An Archive of Materials by and about Jacques Stern
Including the Complete Text of The Fluke
William S. Burroughs had known Jacques Loup Stern for little more than a year when he declared the man a “great writer.” Writing from the Beat Hotel in Paris on June 8, 1959, Burroughs reported to Allen Ginsberg that Stern “wrote a novel in nine days.” It was called The Fluke. “As for Jack’s writing,” Burroughs continued, using the Americanization of Stern’s first name, “I think it is better by far than mine or Kerouac’s or your or Gregory’s or anyone I can think of. There is no doubt about it, he is a great writer. I think the greatest writer of our time.”1 This is high praise from a man about to publish one of the most groundbreaking books of the century. In the next month, Burroughs would spend a frantic ten days pulling together the manuscript of Naked Lunch for publication by the Olympia Press in Paris. In late July 1959, while describing this scramble in another letter to Ginsberg, Burroughs reiterated his judgement: Stern “is a great writer.”2
When Burroughs’ correspondence was published in 1993, a legend began to accrue around the name Jacques Stern. Who was this man? What was his writing like? Had The Fluke never been published? Why had its author eschewed the limelight? Was he living or dead? Before the publication of Naked Lunch, Burroughs had been viewed as a mysterious figure haunting the periphery of the Beats. But as Burroughs became famous, it was Stern who became — and was to remain — an hombre invisible. His name would sometimes appear in interviews or books, where he was described with a stock supply of nouns (Frenchman, mathematician, junky) and adjectives (rich, brilliant, eccentric). Burroughs himself would refer to Stern as “the baron” or “the mad baron.” But no one spoke of him as a writer.
Compounding the mystery was the fact that Stern was an inveterate teller of tall tales. In the heady Beat Hotel days, Stern told Burroughs about surviving a horrific car crash. It wasn’t true. He claimed to have undergone profound mystical experiences in India, but his traveling companion painted their trip in a much less metaphysical light. In the Burroughs Papers at the New York Public Library, there is a cut-up of “Jacques Stern’s Telegram to the Captain Barrie of His Alleged Yacht.” The word “alleged” stands out.3 In later years, Stern would still regale friends with stories — he had been in a concentration camp, he would hint, or he had been the basis for the character of Dr Strangelove in the Stanley Kubrick movie — that they wouldn’t know whether to believe. Often his strangest stories were the truest.
Even Stern’s birthdate is difficult to pin down. The Fluke contains a scene in which Stern’s own father has to hunt for the information in a mountain of files: “He was looking for something.. My date of birth..” But then the nameless protagonist, presumably speaking for Stern in the autobiographical novel, dismisses the information as “utterly useless.” This contempt for the facts helped to conceal Stern in a fog of misinformation, legend, and deceit. The 1961 poetry anthology Junge Amerikanische Lyrik, edited by Gregory Corso, includes a two-line biography giving Stern’s birthdate as 1930. A rare book documenting families victimized by the French revolution lists Stern as a descendant and gives the birthdate June 3, 1932.4 This date was probably provided by a researcher or some other member of the Stern family, thus bypassing the least reliable source of information: Jacques himself. This is also the date to appear in Social Security records.5
Stern’s parents were a union of French nobility and Jewish wealth. His mother, Mathilde Simone de Leusse, was a countess. His father, Jacques Leon Stern, hailed from a prominent family of Jewish bankers. According to a French biography, Stern père commanded one of the largest fortunes in France, owned a hôtel particulier on the Champs Elysées, and was “une des personnalités du Tout-Paris d’avant la guerre.”6 Politically ambitious, Stern père used his wealth and connections with the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a series of increasingly important positions in the French government. He spent considerable time in America, wrote articles for the New York Times, and penned a book drawing on his experiences as the French Minister of Colonies.
In 1940 the Sterns emigrated to New York. Their fortunes do not appear to have been hit hard by the war in Europe. They took a Park Avenue apartment around the corner from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Together with the Comtesse de Leusse, Stern père continued to collect old master paintings and to throw dinner parties that were noted in the society pages. Did the Sterns bring their eight-year-old son Jacques and his older sister Rosita to New York? It would be difficult to believe that, with their financial advantage, political connections, and insider knowledge of world events, the Sterns would have left their children in war-torn Europe. In Literary Outlaw, Ted Morgan indicates that Stern “had spent the war years in the States.” Was Jacques Stern ever interned in a concentration camp? It seems unlikely.
In any event, Stern was in America by the late 1940s. Records at Woodberry Forest, a private boarding school in Virginia, list him in 1947 as a Form IV student, a sophomore.7 He gave Paris as his home address and won a medal for declamation. The next year he gave New York as his home address. He served as a reporter for the school newspaper and a staff member of the Fir Tree, the yearbook. He participated in the Dramatic Club and won the Form V Public Speaking Award. In 1949, he edited the yearbook, managed the basketball team, and represented the Public Speaking Honor Society in the school’s final oratorical contest. He participated in the Monitor Board (a student government group), Smoke House (a social club), the German Club, the Book Club, the Music Club, and the Dramatic Club. He also played tennis and soccer. The write-up in his senior yearbook, likely authored by a classmate, portrays him as a young man full of potential:
Strap… Ah, gay Paree… a two packs a day man… e-nun-ci-ates for the Colonel… astronomical averages… always in the Fir Tree room or across the hall… our theatre’s thrilling thespian… soccer pro… with a short haircut, impossible!… in all big time operations… Harvard next year.
Reading between the lines, it is possible to make out the lineaments of Stern’s future as a substance abuser, an eloquent speaker, a brilliant thinker, and a thespian prone to blurring the line between drama and reality.
To the young Stern, 1949 must have seemed a year full of promise. In May, his sister Rosita married Jacques Dewez, a businessman and race-car enthusiast who later founded the famous golf course at Sperone in Corsica. In the fall, Stern enrolled in Harvard. There he could study with poets Archibald MacLeish and John Ciardi, who would later write one of the first reviews of Naked Lunch. Other faculty included architect Walter Gropius, logician Willard Quine, and the behaviorist B.F. Skinner. In later years, Stern would assert that he had studied with the mathematician Norbert Wiener, originator of cybernetics. This may have been true — Wiener, a Harvard alumnus, taught at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Certainly Stern had an inclination for mathematics, although he was never a practicing mathematician and should not be confused with the French cryptologist of the same name.
At the end of 1949, however, Stern’s life took a dramatic turn. On December 21, Stern’s 67-year-old father died in what Time magazine described as a “plunge from his ninth-floor Park Avenue duplex in Manhattan.”8 It was generally assumed that he committed suicide. Stern never completely accepted this as the cause of his father’s death. There were dark insinuations of homicide — “pushed by a lawyer” — about which he would speak to his psychiatrist years later. It isn’t clear whether this was a suspicion harbored by Stern alone or by other family and friends. Late in life, Stern claimed to his young friend Mark Meyer that he had heard the news about his father’s death on the radio while lying paralyzed in an iron lung — a poignant image, regardless of whether or not it was true.9
What was undeniably true was that Stern contracted poliomyelitis around this time. He wasn’t alone. A virulent series of polio epidemics paralyzed or killed half a million people a year in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1955 Jonas Salk would announce the discovery of a polio vaccine, but it was too late for Stern. As a young man, he was obliged to walk with crutches, and he likely regretted that “soccer pro” label bestowed on him by his high school yearbook. The Fluke, though it says nothing about polio specifically, contains numerous references to the constraints forced on Stern by the disease.
Between the death of his father and the struggle with polio, Stern must have had difficulties focussing on his education. Though he had become editor-in-chief of the yearbook at his high school, he does not appear in the Harvard yearbooks of the period.10 He did not, for example, work alongside John Updike, a year his junior, on the Lampoon. By the time the class of 1953 held its commencement ceremony, Stern must have officially dropped out. He is not listed among the members of the graduating class. He likely inherited a substantial amount of money from his father — whose will designated his wife and two children as his heirs11 — and it is easy to imagine that this windfall, combined with grief and illness, encouraged Stern to turn his attention to matters more worldly than academe.
Among these distractions were women. In spite of his physical disability, Stern was charismatic and rich — a combination that would never leave him wanting for attractive companions. A brief notice in the March 1, 1951 issue of the New York Times announced that Stern was to marry a Radcliffe student named Emily Janeway Marshall.12 The notice described Stern as a student at Harvard College. Emily, also born in 1932, was the daughter of William Lawrence Marshall, a well-regarded lawyer and author. The marriage ceremony was conducted by the bride’s maternal grandfather, Reverend Charles J. Scudder, on June 14, 1951. Stern would have just turned 19. The marriage cannot have been a happy one. “My experience in marital bliss is somewhat limited,” The Fluke declares. It is not known when the relationship ended, but the dispassionate tone with which the book refers to “unfortunate marital episodes” may indicate why.
Meeting the Beats
In 1953, the year he should have graduated from Harvard, Stern married an attractive American woman with thick red hair. Her name was Dini, and she bore him a son in 1954. Stern installed this ménage in a luxurious residence on the rue du Cirque in Paris sometime before 1958, the year he would meet the Beats. Writing to Jack Kerouac on June 26, 1958, Ginsberg described Stern’s “solid Ava Gardner wife who digs him, loves him, and a 3 year old baby, or 4, boy — never saw kid, in nursery of vast duplex apartment.”13 Dini did not take to Corso, Orlovsky, and Ginsberg, who wrote that “his tall sexy lovely wife hates us.” Their Bohemian behavior was at odds with the privileged lifestyle she was trying to maintain with her young child and neurasthenic husband. She liked Burroughs, however, whose upbringing and old-world manners must have been more to her taste. The feeling was mutual. “I am getting along well with Stern’s wife,” Burroughs wrote Ginsberg on July 24, 1958. “I think she is a really nice person and I have come to like her very much.”14
Corso had been the first of the group to meet Stern. He had audited courses at Harvard in 1954 and, according to Ginsberg, may have already heard of the wealthy eccentric.15 Four years later in Paris, Corso was intrigued by rumors about a rich, crippled junky showing up at left bank cafés in a chauffeur-driven Bentley. Not far from the Beat Hotel on rue Gît-le-coeur was a place called the Café Monaco (now Le Comptoir du Relais). Together with the nearby Café Tournon, the Monaco anchored a thriving literary scene on the Carrefour de l’Odéon. Richard Wright and Chester Himes had hung out there in the years after the war. By the mid-to-late 1950s, the writers had attracted an expatriate crowd that included Korean War vets “studying” on the G.I. Bill. It was a place Burroughs would check out after arriving in Paris in January 1958. “Bill exploring young hip group from Monaco cafe here,” Ginsberg wrote to Peter Orlovsky, “found some very nice guys, the younger generation.”16
One day the Bentley pulled up in front of the Monaco. Peering inside, Corso introduced himself to its occupant by asking “Would you like to meet a very wise man?”17 He was referring to Burroughs, thinking not just that his old friend could impart wisdom but that he could connect on the subject of drugs. Stern, who would claim to have read Howl, On the Road, Gasoline, and even Junkie, agreed. Corso carried him up the stairs of the Beat Hotel and — according to the story in Literary Outlaw — dumped him on Burroughs’ bed.
