derailed by this Marx Brothers riot, but it’s not written for readers who might define it as “postmodernist,” it’s not some kind of “anti-novel,” no, not at all, my book is a spell, it’s intended to have a quite magical effect and in that way it’s closer to Brion’s The Process, as well as deriving technically to some extent from William’s The Job. . . And, as I say, I was entering the Tom Ripley world, and even these quite odd personalities Brion knew couldn’t compare with Jim’s antics and this whole dangerous scene I was introduced to, and then with Jim there were all these different people in one, the deranged motormouth suddenly switches into a description of the stars as we drive through the night, and then not saying a word. . .
IM: Like Europe in the rain, travelling through a film of ruins, it comes over in the book and it encapsulates that feeling of the early ’90s. I liked the idea of Jim’s proposed film, from what I could make out of what Jim told me at the time. I imagined it would be a kind of homage to Donald Cammell’s great Performance, this mixing and merging of the artistic and criminal worlds, but with Third Mind techniques actually employed in the shooting. . . I’ve worked on even more nebulous film projects, and I thought this project was unlikely but it was at least quite promising compared with what I’d been through, like the one about the closeted gay cop who works at night in a massage parlour and inserts needles into his scrotum. [laughter] Well, that went straight into the video dungeon, but I imagined this film Jim had in mind as a black and white art house film, shot through with colour, a kind of New Wave homage in some ways. . . And the film would make the image of Brion Gysin appear, and that whole Maya illusion world, the great Beat Hotel melange, with all its sound and vision projectors, it would all be there, on screen and soundtrack . . . And then Jim drove me crazy, getting me to write all these treatments and synopses and articles, referring to your work and Gysin’s and Burrough’, and he appeared to be in Cannes, but maybe he was actually in Paris, and he was apparently meeting Bertolucci and David Lynch and even the Adorno Group, or was it the New Frankfurt School or something — and his demands and requests changed every night, depending upon whoever he was going to meet to sell this idea to, or whatever he was up to. I was writing all these things at a moment’s notice, and I remember once saying to him, “No one, and I mean no one, can write a screenplay in five hours, Jim,” and he said, “Cut out the dialogue.” [laughter] I mean, incredible! And there were these incredibly long phone calls, and Jim was brilliant, very inspired and inspiring, and he was very much someone who loved the work of Burroughs and Gysin and your own writing and he really wanted to do something and he thought film was the way to go, a Burroughsian, Gysinian vision on the screen, dealing with your situation at the time, trying to keep The Third Mind going somehow. And he was very funny. He made me laugh, and I mean, I was in pain. [laughter]
TW: It was shamanic foolery, and that was vital for the book, I thought, or otherwise you’d be entering Beckettland, though Brion once told me that William actually found Beckett funny! [laughter]
IM: You mean he really thought Beckett was funny?
TW: That’s what Brion told me.
IM: Well, actually, I can see that, I think, maybe, in the novels. There’s this absurd repetition of certain meaningless actions. Was that it, do you think?
TW: I really wouldn’t worry about it.
IM: Jim treated the phone as an instrument of shamanic transmission. I found it impossible to break the call or hang up — he had me hooked. He phoned and claimed that David Lynch had called whatever I’d written “an insult to the profession” or something, and that Lynch had ripped it up and thrown it in the waste basket in an apoplectic rage, but this didn’t chime at all with what I knew about Lynch. The Adorno Group, or whatever they were, they promptly denounced me as a “class traitor” and “art parasite,” and Jim said, “How could you write such drivel? How could you do this to me?,” you know, emotionally prostrating himself, but then the next moment it was, “Forward, comrade!” and jubilantly triumphant before all obstacles. . . [laughter] Then I’d be up all night writing and burning up the fax machine. Jim phoned at one point and said that you and Philippe had gone AWOL in the Atlas Mountains and I should fly out to Morocco immediately and find you, but I should go “in mufti” . . . I mean, really, he made my head spin, and in those days I didn’t know if it was lunch or breakfast, but he was spellbinding, and unlike some, he did actually pay me for my work. Jim had honor, though Duncan Campbell, in his book The Underworld, he writes that Jim was “eccentric and devious. . . a man who has scruples like a hen has teeth, who lived in a netherworld between reality and fantasy.”
TW: I don’t think Joseph Beuys, William Burroughs, and Brion Gysin were wrong about Jim, and I know whose opinion I’d value. They appreciated Jim, they recognized him. He was the true revolutionary spirit, incarnate.
IM: They were men of the world, they were great artists, and they’d been around — and they knew a crazy wisdom guru when they met one. And Jim supported Gysin, and yourself, he really did put his money down on the table. We must thank him for Gysin’s Calligraffiti of Fire and for helping Gysin through those dark times when he was so terribly ill. Jim picked up the tab, and he never questioned doing so. Certain others were unaccountably unavailable at the time, or occupied elsewhere. “By their deeds shall ye know them.”
TW: Absolutely. Yes, Jim came through for Brion, that is the truth of that time. . . He made things better for Brion than they would otherwise have been, and he never claimed credit or bragged about it, he just did it. . . So, yes, absolutely, you’re right. A trickster, for sure, but as you say, he had his own integrity.
IM: There’s so much more, but I think we can leave it there for now. Thanks, we’ll save the rest for another time.
TW: My pleasure.
Perilous Passage is published by Synergetic Press. (Paperback, 189 pages, 11 illustrations, ISBN 978-0-907791-42-3)
Days Lane by Terry Wilson was published by Richard Livermore of Chanticleer Press, Edinburgh, in 2009.
Extracts from two interviews of Terry Wilson by Ian MacFadyen, including material on William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, have recently been published in the new issue of the journal Pataphysics: Program, edited by Leo Edelstein and Judith Elliston. (ISSN 103-5197)
“Cutting Up For Real” is an extract from extensive interviews of Terry Wilson made by Ian MacFadyen over several years. Some of this material will be included in the book on The Third Mind which Ian MacFadyen is working on with Amsterdam-based painter Phil Wood. Further extracts will appear on RealityStudio.