The second rip of Burroughs’s Nova Trilogy has left my brain blown apart into discrete pieces before being pasted back together like the collage of consciousness presented in the book — which is to say i dont know where to begin. (The beginning of the book, in a slightly different version than my edition’s text, can be heard aloud from the author here.)
There might be at least three global catastrophes involving the mass combustion of the Earth, a Lovecraftian or Event Horizon-esque descent into violence and depravity and madness among the human population, and the swift destruction of all language leaving silence in its wake. There’s also a brief scene of a boiler explosion on a ship. There’s an odd Biological Court bureaucracy in which lawyers fold-in their reports with pages from Kafka. We learn a bit about the elusive Nova Mob, opposed by a righteous Nova Police Agency. A noir story in outer space is spliced in with newspaper articles, Shakespeare, THE GREAT GATSBY, Conrad, and Joyce’s DUBLINERS (typically the final words). Although NOVA EXPRESS is often listed as the third book, Oliver Harris’s introduction informs us that it is in fact the middle volume, although it’s also the third book of a trilogy including NAKED LUNCH and THE SOFT MACHINE, which is explicitly acknowledged in the text. Nothing’s ever straight with W S. B.
What scared you all into time? Into body? Into shit? I will tell you: “the word.” Alien Word “the.” “The” word of Alien Enemy imprisons “thee” in Time. In Body. In Shit. Prisoner, come out. The great skies are open. I Hassan i Sabbah rub out the word forever. If you and I cancel all your words forever. And the words of Hassan i Sabbah as also cancel. Cross all your skies and see the silent writing of Byion Gysin Hassan i Sabbah: drew September 17, 1899 over New York.
Burroughs employs the cut-up and fold-in dada techniques to wrench apart the control structures of language in an act of literary terrorism. “Time” has a big T because it may actually be referring to Time Magazine, as the parent owner of Time Life and Fortune was an object of Burroughs’s antipathy, a sort of 1960’s NewsCorp (a bit also gleaned from the introduction).
There is a kind of pattern: a “main” chapter will be followed by an intercalary section that cuts-up bits from the chapter before and after itself. There are tons of familiar sound bytes from the previous book SOFT MACHINE and most likely from the third book, THE TICKET THAT EXPLODED, so that i wont be able to guess the origin of each one: “Across the wounded galaxies,” “Word falling photo falling,” “Who am I to be critical?”
There were some “themes” i picked up on but they are hard to write about since their “development” is scrambled by the dada techniques, resulting in an explosion (nova?) of small associations. Blue: silence, suffocation, narcotics, State power (police). Combustion: “This is a burning planet,” talk of ovens, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“All nations sold out by liars and cowards. Liars who want time for the future negatives to develop stall you with more lying officers while hot crab people mass war to extermination with the film in Rome. These reports reek of nova, sold out job, shit birth and death. Your planet has been invaded. You are dogs on all tape. The entire planet is being developed into terminal identity and complete surrender.”
“Terminal identity.” i take this to refer in one sense to the consolidating (consensus-building?) power of linguistic control. Identity politics is an enticing route to take against oppression yet it’s “identity” that is forced on us by the system in the first place. There are blurbs that say things like “Burroughs wrote in order to explore his identity as a drug user and a homosexual,” and it makes the whole thing sound so feeble. Recognition of an identity requires unity, and it is unity that the nature of these books’ construction is ravaging.
Representation is an object of satire. A guy called Winkhorst, who has information regarding a substance called Apomorphine which could destroy all language. He is interrogated by having his photo taken, then painted, and then a method actor “becomes” Winkhorst, and only then is the individual processed.
There’s an interesting plot in the early portion of the novel that appears to cast Burroughs himself:
Fade out to a shabby hotel near Earl’s Court in London. One of our agents is posing as a writer. He has written a so-called pornographic novel called Naked Lunch in which The Orgasm Death Gimmick is described. That was the bait. And they walked write in. A quick knock at the door and there it was. A green boy/girl from the sewage deltas of Venus.