The meeting had an almost symbolic quality, as though Corso were no more than the vehicle by means of which Stern was to meet Burroughs. In fact, it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the poet and the “baron.” In a letter to Gary Snyder written on August 12, 1958, Corso described Stern as “a polio, smileless young Harvard profound very deep junkie writer Rothschild heir who I love very much, really a very beautiful soul.”18 For his part, Stern admired his friend’s poetry and always felt great affection for Corso himself. One expression of this was described by Corso in a letter to Ginsberg written around October 8, 1958. Debating whether to hit up Stern for money, Corso admitted that “I need an arrogance to ask, and he’s become a friend, and he even thinks I’m conning him, but knows that it’s a natural part of me, and that it’s inherent in me, and that I don’t mean too [sic].”19 Stern would let Corso mooch. Years later, Corso would even marry an ex-wife of Stern, Jocelyn or “Joss,” without it undermining the friendship.
With Burroughs the relationship was different — more complicated, maybe deeper. Intellectual interests would unite them and personality differences would drive them apart. The two shared heroin when Stern footed the bill. In October 1958, they went to London together to undertake the apomorphine cure at the clinic of Dr John Yerbury Dent. In Paris they worked with the same analyst, Marc Schlumberger, a Freudian who had known André Gide and other literary types. They made plans to travel to India together and to take a working vacation on Stern’s “alleged” yacht. In 1959, they saw each other as mystics tuning in on a frequency that even excluded the other influence to enter into Burroughs’ life at this time: Brion Gysin. (Stern was truly a mystic, Burroughs wrote Ginsberg, whereas Gysin was more “a catalyst or medium.”20) In many ways, Stern was the anti-Gysin — stormy where Gysin was smooth, difficult where Gysin was suave. He was bored by the same old-guard Surrealists (Cocteau, Dali) whose acquaintanceship would impress Gysin’s friends. Stern’s wealth underwrote his exasperating qualities — he could afford to be a jerk — whereas Gysin had only his charm to open doors. Stern was also straight.
Though there is no indication of any sexual tension between Burroughs and Stern — both, Ginsberg wrote at the time, “gave up sex, indifferent,” probably a side effect of their heroin usage — it is interesting that Corso recalled dumping him on the bed.21 The next year Life magazine would take photos of Burroughs sitting dejectedly on that bed. Its plain cast-iron headboard was pushed into a corner of the room beneath Gysin paintings and water stains marring the walls. It is easy to imagine Burroughs sizing up the cripple there and flashing back to his wife, Joan Vollmer, who had been left with a limp after a mild bout of polio in 1948-1949. But then it may not have been in his room that Burroughs first met Stern. Burroughs recalled that the meeting took place in the bar.
I remember Gregory bringing him up to the hotel and sitting him at this little bar — it had four tables, the bar in the original Beat Hotel. Now here comes Gregory and this almost transparent green demon on two crutches. It was Jacques Stern, sinister music in the background. He was very lucid, generous, he’d have some heroin, pot, he’d take you out to dinner, he’d seem very very nice and very sweet and at some point he would start to put the screws on, getting very nasty. He’d just scream at us.22
Stern left no recollection of the meeting. The Fluke alludes to “three fuzzy friends of mine who once vegetated” on rue Gît-le-coeur, a reference to the Beat Hotel and to Burroughs, Corso, and Ginsberg. “Fuzzy” may refer less to their appearance than to their mojo — “I think,” Burroughs wrote Ginsberg on May 18, 1959, “Gysin is afraid of me as notorious carrier of Black Fuzz, bad luck and death.”23 Years later, in an unpublished interview with Victor Bockris, Stern would describe his encounter with Corso and company in abstract terms:
My take on the Beats was simply a) that I was a mathematician, right, who was extremely interested in art, who happened by sheer chance, due to Gregory Corso, to meet probably the 3 or 4 most influential writers in America at the Beat hotel at the time when it was a fascinating, fascinating study for someone who is an objective that I am [sic], an objective mathematical thinker.24
In hindsight Stern may have portrayed his attitude as “objective” — a curious self-description for a man prone to public rages and epic bouts of substance abuse — but at the time there was a conspicuous rapport between the Beats and him. Stern, Burroughs wrote to Paul Bowles on July 20, 1958, “is far and away the most interesting person I have met in Paris. We have a lot in common. Both graduates of Harvard and junk.”25 In a remarkable letter addressed to Kerouac on June 26, 1958, Ginsberg used the phrase “like Bill” six times to describe Stern: like Bill, Stern studied (or claimed to study) anthropology at Harvard; he came from a background of privilege; he was a junky; he wrote; he advocated psychoanalysis; and he had, at least temporarily, become celibate. “Bill digs Stern,” Ginsberg concluded, “his mind, factual information, on junk and on anthro, and advanced experimental thoughts on brainwashing and evil.”26 In a letter to Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg wrote “he and Bill now good friends & sit and talk junk by the hour.”27
Ironically, one testament to the rapport between the two men was Burroughs’ ability to tolerate Stern’s erratic behavior. In summer 1958, Dini confided to Burroughs that “Jacques is a monster. Being in the same room with him is like being with death itself.”28 Not long after, Stern announced their separation and pressured Burroughs into a criminal mission: since he was on good terms with Dini, he was to visit her, slip into Stern’s library, and steal the valuable Molière first editions he had left behind. Burroughs’ heart wasn’t into it. When he failed — just as he had failed at prior attempts at thievery, such as lush-rolling — Stern blasted him, “You moron, you stupid dope” and so on. It is difficult to imagine that Burroughs had ever been subject to such a tirade, and he resented that Stern had manipulated him into pulling this caper on the likable Dini.
Nevertheless, at the end of October the two took an apartment on Mansfield Street in London to recuperate from their apomorphine cure. Following another harangue in which Stern accused him of being a con man, Burroughs left a dismissive note — “To call me a con man is one of the most grotesque pieces of miscasting since Tyrone Power played Jesse James” — and walked out.29 Once on the street, he noticed newspaper headlines trumpeting the news of Power’s death on November 15, 1958. Burroughs was the same age as the movie star and, if he paused to read the obituaries, would have learned that Power suffered a heart attack while filming a duel. It must have made him feel lucky to escape this skirmish with Stern.
Burroughs returned to the Beat Hotel in Paris but the on-again off-again relationship with Stern continued. In January, Burroughs paid an uneventful visit to Stern in London. On June 19, 1959, Alan Ansen wrote that he was “delighted to hear you and Stern are on good terms again.”30 In late July, with Naked Lunch at the printer, Burroughs told Ginsberg he was “immune to [Stern’s] tantrums.”31 In September he reversed course: “I don’t think I will see Jack Stern again.”32 The cycle would continue for the next thirty-nine years.
Stern as Writer
Though polio had left him unable to play the piano or to type much, Stern “writes, prose, very good, not totally mad, but amazing,” as Ginsberg informed Kerouac on June 26, 1958.33 Burroughs’ letters made reference to plays and poetry. In September 1958, Burroughs and Corso co-wrote a letter to Ginsberg announcing their idea for a literary magazine to be called Interpol. “For first issue,” Corso wrote in late September, “Bill has in mind” to include Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and “Stern’s most humiliating” writing.34 Just two days later, Corso would expand the list: “for first issue Michaux, Bowles, Stern, Burroughs, you, me, and more Tzara.”35 To include Stern alongside these literary lions indicated no small enthusiasm for his unpublished writings. (Of course, Burroughs hadn’t published much beside the pseudonymous Junkie at this point.) Ultimately the project came to naught. “Don’t get money for Interpol,” Corso wrote Ginsberg on October 8, 1958, “just Bill’s and mine’s crazy idea, and if it comes thru Stern will probably take care of it, but he’s ill and too much on his mind, too.”36 Doubtless it was derailed by the apomorphine trip to London and subsequent contretemps about Burroughs being a con man.
Though Interpol failed, one publishing project did seem to arise from its aborted energies. In 1958 Corso was invited to co-edit a German anthology of contemporary American poetry. He solicited a contribution from Stern, whose nationality was glossed over in the author’s bio by calling him an “American of French descent.” Evidently Stern had been working on a group of poems titled “Motif.” Two of these — “Motif Selection 1” and “Motif Selection 2” — appeared in Junge Amerikanische Lyrik when it was published in 1961. The first seems to portray a drug trip, a vision of wild animals coming to children who rub crystals on their gums and feel “for the first time the liquid blue of chills.” This image cues the second poem, which portrays Europe subject to a new ice age: “everywhere pipes freeze… bridges & dams succumb to the weight of ice…” The poems are dominated by images of coldness and immobility, a theme compelling to Stern for the obvious reason of his disability. “So I can only barely move?” The Fluke avers. “So what? Life drips on in bed, just as well as on a mile run.”
The visionary quality of the poems might be what caused Ginsberg to declare, in a June 26, 1958 letter to Kerouac, that Stern “writes prose like Bill’s anthropological images of Yage City.”37 Ginsberg may have meant to imply that Stern had already absorbed some influence from Burroughs or that both were drawing inspiration from Saint-John Perse, whom Stern mentions by name in The Fluke.38 But what prose was Ginsberg referring to? In that same letter, Ginsberg indicates that Stern’s prose attempts to “explain” the “soul of dead Peter la Nice, fellow 20 yr old junkie with Alan Eager, who died, Stern says he was his saint (Peter).” Neither of Ginsberg’s assertions can pertain to The Fluke. The novel hardly inspires comparison to Burroughs’ yage-inspired “Composite City,” and it is based on Stern himself, not on “Peter la Nice.” (Eager was a jazz musician who appeared under the name Roger Beloit in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, but nothing further is known about his friend “Peter la Nice.” Perhaps he was even an invention of Stern.) Moreover, Burroughs would not announce The Fluke until almost exactly a year later, writing about it to Ginsberg on June 8, 1959.
Stern must have had other prose to share with the Beats in 1958. When Ginsberg returned to the United States later that summer, he did for Stern what he did for so many of his friends — promoted his work. As a result, on September 17, 1958, Irving Rosenthal invited Stern to contribute to the Chicago Review, which was about to publish its second excerpt from Naked Lunch:
I’m writing to you at suggestion of Allen Ginsberg. Would very much like you to submit prose to us. He says novel of yours to be published England. You might also send me selection from that.39
Stern replied from Paris on October 7, 1958:
The novel which Allen Ginsberg mentioned to you has been sent back to me from the publishers upon my request since I felt a change was necessary in its structure. I am working on that right now, and will probably be occupied with it for another two or three months. Hence, I can only send you the original version from which you can select any excerpt if this type of writing interests you. I am also including a piece of a different sort in case it possibly fills the more precise requirements of a review.40
Stern had submitted a long work of prose that predated The Fluke along with “a piece of a different sort,” maybe a selection from “Motif.” The only clue to the identity of the novel lies in the Burroughs Papers at the New York Public Library, where a manuscript is identified in Burroughs’ handwriting as “A page of Jack Stern’s book 1959.”41 A page number — 95 — sits above a text fragment that, though written in a style completely different from The Fluke, contains Sternian imagery such as ice, stalactites, and coldness. The fragment begins by describing an “angular feminine figure with all the thunderous luminosity of an El Greco” and ends with “a whole series of half-hidden gestures, desperate effusions of contempt on the part” of the woman who appears in the scene. None of the text reappears in The Fluke. Was this a page from the novel Stern submitted to Rosenthal at the Chicago Review?
Far from being occupied with revising this novel, Stern and Burroughs spent the end of October 1958 in London undergoing the apomorphine cure. On October 25, the day after Burroughs checked out of the clinic, the Chicago Daily News published an excoriating review of the Naked Lunch excerpts that had just appeared in the Chicago Review. On November 17, Rosenthal quit the journal, and on November 24 he wrote to Burroughs: “Yes I got & returned ms. from Jacques Stern. Very talented, but no breakthrough anywhere.”42 Because of the disarray caused by the scandal and Rosenthal’s subsequent departure, Stern did not end up receiving an official rejection letter until the following spring. On May 5, 1959, Ray Roberts, writing for the editor, returned Stern’s work, saying “We liked the longer piece and yet we could not use it all and it did not seem to be organic in part.”43 That Burroughs knew of the rejection before Stern must have caused some awkwardness. Did he inform Stern? Keep the information to himself? Did it contribute to the quarrel between the two while they were living together on Mansfield Street after the apomorphine cure?
After Burroughs returned to Paris, Stern remained in London during the winter of 1958-1959. In January Burroughs paid him what must have been an enjoyable visit and wrote to Gysin to describe the mystic moments they shared. Over the next few months, however, Stern dropped out of touch. “No word from Stern,” Burroughs wrote Ginsberg on April 21, 1959. “Looks like he is out of my picture. Too bad. Not many like that from mystic stand-point.”44 Nothing had changed a month later. “Stern in complete seclusion,” Burroughs added on May 18, 1959. “Answers no letters — at least none of mine.”45 There might have been many reasons for Stern’s sudden reclusiveness. Perhaps he was sick or temporarily out of funds or sorting out his divorce from Dini. Or he may simply have wanted to concentrate on a new piece of writing. By June 8, Stern had returned to Paris, invited Burroughs to spend a month with him on his “alleged” yacht, and announced an incredible series of events that resulted in the rapid composition of a novel. Burroughs described what he admitted were the “fantastic details” in a letter to Ginsberg. In London, Burroughs said, Stern broke his leg, took another apomorphine cure (his third in less than a year), and developed a sinus headache whose pain was so extreme that he lapsed into a two-day catatonic state. Doctors
gave him a shock and he came out of the catatonia and began writing. Wrote a novel in nine days — I have seen part of it. It is great, I mean great, not jive talk great. This is not only my opinion. I have talked with the translator of French edition, Faber and Faber in London is publishing it in English.46
The story behind the novel’s composition turned out not to be credible, and Stern had also claimed to Ginsberg and Rosenthal that his prior effort was going to be published in England. As for the novel itself, Burroughs did not refer to it by name in his letter. But years later, when he reviewed the annotations added to his correspondence for publication, he approved the note indicating that the “great” novel was The Fluke.47
A blend of truth and fiction, like anything out of Stern’s mind, The Fluke is plainly autobiographical. It ruminates on two marriages and expresses heartfelt regret at the end of the second, which had lasted five years (the length of Stern’s marriage to Dini). It describes the birth of a son — a surprise that causes the narrator to avow he will “instantly set about forgetting my son, his name, and his age.” In fact, Stern would remain estranged from his son throughout his life. The Fluke reports a trip to India and an inordinate interest, doubtless inspired in the author by polio, in beds: “I have known many beds, fortunately.. I really have a passion for them.” There is a long excursion on drugs that, like Burroughs’ “Letter from a Master Addict,” catalogues various illegal substances and their subjective effects. As for heroin, The Fluke offers its own “algebra of need” (“You eat it; sleep it; live for, or because, of it..”), alludes to “Pentapon Rose” (a misspelled reference Stern can only have got from Burroughs), and endorses Dr Dent’s cure (“apomorphine treatment is the best”). That Stern may have secluded himself while writing The Fluke becomes comprehensible when he admits that “the hermit’s chosen solitude was perhaps safer.. In any case; less to manage.. Than social behaviour..” He can find no kinship and ultimately accepts his existential condition. “I’m a fluke.”
Aside from the shared interest in drugs, The Fluke contains just a few odd references to Burroughs. Stern had read a manuscript version of Naked Lunch in 1958 — “he lay in bed junksick […] reading Bill’s manuscript,” Ginsberg wrote Kerouac — but it does not appear to have had an impact on The Fluke.48 The obvious influence was Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Stern adopted the same episodic, autobiographical vantage point, replacing the bitter misanthropy of Céline’s narrators with a vaguely condescending self-absorption. He copied Céline’s signature use of ellipses between sentences — a device which had also figured in the write-up in Stern’s senior yearbook — and mimicked the ejaculations that became frequent in Céline’s later novels. For example, Guignol’s Band began with “Boom! Zoom! … It’s the big smashup!” The Fluke opens with the same tactic — “There; Crack! Sahk! Swick!! Swath!” Late in life, Stern admitted that he had been fascinated by Céline — the tiny Jewish invalid admiring the tall anti-semitic doctor — and had met him twice. “In London,” Stern said, “I showed Burroughs how he and Céline were like vital.”49 So Céline was on Stern’s mind not long before he wrote The Fluke. “The only person that was really close to Burroughs in style was Céline. But he knew that only after I talked to him for like hours and hours and hours about it.” Of course, Burroughs was well aware of Céline’s style. He had gone with Ginsberg to meet the literary pariah on July 8, 1958. Really it was Stern who was close — or tried to be close — in style to Céline.
Stern intended to publish The Fluke. He claimed Faber and Faber would put it out in London. He shared it with someone who considered translating it into French — perhaps Stern, who had been educated in America, felt too alienated from his mother tongue to do the job himself. The Beat Hotel crew must have encouraged him to offer his text to Olympia Press, just then preparing Naked Lunch for publication, and to Big Table, the literary review that Rosenthal founded after resigning from the Chicago Review. Stern refused this last option. “Jack says he is not a member of The Beat Generation,” Burroughs wrote Ginsberg, “and does not wish to be so typed, which is why he hesitates to publish in Big Table.”50 The refusal is consistent with the vaguely disparaging remarks about Beats in The Fluke, and it may also have been motivated by the knowledge that Rosenthal had previously rejected his work. In any event, Stern’s attitude annoyed Ginsberg. “Give Stern my regards,” Ginsberg replied. “This business of not wanting to be associated with the Beat scene?… You make it sound as if he thinks it’s too sordid.”51 The bloom had started to come off the rose. By September 1959, Ginsberg admitted to Burroughs that, in spite of promoting his work to Rosenthal, he “dug Stern but felt distance, especially after that argument over economics at table. Dont yet understand him.”52
Why did The Fluke inspire Burroughs to dub Stern a “great writer?” It may have been the text’s similarity to Céline, whose work Burroughs admired, or its long digression on the effects of drugs. The two could “sit and talk junk by the hour,” so to Burroughs The Fluke may well have formed a written extension of conversations he already enjoyed. Like many people, Burroughs also had a tendency to overestimate the talents of his friends. The same praise he gave to Stern for being a great writer was lavished on Gysin for being a great artist. (Burroughs even wrote to his parents about his “friend Brion the Painter, certainly the greatest living apinter [sic] living and I do not make mistatkes [sic] inthe [sic] art world…”53) Though Burroughs always maintained this high estimate of Gysin’s work, history has increasingly made it look like a mistake. Gysin is not considered the most important painter of the 1950s or, for that matter, of any decade since then. As for Stern, Burroughs did come to believe that dubbing him a “great writer” was a mistake. In 1981 he refused permission to publish his letters concerning Stern, declaring that he had been “taken in.”54
Stern’s Influence on Naked Lunch
When Olympia Press shipped Naked Lunch in mid-summer 1959, the book contained the undisguised name of only one of Burroughs’ friends — not Ginsberg, who had received chunks of the book in letters; not Kerouac, who had coined the title and whose name appears in “Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness,” a text that would preface later editions of Naked Lunch; not Alan Ansen, who had helped with the typing; not Gysin, whose name would appear in the cut-up novels. A note on page 55 of the Olympia edition declared: “The Heavy Fluid concept I owe to Jacques Stern.” The acknowledgement was deleted from subsequent editions of Naked Lunch. In his book on the Beat Hotel, Barry Miles suggests that the deletion was “presumably at Stern’s request,” since Stern’s tendency was to shun the limelight. It is also quite possible that Irving Rosenthal, who edited the book for Grove Press, decided to drop Stern’s name. Rosenthal made numerous thoughtful emendations to the text, and he wasn’t impressed with Stern anyway. In either case, it was Burroughs who signed off on the deletion. It may have been an early indication of his feeling of having been “taken in.” It also had the effect of obscuring the subtle influence of Stern on his masterwork.
In crediting Stern with the Heavy Fluid concept, Burroughs seems to have given him a dubious honor. Heavy Fluid doesn’t amount to much of a concept. It appears twice in Naked Lunch — “drinkers of the Heavy Fluid” and “Heavy Fluid Addicts” — and seems to serve as a metaphor for heroin. In later books the term is also associated with coldness, a motif common in Stern’s writings. For example, in The Soft Machine, “the cold heavy fluid settled in his spine 70 tons per square inch” — which invokes the way heroin causes a “spine like a frozen hydraulic jack” in “Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness.” The phrase “heavy fluid” does not appear in The Fluke, although Stern describes how heroin brings on an “endless freeze that throws up a fluid a frothy black.” It does not require much conjecture to imagine how this might have become Heavy Fluid in those interminable discussions of junk.
Naked Lunch contains a sort of untitled sketch of Stern and, ironically, it portrays the Heavy Fluid Addict in the process of losing weight. On January 2, 1959, Burroughs wrote to Ginsberg that he “saw Stern lose about seven pounds in ten minutes when he took a shot after being off a week.”55 Stern was tiny — Ginsberg, no bodybuilder, carried “his 95 pounds” up the four flights to Burroughs’ room at the Beat Hotel — so this physical transformation must have been both dramatic and alarming.56 Burroughs transposed this event into Naked Lunch twice. In “The Vigilante,” he resituates it to a hotel in New York: “I saw it happen. Ten pounds lost in ten minutes standing with the syringe in one hand holding his pants up with the other.” The scene is repeated in “Atrophied Preface”: “I saw it happen… ten pounds lost in ten minutes… standing there with the syringe in one hand… holding his pants up with the other.” This time the sketch was broken up with Célinian dots.
The “concept” and the portrait form circumstantial evidence of Stern’s presence in Naked Lunch. A more profound influence was indicated by Burroughs in a letter he wrote to Ginsberg on September 25, 1959. The summer had been eventful. Naked Lunch had been published, but Burroughs had also been arrested on suspicion of being an international drug trafficker. Worried about his upcoming trial, Burroughs blew part of his advance from Olympia Press on a codeine habit. He also met Ian Sommerville, who became his lover and, at the end of August, helped him kick the new habit. In the midst of all this, a change occurred in the relationship between Burroughs and Stern. In July Burroughs had written letters gushing about his friend. In September he expressed a change of heart:
I don’t think I will see Jack Stern again. Don’t misunderstand. I mean he probably does not want to see me, for reasons will appear in next book and in present book as well. The end of Naked Lunch is addressed to Jack, as he must know.57
Chunks of Naked Lunch had been addressed to Ginsberg in the form of letters but the end, according to Burroughs, was addressed to Stern. But what was the end of this “endless novel” (as Ginsberg once described it)?
A few weeks later, Burroughs cited his book in another letter to Ginsberg: “‘The heat is off me from here on out,’ I have written, end Naked Lunch.“58 This clearly refers to “Hauser and O’Brien.” There would have been good reason for Burroughs to consider this the end of Naked Lunch: it was the only section that he had deliberately placed in sequence. Years later, in the 1978 foreward to Maynard and Miles’ bibliography of his work, Burroughs reiterated that he had shifted “the ‘Hauser and O’Brien’ section from the beginning to the end.” Burroughs had also revised “Hauser and O’Brien” in 1959.59 He cut a bit of straight narrative (later to be published as the story “The Conspiracy”) and replaced it with new text including Lee’s realization that “the heat was off me from here on out.” Thus the last few paragraphs of “Hauser and O’Brien” may serve as the end of Naked Lunch in the additional sense that they were among the most recently composed parts of the book. Their freshness likely caused Burroughs, in his letter, to transpose that line into the present tense: “the heat was/is off me.”
Significantly, it is in the closing of “Hauser and O’Brien” that the second reference to Heavy Fluid occurs. In Naked Lunch, Stern’s “concept” terminates the description of Lee disappearing through a tear in the fabric of space and time:
I had been occluded from space-time like an eel’s ass occludes when he stops eating on the way to Sargasso… Locked out… Never again would I have a Key, a Point of Intersection… The Heat was off me from here on out… relegated with Hauser and O’Brien to a landlocked junk past where heroin is always twenty-eight dollars an ounce and you can score for yen pox in the Chink Laundry of Sioux Falls… Far side of the world’s mirror, moving into the past with Hauser and O’Brien… clawing at a not-yet of Telepathic Bureaucracies, Time Monopolies, Control Drugs, Heavy Fluid Addicts.
Heavy Fluid ties this to Stern, but how might it have been addressed to him? The original ending of “Hauser and O’Brien” (aka “The Conspiracy”) had explained discursively that Lee, seeking “some key by which I could gain access to basic knowledge,” came to recognize the search as “sterile and misdirected.” In the revised ending (as published in Naked Lunch), Lee does not renounce the search so much as he seems to have been shut out of it, “locked out.” That this may have been a cryptic reference to Burroughs’ relationship with Stern is signalled by the word “key.” In Naked Lunch, Lee loses “a Key, a Point of Intersection.” Stern, in Burroughs’ view, had possessed such a key. “I continue to see visions and experience strange currents of energy,” he wrote in a letter to Ginsberg, “but the Key — the one piece that could make it useable — Stern had part of it.”60 In both Naked Lunch and the letter, the word is capitalized, like a proper name. The end of “Hauser and O’Brien” addresses Stern not to seduce, as was the case with the sections addressed to Ginsberg, but to bid farewell.
Of course, it is also possible that “the end of Naked Lunch” referred not to “Hauser and O’Brien” but to “Quick,” which is literally the last text in the Olympia Press edition. “Quick” was distilled from the “WORD” section Burroughs had included in earlier drafts of Naked Lunch. “WORD” cannot have been directed to Stern, since it was written before he and Burroughs met, but was there something about “Quick” — the way it was shaped, the way it embraced fragmentation, the way it survived the parts of “WORD” left out of the Olympia Press publication — that “addressed” Stern? James Grauerholz has suggested (in private communication) that “Quick” may indicate an attempt on Burroughs’ part to compensate for his disappointment in failing to form a mystic collaboration with Stern.
Stern’s abandonment of the notional collaborative masterwork, in whose creation William had expected Stern’s assistance, [may have] created a kind of grief — which William overcame by tasking himself to out-Stern Stern. Much like Neal Cassady (whose effusions are better-documented), Jack [Stern] would speed-rap like hysterically funny brilliant crazy. “WORD” is William trying to speed-rap.61
In retrospect, it is easy to read “Quick” as pointing forward to Burroughs’ use of the cut-up. But in the summer of 1959, prior to Brion Gysin’s discovery of the technique, it might well have represented something else: an attempt to ad lib like Stern. Or if Burroughs didn’t exactly have Stern in his ear while distilling “Quick” from “WORD,” he might well have been trying to make a literary use of their shared experiences in psychoanalysis, where free association was an accepted method for dredging up psychic truths, and in drugs, where disjointed raving could take on profound meaning.
“Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness”
It is not known exactly why Burroughs decided to dissociate himself from Stern in 1959. Perhaps it was Stern who had readdicted him to codeine. (Speaking of that summer’s habit, Gysin said Burroughs fell “back into bad habits through ‘good friends’ who helped him do so.”62) This would be consistent with the stance Burroughs adopted in that September 25, 1959 letter to Ginsberg. Anxious about his upcoming trial, Burroughs insisted that he would distance himself from the petty criminals who had gotten him in trouble with the French police. “I don’t ever want to see or talk to any of these tiresome underworld jerks again.” In the very next paragraph he disavows Stern too: “I don’t think I will see Jack Stern again.” Stern may not have been an “underworld jerk,” but his unpredictable behavior cannot have been appealing to a man declaring that, from here on out, there would be “no more juvenile delinquency.”
It was with the same determinedly sober spirit that Burroughs wrote “Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness” that September. Though he was repudiating their relationship at just that time, Burroughs had Stern very much in mind. Impressionistic references in the text seem to echo their endless discussions of junk. “I have heard that there was once a beneficent non-habit-forming junk in India” — possibly a tall tale by Stern. “Junkies always beef about The Cold as they call it” — an echo of The Fluke‘s invocation of “The yen.. The cold.. The twitching and kicking.. The cold..” It is also tempting to attribute the sudden profusion of mathematical and scientific language (“algebra of need,” for example, or references to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Werner Heisenberg) in “Deposition” to Stern. However, by 1959 there had not yet been any indication that Stern styled himself a mathematician. The Beats thought of him as crazy, rich, and literary. The more probable influence was Sommerville, who had genuine credentials in the maths and sciences.
Stern does seep into “Deposition” in another important way. The year before he died, Stern told Victor Bockris: “You know this whole thing about virus is falling in the… I wrote that in The Fluke before [Burroughs] wrote that in Soft Machine as a cut-up example.”63 Stern’s memory might have been fallible, or he may have been referring to an early draft of The Soft Machine. Virus does not figure much in that book. However, it is critical to “Deposition,” where Burroughs elucidates his notion of the “junk virus.” This notion may well have originated in those endless discussions of junk. Viruses are a recurrent theme in The Fluke, and they interested its author for an obvious reason: polio is a virus. Lying in bed, Stern must often have reflected on the way in which the “virus power” had determined his life. The phrase “junk virus” does not appear in The Fluke, but Stern identifies addiction with virus:
Brutal! Man, Brutal! The routine is enough to paralyse your mind.. Slave? Much more than that.. You live IT! The junk lives you! Every little cell of your body burns heroin and is content only in doing that; forcing the whole of you to do likewise.. You eat it; sleep it; live for, or because, of it.. In fact, you are no more! It’s pure undiluted Virus!
As if to reinforce that he had Stern in mind while writing about the “junk virus” in “Deposition,” Burroughs echoed the language of that last paragraph of “Hauser and O’Brien.” There he had written about being “relegated with Hauser and O’Brien to a landlocked junk past.” In “Deposition,” he wrote that apomorphine “can relegate the junk virus to a land-locked past.”
That virus, like Heavy Fluid, was a concept Burroughs may have owed to Stern is further suggested by an unpublished text in the Burroughs Papers at the New York Public Library.64 Using a green pen, Burroughs wrote “1959 Jack Stern said ‘Nobody will ever understand virus'” across the top of a sheet of typing paper. Beneath is an eight-line permutation that begins “Nobody will ever understand virus” and ends “Virus stand under body will ever know.” The same phrase appears in the compendium of first cut-up texts, Minutes to Go, published in 1960: “No body will ever understand virus… Old takings giving terrible ruled out con — Jack S?”65 Given that the cut-ups Burroughs contributed to Minutes to Go concern viruses, polio, and cancer, it is tempting to see them as a symbolic affirmation of his break with Stern. Burroughs cut him off personally and cut him up textually. To be clear, however, Minutes to Go was not the “next book” that would give reasons Stern would no longer want to see Burroughs. When Burroughs wrote that, he had not yet learned about the cut-up method from Gysin.
A hint of the emotional dynamics underneath the shared intellectual interests is provided by an undated letter Stern sent Burroughs, likely at some point in 1959.66 It refers to a misunderstanding that Stern attempted to patch up by sending Burroughs a check. For Stern this was an obvious way to make amends. Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Corso had all previously allowed themselves to take advantage of his largesse. This time, however, Burroughs returned the check, prompting Stern to mail a self-indictment that recalls the “most humiliating” writing he was to submit to Interpol. In the letter, Stern admits that Burroughs “has achieved what I am incapable of; I envy him this power.” He acknowledges that his actions have caused him to lose “Dini + semblance of love; money + semblance of freedom; you + semblance of contact” — a less metaphorical way to express what Burroughs described as the loss of a key or point of intersection. Stern pleads with Burroughs to accept the check and invites him to stay at “our pad,” which is “missing a little mystic fluid.” “I learned a great deal from you,” Stern tells Burroughs, “probably more than from anyone else.” Burroughs had written Ginsberg the same thing about Stern: “I learned more from Jack than from anyone else I ever knew, except Brion.” The echo may indicate that Stern’s letter was reverberating in Burroughs’ memory by the time he wrote to Ginsberg.
How did Burroughs respond to Stern’s letter? By cutting it up. In the Burroughs Papers at the New York Public Library, there is an unpublished cut-up that stems from this letter.67 It begins with “space for the mails,” words from the postscript; recontextualizes “mystic fluid” (“God knows they are you come this way its missing a mystic fluid..”); and ends with “you are power if I might,” a pregnant phrase capturing the envy to which Stern had confessed. In order to cut up the letter, however, Burroughs must have retyped it. The original was not destroyed — a fact suggesting that Burroughs attached significance to it, since he did not hesitate to cut up other incoming letters. This was not the last time Burroughs would cut up Stern either. In 1965 he told the Paris Review that Nova Express contained “Shakespeare, Rimbaud, some writers that people haven’t heard about, someone named Jack Stern.”68 Not only did Burroughs continue to call Stern a writer, he included him in the company of the immortal bard and the poète maudit.
The Early 1960s
Burroughs’ 1959 pronouncement that he would no longer see Stern did not prove true. The relationship may have cooled, but the two formed part of what had become a literary jet set. Ginsberg, Orlovsky, and Corso visited Stern at his house in St Tropez in May 1961 then continued on to Tangier, where they doubtless told Burroughs about Stern’s latest antics. Stern would call Corso a “stupid loudmouth poet,” and Corso would reply with “you stinky cripple.” When the harangues subsided, the group recited poetry and talked about the literary scene. In addition to mutual friends, Burroughs’ work provided an excuse for he and Stern to keep in touch. On May 24, 1962 in Paris, they recorded excerpts from Burroughs’ cut-ups for the Harvard Poetry Room, alternating as they read texts that would ultimately appear in Nova Express.69 In 1963, Burroughs sent Stern a copy of The Ticket That Exploded. Stern acknowledged the book with a postcard — “I’ve read it twice.” He also indicated that he was leaving London (“got busted”) for Spain.70
In January 1964, while Stern was in Spain, Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was released. In later years Stern would tell friends that Terry Southern, who had worked on the screenplay, had based Dr Strangelove on him. Stern even claimed to Mark Meyer that he had written a thesis at Harvard about a “doomsday machine.”71 The idea has an immediate appeal — Dr Strangelove could easily be a caricature of the eccentric Stern, who would also tell friends that Adolf Hitler had survived the war and become a drug dealer in New York. Kubrick didn’t know Stern but Southern had been in and out of Paris in the 1950s, was friendly with Burroughs, and referred to Stern as a “freak” in a June, 1961 letter — demonstrating that he was well aware of the Stern legend before working on the screenplay in 1962.72
Then again, Southern worked on the film for only six weeks. He never publicly claimed credit for the Strangelove character, who had already appeared in earlier drafts of the screenplay. Scholars contend that Dr Strangelove was an amalgam of the era’s prominent nuclear strategists and Dr No from the James Bond film.73 Kubrick himself admitted that Dr Strangelove’s accent was “probably inspired” by the “Hungarian father of the H-bomb,” Edward Teller — more or less implying that the accent was the work of Peter Sellers, a gifted improviser. In any event, Stern was an unlikely source — with his American education, he spoke perfect English. It is also unlikely he inspired Dr Strangelove’s wheelchair for the simple reason that, by the early 1960s, Stern had not yet been confined to one. Ginsberg had referred to him carrying “one crutch aluminum”; Burroughs recalled him “on two crutches”; a photograph of Stern at St Tropez in May 1961 shows a crutch leaning on the wall beside him; and The Fluke contains several references to crutches but none to a wheelchair.74 In what way can Stern have contributed to the character of Dr Strangelove? He didn’t have the accent, the wheelchair, or the prosthetic hand. He wasn’t a mathematician, let alone a nuclear strategist. Perhaps Southern went along with Stern’s claim among friends — but Southern was always vague about who did what on the screenplay. Kubrick was infuriated by the amount of credit that Southern allowed others to attribute to him.
Though Dr Strangelove brought no attention to Stern, the literary community continued to think of him as one of their own. In July 1964, Philip Lamantia wrote Burroughs asking for Stern’s address in Spain, mentioning that he wanted to include him in an anthology of “USA prose” he was compiling.75 In August, Lamantia informed Burroughs that the anthology wasn’t going to happen. However, he was visiting Stern in Malaga:
Jacques found here quit drinking heavily. His young Spanish wife, intelligent and Jacques is currently planning some kind of writing, read me notes recently (I’ve been going thru Motif and projects a kind of news/report on current “El Cordobes” scandal76
Significantly, Stern had not only remarried, he was continuing to write. He remained proud enough of the “Motif” poems to share them with Lamantia. Evidently he was also tempted to venture into Hemingway turf. The Fluke had already contained a passing reference to bullfighting: “Did you hear about Frey? gored by a young bull, too young..” Now Stern was writing about El Cordobes, the flamboyant matador who had been gored and nearly killed on live television that May.
Was all this writing an expression of literary ambition? Or just a dilettante’s way of combatting boredom? It is difficult to say what Stern’s intentions were. By this time, he had published nothing but the two poems in Corso’s anthology. In the contributor’s note, he had eschewed biographical detail, declaring only that he “prefers to remain unknown.” He had submitted two texts to the Chicago Review but had refused to participate in Big Table. Years later he would tell Bockris:
I spent 40 years of my life not publishing, not sending anything to publishers because I did not want to be in that act. I mean if I had really wanted to be in that circle, then let’s face it when I wrote The Fluke, and everyone said Oh what a great masterpiece, then I would have published it, but I did exactly the contrary.77
Not quite. On June 21, 1965, The Fluke was published in an edition of 250 copies by Buchet-Chastel in Paris. A stolid firm still in business, Buchet-Chastel knew neither the highs nor the lows of an Olympia Press. Its 1965 catalogue contained minor works by major writers such as Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller — but it did not contain The Fluke, of which the publisher disavows any knowledge.78 Without doubt, Buchet-Chastel did not publish The Fluke but rather arranged a vanity edition of it. A note on the copyright page indicates that The Fluke was published “aux dépens des amis de l’auteur” — at the expense of the author’s friends. A later friend of Stern thought that his sister Rosita might have arranged the publication.79 Burroughs, however, approved the footnote in his correspondence declaring that The Fluke was “privately published by Stern.” The question of agency is important in that it sheds some light on Stern’s attitude toward his own writing. He took it seriously enough to do it and to share it with other writers. At the same time, he had the means to publish as many private editions as he would have liked, yet only this short run of The Fluke ever saw light of day. His psychiatrist in later life offered the explanation that Stern did not publish because he “was above all that.”80 He did not need money and sought no more notoriety than that which circulated among his friends. James Grauerholz has suggested that “perhaps Jacques simply lacked the courage to risk real failure in the literary realm.”81
What is beyond doubt is that Burroughs was asked to write an introduction for The Fluke. In a gesture of support that belied his 1959 declaration not to see Stern, Burroughs provided three pages of text: a lightly cut-up introduction followed by two pages beginning “Recorders fix nature of absolute need” and containing fold-ins from The Fluke. It is difficult to imagine anyone other than Stern soliciting this introduction let alone being motivated to make the significant alterations that occurred between the manuscript and printed versions of Burroughs’ text. Two of these alterations stand out. First, Burroughs had used dashes for punctuation, as he often did in cut-up texts. In the published version of the introduction, however, the dashes were transformed into Célinian dots, thus forcing Burroughs’ text to resemble the style of The Fluke itself. It is a deeply symbolic change, retroactively appropriating the cut-up and causing it to resemble Stern’s own method, which he claimed to call “selective automation.”
Second, only the first page of Burroughs’ introduction was used. Perhaps Stern, recognizing that the two pages of fold-in were repurposed in the chapter “A Bad Move” in the recently published Nova Express, decided that he wasn’t going to use his own book as an advertisement for Burroughs’ signature writing techniques. (The two-page fold-in would also reappear in The Third Mind‘s “Technical Deposition of the Virus Power.”) In place of the fold-in, the published introduction to The Fluke was extended using what appears to be an excerpt from the letter Burroughs sent along with the texts. This may have been more complimentary to Stern — the excerpt references James Joyce, implying a flattering comparison — but it is disorienting to the reader because the letter had included instructions intended for an editor. The new introduction thus announces that it is “to be followed by the enclosed texts.” What enclosed texts? The reader, unaware that this referred to “Recorders fix nature of absolute need,” can only assume it refers to the text that follows — Stern’s novel. Not only did Stern retroactively appropriate the cut-up by transforming it with Célinian dots, he literally usurped its place in the published book.
Though Stern manipulated the texts for his own ends, Burroughs had also submitted a frankly ambivalent introduction. The manuscript shows that Burroughs originally put the entire first page in quote marks, positioning the introduction as something overheard, a quote, and thereby distancing himself from any endorsement. He also started writing “Jacques” and crossed it out for “Jack,” as though unsure whether he was writing of an author or a friend. In the printed edition, the quote marks were deleted and the first name restored to Jacques. The ambivalent message, however, remained. On one hand, Burroughs offered praise — “Jacques Stern is a writer” — that cautiously echoed his 1959 letters and their talk of Stern as a “great writer.” On the other hand, Burroughs asserted that the entire message of the book could be “reduced to two words.. STAY OUT..” Not only does this resonate with Burroughs’ sense of having been occluded from Stern’s space-time, it causes the introduction to warn the reader to stay out of the text that follows.
In the printed book, the introduction is completed by a reproduction of Burroughs’ signature — an unusual move suggesting that the publisher or, more probably, Stern himself was anxious to give The Fluke a seal of approval. On Burroughs’ typescript copy, which he must have received in 1964 or early 1965 in order to prepare his introduction, Stern made handwritten annotations that seem designed to appeal to the author of Naked Lunch.82 Two chapter titles were penned on the first pages of the typescript, calling the opening “I (Postface)” and the next part “II The Analysis.” To open the book with a “postface” would serve as an obvious counterpart to the “Atrophied Preface” that concludes Burroughs’ masterwork. “The Analysis” was a title that would have caused Burroughs to recall that he and Stern had shared an analyst as well as a general interest in psychoanalysis. Another annotation indicated that “the end + beginning are reversible.” Stern surely knew that Burroughs had reversed the beginning and ending of Naked Lunch by resituating the “Hauser and O’Brien” section.
At the very end of the typescript, after Stern had written “Finis” in blue ink, he added “Part I of MOTIF” and “Part II: The Quadrupeds.” Did the “Motif” poems form an extension of The Fluke? Was Stern planning an anthology of his texts? Was “The Quadrupeds” the title of the earlier prose that Stern had submitted to the Chicago Review? Or was it some other work? The lack of explanatory context may suggest that Stern assumed Burroughs understood these cryptic instructions. Or it may be that Burroughs understood them only as a maneuver, a way for Stern not to conclude but to occlude his text by showing the reader that, while there was more material, it was being withheld. “Stay out.”
With his large coterie of literary friends and acquaintances, Stern would have found plenty of takers for copies of his privately published book. The Fluke, however, did not make any appreciable impact on its recipients. It was not reviewed or blurbed anywhere. Later friends in possession of xerox copies confessed to being unable to read it. The edition itself seems to have all but disappeared. The first published mention of the book, occurring in a 1980 collection of verse and correspondence by Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, called Stern the “author of unpublished prose The Fluke.” It implies that Ginsberg did not even know about the privately published edition.83 Not a single copy of the privately printed edition of The Fluke currently exists in a public institution. A collector in England has a copy purchased from a rare book dealer who happened to know what it was.84 At the time of his death, Stern had no more than his own personal copy. “I wish I had a copy of The Fluke to give you,” Stern told Bockris during their interview the year before he died. The book’s title became a self-fulfilling prophecy: it was a statistical oddity, a rarity, a fluke.
The Late 1960s and Beyond
Though the book made no impact, Stern continued to circulate in the literary jet set. In 1967 Ian Sommerville wrote to Burroughs that he’d heard Stern had been in London for three months.85 By 1970 Stern had moved into the Chelsea Hotel in New York. There he met Patti Smith, who would later dedicate her book Ha! Ha! Houdini to Stern, and grew close to the filmmaker and ethnomusicologist Harry Smith. Stern “thought Burroughs and Harry were the great geniuses of the age,” Ginsberg told an interviewer.86 “He was making plans to have a magazine feature them, but was also very temperamental when he’d get drunk or high on coke or whatever.” Stern and Smith, a self-styled mystic, engaged in a “magic war,” experimenting with tarot and putting curses on each other. Meanwhile Stern would periodically throw tantrums and smash things in his hotel room. Artist Malcolm Mc Neill, who had been collaborating with Burroughs on Ah Pook Is Here, recalls in a forthcoming memoir that Stern could exact a toll on his environment. He liked to “mark stuff up” — a “kind of thinking aloud while studying books, manuscripts, artworks and the like” that included not just the margins of books but the pictures on hotel walls.87
In addition to this “thinking aloud,” Stern continued to write. With Smith he collaborated on a work called Even Songs of Ecstasy, an assemblage in which poems by the two men alternate with tarot imagery. In 1982 Stern’s sister Rosita, who had become an artist, exhibited sketches inspired by one of Stern’s poems at the Gallery Charley Chevalier in Paris. The catalogue contains an illustration called “l’habitant de la chambre jaune,” a portrait of Stern seated in a wheelchair, as well as a poem titled “Disillusion.”88 A self-absorbed work in which the usually hyper-articulate Stern meditates on stuttering and lapses of speech, the poem recalls his earlier writings in its continued preoccupation with coldness, “the tempting silence of a winter’s layer covering the bristly mats forgotten in a storm.” Stern may have continued to produce poetry in part because, as his mobility worsened, the compact format was physically more manageable for him to write or type.
In addition to poetry, Stern had become increasingly interested in film. Just as he had claimed to be the basis for the character of Dr Strangelove, he would let acquaintances think that he had been involved in some important way in the production of Chappaqua and Easy Rider. What is undeniable is that he collaborated with Terry Southern in the mid-1970s on two screenplays, neither of which would be filmed. One was for a porn film called Tryin’.89 The other was for a film of Burroughs’ first book, Junky. Some sense of the misinformation and myth surrounding Stern can be gleaned from the description of that project in the memoir by Southern’s companion Gail Gerber:
Jacques Stern, a well-known physicist also known as Baron Rothschild, was a longtime friend of Burroughs. He had enough money to option the book and finance a first draft of a script even though they had a tense relationship as Stern blamed Burroughs for his not winning a Nobel Prize. Seems Burroughs used to let people think that Stern was on dope.90
A well-known physicist? Nobel Prize? Evidently Stern’s self-portrayal as a mathematician had expanded to include physics. The story about the Nobel Prize had to be an inside joke. Gerber was not the only acquaintance under the impression that Stern had been actually been considered for the honor, in spite of the fact that he never published a single paper in mathematics. As for dope, Stern had long been a “master addict” of the same order as Burroughs. Southern recalled Stern giving himself speedballs through a hypodermic gizmo taped to his wrist. “Trying to sort out truth from fiction was what made being around [Stern] so enjoyable,” Mc Neill has remarked. “In the end the distinction was irrelevant. The telling was all that mattered. The fact that he was often on crystal meth only added to the wonder of it. Like the old speed joke goes: It was a great account but it was all written on one line.”91
What is true, however, is that the relationship between Burroughs and Stern was full of tension and ambiguity — before, during, and after the Junky film project. To observers it was clear that the two admired each other, yet they often maintained a wary distance. The complications are reflected in the evolution of the Junky screenplay itself.92 The title page of a draft dated May 25, 1977 reads “Screenplay by Terry Southern / Based on the novel by William S. Burroughs.” A subsequent draft dated July 28, 1977 reads “Screenplay by Terry Southern / Jacques Stern / and William S. Burroughs / Based on the novel, Junky, by William S. Burroughs and The Creation of Adam by Jacques Stern.” Stern was pushing to combine Junky with a work of his own, as though merging the texts could symbolically patch up the personal relationship. Burroughs objected strenuously:
Problems arising from scripts of Junky and The Creation of Adam can be very simply resolved once we realize that Junky and The Creation of Adam are not the same film and that any attempt to combine the two scripts can only result in confusion.93
Legend has it that the would-be production burned through Stern’s money, much of which was wantonly snorted in the form of cocaine. That may have been true, but the underlying tensions between Stern and Burroughs can’t have helped. “If,” Southern would later tell an interviewer, Stern “had taken it more seriously as a real project instead of as a way to work out his relationship with Bill,” the film might have been realized.94
Even the time, effort, and money wasted on the Junky film project did not sever the relationship between Stern and Burroughs. Sometimes Stern would visit the Bunker. He would give the local winos twenty dollars to carry him up the stairs then berate them to caustic but hilarious effect. Once, when he had been thrown out of his apartment during a cash shortage, Stern stayed at the Bunker, driving Burroughs to distraction with the unique way he could practically pace in his wheelchair. In 1983 the two corresponded about the possibility of creating a film out of The Place of Dead Roads.95 Stewart Meyer, who was close to Burroughs in the 1970s and 1980s, recalls seeing an astonishing moment between the two old friends.96 Burroughs, Southern, and Meyer were to give a reading at the 63rd Street YMCA in New York. Burroughs, already living in Kansas by this time, had flown in for the reading and other business. A leather-clad woman — one of the invariably beautiful “nurses” Stern hired — pushed him in his wheelchair to the reading. Burroughs, visibly moved to see Stern, leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. Given that Burroughs was not wont to make public displays of affection, it was a pregnant moment, the kiss resonating both with fondness and with something darker, like a goodbye kiss.
It was Stern’s young friend Mark Meyer who would inform him of Burroughs’ death in 1997. Whereas Stern had taken the news of Southern’s death hard, requesting that Meyer leave him alone to digest it, he was calm when learning of Burroughs’ demise. Evidently he expected the news. Corso, Ginsberg, Burroughs — the Beat Hotel crew was gone, and Stern must have constrained himself to look upon their deaths as abstractly as the mathematician he fancied himself to be. He accommodated himself to carrying on, watching films from his tremendous library of video cassettes. He loved Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron, and for a while he thought Kurt Cobain might have the mojo to assume Burroughs’ mantle as a junky genius. Meyer even helped Stern get an email account, which he would use in conjunction with a voice transcription device because it was becoming increasingly difficult to type with his hands.
Stern died in a Manhattan hospital on June 15, 2002, less than two weeks after his 70th birthday. He was survived by a companion, by his sister, and by friends who accepted his eccentricities as the price of admission to his brilliance and generosity. Though he had long ago indicated in the contributor’s note to Corso’s anthology that he “prefers to remain unknown,” Stern was legend to a small circle of cognoscenti. His legacy lay in the vivid impression he left in their memories, the background influence he exerted on their creative works, and the mostly unpublished writings he shared with them. In a conversation tape-recorded by Stewart Meyer, Stern once explained what distinguished his writing:
Every motherfucker in the world thinks he’s a writer. There are very few writers, very few, man, that you can count on. I don’t consider myself a writer, but I’m a hell of a lot better than 95% of the writers I know. Cause they’re not writers, they’re basically into what I call typing. I can’t type shit, man. I cannot type with this hand. I can’t play the piano either. Isn’t that a fuckin’ shame? […] There are many things I cannot do. […] I literally had to replace living by thinking, and then thinking made me live again.97
Stern wrote not to become rich, which he already was, nor to become famous, which he did not desire. It would be easy to say that he wrote to live, but the connection may have been even more profound. His life itself became a sort of writing. What he could not expend or express in physical mobility burst out into another dimension, an intellectual mobility that careened from genius to deceit, from abstraction to abuse. Whereas a novelist puts flights of fancy into his work, Stern put them into his life. With his tall tales and disregard for what Kant called “practical reason,” Stern transformed his very existence into an absurdist fiction — he was, as many remarked, a character straight out of Naked Lunch.
|BH||Barry Miles, The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1958-1963, Grove Press, 2000.|
|Bockris||Victor Bockris, Unpublished interview with Jacques Stern, Nov 5, 2001.|
|Letters||Oliver Harris, ed., The Letters of William S. Burroughs, Vol. 1: 1945-1959, New York: Penguin, 1993.|
|LO||Ted Morgan, Literary Outlaw, Henry Holt, 1988.|
|Papers||William S. Burroughs Papers, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.|
Note re Jacques Stern Items in the Burroughs Papers
The finding aid to the Burroughs Papers at the New York Public Library includes several inaccuracies in items related to Jacques Stern.
Box 13, Folder 25, Item 3 — The typescript of The Fluke is not missing pages 2 and 4, as the finding aid indicates. Page 2 is missing but page 4 is misnumbered 5, and the pagination error carries through the rest of the typescript. Additionally, there are two copies of page 21.
Box 84, Folder 4 — This folder contains “Postcards from Unknown Correspondents” including one from “Jacques, Jan 19, n.y.” The author was Jacques Stern and the postmark indicates the card was mailed in 1963.
Box 87, Folder 3, Item 47 — “Jock Stern. Autograph letter signed, n.d.” This item is from Jock Livingston, the filmmaker, as is clear from internal evidence.
Box 87, Folder 4, Item 79 — “Jaques ? Autograph letter signed, n.d.” This letter is from Jacques Stern and likely dates from 1959. See note below for justification of the date.
Box 88, Folder 3, Item 44 — “Jacques Stern. 23 June 1964.” This letter from Burroughs is addressed to Jock Livingston, not Jacques Stern, as is clear from internal evidence.
Box 88 Folder 7, Item 97 — “Jacques Stern, May 28, 1965.” This letter from Burroughs is addressed to Jock Livingston, not Jacques Stern, as is clear from internal evidence.
1. William Burroughs to Allen Ginsberg, June 8, 1959, Letters.
2. Burroughs to Ginsberg, late July 1959, Letters.
3. Box 7, Folder 64, Item 16. “Cut-Up With Jacques Stern’s Telegram to The Captain Barrie Of His Alleged Yacht.” Papers.
4. Le Mémorial de Lyon en 1793: vie, mort et famille des victimes lyonnaises de la Révolution, Lyon, Editions lyonnaises d’art et d’histoire, 1986.
5. See the Social Security Death Index record for Jacques Loup Stern.
6. Jacques Leon Stern biography at the web site of the Assemblée Nationale. See also the biography at Wikipedia.
7. Information provided by the Woodberry Forest School. Email, July 8, 2010.
8. “Milestones,” Time Magazine, Jan 2, 1950.
9. Interview with Mark Meyer, April 27, 2010.
10. Stern does not appear in any of the Harvard yearbooks for 1949-1953. His Harvard student records are not yet available to general researchers.
11. Stern’s will: “Attendu que Jacques Léon Stern de nationalité américaine est décédé à New York, où il était domicilié le 21 décembre 1949, laissant sa veuve née Mathilde Simone de Leusse, séparée de bien, de nationalité française et comme héritiers Rosita-Georgette Marie-Thérèse Stern, epouse de Jacques Georges Dewez et Jacques Loup Stern tous deux enfants légitimes nés de son union, de nationalité française.” Revue critique de droit international privé, Volume 40, 1951.
12. “Emily Marshall to Wed,” New York Times, March 1, 1952.
13. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26, 1958, reproduced in Bill Morgan, ed., The Letters of Allen Ginsberg, New York, Da Capo Press, 2008.
14. Burroughs to Ginsberg, July 24, 1958, Letters.
15. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26, 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg. “Jacques Stern, I haven’t explained, Gregory heard of him at Harvard, a rich young Frenchman — crutches, 95lb, polio — had read On Road, Gasoline, Howl, Junkie (not realizing the latter was Bill).”
16. Ginsberg to Peter Orlovsky, Feb 24, 1958, reproduced in Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, Straight Hearts’ Delight: Love Poems and Selected Letters, 1947 – 1980, Gay Sunshine Press, 1980.
17. LO, p 293.
18. Gregory Corso to Gary Snyder, August 12, 1958, reproduced in Bill Morgan, ed., An Accidental Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso, New Directions, 2003.
19. Corso to Ginsberg, circa Oct 8, 1958, in Accidental Autobiography: “don’t know how to get money but I may find some way; I’m afraid to ask Stern, I need an arrogance to ask, and he’s become a friend, and he even thinks I’m conning him, but knows that it’s a natural part of me, and that it’s inherent in me, and that I don’t mean too [sic]; nor do I.”
20. Burroughs to Ginsberg, May 18, 1959, Letters.
21. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26, 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.
22. BH, p 117.
23. Burroughs to Ginsberg, May 18, 1959, Letters.
25. Burroughs to Paul Bowles, July 20, 1958, Letters.
26. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26, 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.
27. Ginsberg to Orlovsky, Feb 24, 1958, in Straight Hearts’ Delight.
28. LO p 294.
29. LO p 295.
30. Box 79, Folder 4, Item 20. Letter from Alan Ansen to Burroughs, June 19, 1959. Papers.
31. Burroughs to Ginsberg, Late July 1959, Letters.
32. Burroughs to Ginsberg, Sept 25, 1959, Letters.
33. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26, 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.
34. Burroughs and Corso to Ginsberg, Sept 28 1958, Letters.
35. Corso to Ginsberg, Sept 30 1958, in An Accidental Autobiography.
36. Corso to Ginsberg, circa 8 Oct 1958, in An Accidental Autobiography.
37. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.
38. Significantly, Stern mentions Perse (aka St. Leger) in the same few sentences in which he refers to the Beat Hotel: “Gît-le-Coeur, I have heard mentioned.. So has St. Leger, for he wrote about it.. So have three fuzzy friends of mine who once vegetated there..”
39. Irving Rosenthal to Jacques Loup Stern, September 17, 1958. The Chicago Review Records, University of Chicago, Box 17, Folder 1.
40. Stern to Rosenthal, October 7, 1958. The Chicago Review Records, University of Chicago, Box 17, Folder 1.
41. Box 62, Folder 11, Item 54. Papers.
42. Rosenthal to Burroughs, November 24, 1958. Box 80, Folder 15, Item 6. Papers.
43. Ray Roberts to Stern, May 5, 1959. The Chicago Review Records, University of Chicago, Box 17, Folder 1.
44. Burroughs to Ginsberg, April 21, 1959, Letters.
45. Burroughs to Ginsberg, May 18, 1959, Letters.
46. Burroughs to Ginsberg, June 8, 1959, Letters.
47. According to information provided by Oliver Harris (Email, Oct 9, 2010), James Grauerholz reviewed the note with Burroughs and indicated that he “orally re-confirms” it.
48. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.
50. Burroughs to Ginsberg, June 8, 1959, Letters.
51. Ginsberg to Burroughs, undated. Box 82, Folder 2, Item 15. Papers. The finding aid dates this letter as “probably from Winter 59/60.” However, it is clearly a response to Burroughs’ letter of June 8, so the letter likely dates from mid-to-late June 1959. Ginsberg’s reply reads in full:
Give Stern my regards. This business of not wanting to be associated with the Beat scene? Unless he has something really beyond it? Meanwhile dispite [sic] all the bullshit, there is something basically very sympathetic & honest, open, in what we all have been doing, that’s become known as beat, so that his disassociation from it seemed unnecessary, unnecessarily a put down. Not that it’s all that much of a formal party line. You make it sound as if he thinks it’s too sordid. or has too sordid a connotation now. but in the long run I think our general good nature will seem, will be seen. But Big Table’s not categorizable as just low Beat except by what gregory calls “wicked Opinion.” Oh, well, I don’t know why, I was depressed by what I paran oiaclally [sic] interpreted was his attitude, from your p.s.
52. Ginsberg to Burroughs, Sept 29, 1959. Box 82, Folder 1, Item 7. Papers.
53. Burroughs to his parents, undated letter, Box 58, Folder 23, Item 23. Papers.
54. William S. Burroughs Papers, Ohio State University, Box 33, Folder 299.
55. Burroughs to Ginsberg, Jan 2, 1959, Letters.
56. Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg.
57. Burroughs to Ginsberg, Sept 25, 1959, Letters.
58. Burroughs to Ginsberg, Oct 7, 1959, Letters.
59. According to the research of Oliver Harris, “Hauser and O’Brien” was composed in 1955 then revised in 1959. See Oliver Harris, “From Dr Mabuse to Doc Benway: The Myths and Manuscripts of Naked Lunch,” RealityStudio, Oct 26, 2010.
60. Burroughs to Ginsberg, May 18, 1959, Letters.
61. James Grauerholz, Email, March 21, 2011.
62. Brion Gysin, Terry Wilson, Here to Go: Planet R-101, London, Quartet Books, 1985, p 239.
64. Box 62, Folder 11, Item 53. Papers.
65. Burroughs, Minutes to Go, Two Cities Editions, 1960, p 59.
66. Jacques Stern to William Burroughs, undated, 2 pages. Box 87, Folder 04, Item 79. Papers. In the finding aid to the Burroughs Papers, the letter is attributed only to “Jacques,” but internal evidence (e.g. the reference to Stern’s wife Dini) indicates the author is Stern. The letter cannot have been written before late October 1958, since it refers to the Mansfield Street apartment that Burroughs and Stern shared in London after their October apomorphine cure. Because Burroughs did not cash the check enclosed with the letter, he may have received it after the publication of Naked Lunch, when he had money in the bank owing to advances from Olympia Press. The echo between the letter and Burroughs’ letter to Ginsberg of September 25, 1959 could indicate that Burroughs had received it around that time. That Burroughs subjected the letter to the cut-up technique, which Gysin showed him on October 1, 1959, suggests it may have been fresh in his mind around that time.
67. Box 07, Folder 63, Item 15. Papers.
68. Conrad Knickerbocker, “The Art of Fiction #36: William S. Burroughs,” Paris Review, 1965.
69. Recorded by Sean Sweeney for the Poetry Room in Paris on May 24, 1962. Reel-to-reel tape held in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.
70. Stern to Burroughs, Jan 19, 1963. Box 84, Folder 04. Papers.
71. Interview with Mark Meyer, April 27, 2010.
72. Terry Southern to Mason Hoffenberg, June 7, 1961: “it looks as if you are setting up a billion dollar staff there in Paris, France (how about Jacques Stern for ‘Freak Shoot-Off Editor’? HAW HAW!)” Reproduced in Nile Southern, The Candy Men: The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel Candy, Arcade Publishing, p 164.
73. A lengthy analysis of the sources for the Dr Strangelove character is presented by Peter Daniel Smith in Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, St Martin’s Press, p 422 ff.
74. “One crutch aluminum”: Ginsberg to Kerouac, June 26, 1958, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg. “On two crutches”: BH, p 117. Photograph of Jacques Stern in St Tropez: Allen Ginsberg, “Jacques Stern in St Tropez 1961,” reproduced at allenginsberg.org.
75. Philip Lamantia to Burroughs, July 12, 1964. Box 79, Folder 27, Item 39. Papers.
76. Lamantia to Burroughs, August 10, 1964. Fox 79, Folder 27, Item 40. Papers.
78. Email from Paul Guillard, 13 April 2010. “Je suis au regret de vous dire que nous n’avons aucune référence à ce livre dans nos archives. Peut-être y a-t-il erreur sur la maison d’édition?”
79. Interview with Mark Meyer, April 27, 2010.
80. Interview with Dr Joseph Gross, July 1, 2010.
81. James Grauerholz, Email, March 18, 2011.
82. Box 13, Folder 25, Item 3, Papers.
83. Ginsberg and Orlovsky, Straight Hearts’ Delight, footnote.
84. Emails from collector.
85. Ian Sommerville to William S. Burroughs, June 13, 1967. Box 80, Folder 20, Item 89. Papers.
86. Allen Ginsberg, Interview with Paola Igliori, 24 September 1995.
87. Malcolm Mc Neill, Observed while Falling, forthcoming memoir of the artist’s relationship with Burroughs.
88. Rosita Dewez, Poème de Jacques Stern, Galerie Charley Chevalier, Paris, 1982.
89. Tryin’: Manuscript in possession of Mark Meyer. Interview with Mark Meyer, April 27 2010.
90. Gail Gerber with Tom Lisanti, Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember, McFarland, 2009.
91. Malcolm Mc Neill, Email, October 4, 2010.
92. Screenplay drafts: Terry Southern Papers, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
93. Report dated May 11, 1977 with ANS from “JAS” to Terry Southern. Terry Southern Papers.
94. “Interview with a Grand Guy,” revised version of an interview with Terry Southern published in Patrick McGilligan, ed., Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 60s, University of California Press, 1966.
95. Film of Place of Dead Roads: William S. Burroughs Papers, Ohio State University, Box 20, Folder 160.
96. Interview with Stewart Meyer, May 13, 2010.
97. Recording provided by Stewart Meyer.
13 thoughts on “William S. Burroughs, Jacques Stern, and The Fluke”
I knew Emily Janeway Marshall in the early ’60’s. She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.
I was wondering if anyone knows of her whereabouts.
Wow, I’m so glad to find this article. I’m about two-thirds of the way thru “The Letters of WSB 1959-1974” edited by Bill Morgan. There’s a very brief mention of “Jack Stern” in one of the letters. Something about the name caught my attention, so I searched the internet and found this article on Reality Studio. Maybe Stern is mentioned again later in the book, but now I have all this wonderful background information.
Fascinating piece, thank you! I wondered if the author thought about the possibility that Jacques Stern modelled himself a mathematician/physicist on other Jacques Sterns? I mean by that that an other Jacques Stern, born on the same year as Fluke’s author, is an informatician and an aeronautic engineer. He studied in Harvard, and wrote a book in 1967, “Méthodes pratiques d’étude des fonctions aléatoires”, which translates as “Practical Studying Methods of Random Functions”. I’m sure if Stern was aware of that he might have toyed with the idea of Random Functions and writing.
I wouldn’t rule that out as a possibility. Stern (WSB’s friend) did possess mathematical ability, and it’s conceivable that he was mistaken for another “Jacques Stern” who was really a mathematician. It’s not the most uncommon name either. That said, I’m unaware of any evidence that supports the idea.
Emily (Millie) Marshall died many years ago in Concord MA. I was told she was mentally ill.
I met Jaques in 1969 in Marbella, he had parted ways with his Spanish wife and was living in the Marbella Club. My husband was working as his PA, more of a minder really and he had a chauffeur. By this time he was taking a lot of speed and drinking a lot so after several days without sleep he was very paranoid and very aggressive and used his crutches as weapons.In Spain amphetamines were easily available over the counter from the pharmacy so he was not breaking any laws which was just as well in Franco’s dictatorship.His lucid times were very few and far between and he was not writing.
I was surprised to read he lived until 72 as he was very frail and hardly ate, but he was a very strong character. He insisted on being called Baron Jaques Stern de Rothschild and rarely spoke of his connection to The Beats.
I knew Jaques in the mid 70’s. He was a force unlike any other. He did rave and he did write, everywhere, on the walls, floor, paper, any surface available. We spent a few months consuming cocaine together. I never knew what was real or imagined in him but I enjoyed our intimate relationship. He was a mad genius who I finally could not be with longer.
The last time I saw Jacques at Hospice he made me run around for an hour looking for french fries.
Tengo información de Jacques Stern en Torremolinos. Alguien podría escribirme en español?
Me interesa indagar en el personaje
I was thrust into the Jacques Stern phantasmagoria during my time at The Chelsea Hotel during the 1970s. For that reason I found this article extremely interesting as it provided insight to one Jacques Stern who has dissolved into the status of obscure figure of the Beat world. The Baron Rothschild, as he was commonly referred to at this time, and as I knew him, was racked with a variety of mania that could be mechanized to volatile weaponry at any time without warning. As they say, those were the days. Were they ever!
Quite illuminating! Would be nice to catch a glimpse of the writings of Stern. Would family have retained or burned? Who has copyrite of Fluke?
I was always struck by accounts of Stern in Miles’ WSB bio so it’s gratifying to get the bigger picture. You’ve done a really good job here. Much respect and gratitude for your efforts.
Stern may have been mad and irascible, but there’s a certain purity to his literary efforts. He didn’t need the money and seems to have eschewed the fame, even remaining silent about his connection to so many counterculture luminaries, which he certainly could have “banked”. I haven’t been overly impressed with The Fluke so far, but I’m still plugging away.
Thanks again for bringing this into the light of day.
You’re welcome. Glad you’re enjoying it!