Agent Bill Lee is fighting the good fight against the subterfuge of the Nova Mob and their plans of domination. There’s this aspect of fantasy, a kind of reversal of reality: The mob of our world is the entire establishment — government, the police, the corporate media, the multinationals that only become more consolidated and massive in this “free” market, and the author Bill combats this monumental power edifice with scissors. In the book the Nova Mob is a Dick Tracy-like band of malformed villains, and Lee is plugged into a well-resourced counter organization. im interested when prose casts an authorial personality; Kathy Acker in an interview talks about how “Whenever I use ‘I,’ I am and I am not that ‘I.’ It’s a little bit like the theater: I’m an actress and that’s the role I’m taking on.”
Language is a parasitic process, it steals our agency and saps our life forces. Parasite was the main image in SOFT MACHINE, and here it might be the Virus:
What does virus do wherever it can dissolve a hole and find traction? — It starts eating — And what does it do with what it eats? — It makes exact copies of itself that start eating to make more copies that start eating to make more copies that start eating and so forth to the virus power the fear hate virus slowly replaces the host with virus copies — Program empty body — A vast tapeworm of bring down word and image moving through mind screen…
The ideology of capitalism is limitless growth, and it’s a major achievement that the majority of folx no longer see this as an ethically monstrous value to hold. Heterosexuality is privileged bc it is a man and a woman that leads to reproduction, replication, of bodies, of the power structure in the miniature form of the Family.
Was Burroughs writing the febrile sermons of a seer? People credit him with predicting liposuction and the AIDS crisis; his villains prefigure Monsanto, the global arms dealer that is the modern U.S., the white supremacist news print. The Nova Mob blows up planets by stirring mass conflict that the system’s drive for unity and consensus cannot solve, resulting in the negative apotheosis of the atom bomb: and today anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians remain the intractable conflicts of postmodernity. Maybe he was just plugged into the bleeding-edge technology of his times, namely the magnetic tape recorder and its potential to sample and remix and culture-jam the media landscape. The thing about this construct of neutral linear time we’re saddled with is that the past and future become the same.
Overall, i was less high on this book than SOFT MACHINE, oddly enough because the anarchic style was more transparent. i found the lectures on the cod science of drugs and biology and such to be kinda dry. And i missed all the rough kinky gross sex of his other novels, call me shallow! I wasnt really thrilled with the text until the final chapter, excerpt below, which revved up to the same energy level of SM. i have high hopes for TICKET though!
NOVA EXPRESS by William S. Burroughs
“The Subliminal Kid” moved in and took over bars and cafes and juke boxes of the world cities and installed radio transmitters and microphones in each bar so that the music and the talk of any bar could be heard in all his bars and he had tape recorders in each bar that played and recorded at arbitrary intervals and his agents moved back and forth with portable tape recorders and brought back street sound and talk and music and poured it into his recorder array so he set waves and eddies and tornadoes of sound down all your street sand by the river of all language — Word dust drifted streets of broken music car horns and air hammers — The Word broken pounded twisted exploded in smoke —
Word Falling / / /
Het set up screens on the walls of his bars opposite mirrors and took and projected at arbitrary intervals shifted from one bar to the other mixing Westerns Gangsters films of all time and place with word and image of the people in his cafes and on the streets his agents with movie camera and telescope lens poured images of the city back into his projector and camera array and nobody knew whether he was in a Western movie in Hongkong or The Aztec Empire in Ancient Rome or Suburban America whether he was a bandit a commuter or a chariot driver whether he was firing a “real” gun or watching a gangster movie and the city moved in swirls and eddies and tornadoes of image explosive bio-advance out of space to neon —
Photo Falling / / /
“The Subliminal Kid” moved in seas of disembodied sound — He then spaced here and there and instaff opposite mirrors and took movies each bar so that the music and talk is at arbitrary intervals and shifted bars — And he also had recorder in tracks and moving film mixing arbitrary intervals and agents moving with the word and image of tape recorders — So he set up waves and his agents with movie swirled through all the streets of image and brought back street in music from the city and poured Aztec Empire and Ancient Rome — Commuter or Chariot Driver could not contort their word dust drifted from outer space — Air hammers word and image explosive bio-advance — A million drifting screens on the walls of his city projected mixing sound of any bar could be heard in all Westerns and film of all times played and recorded at the people back and forth with portable cameras and telescope lenses poured eddies an tornadoes of sound and camera array until soon city or the Aztec sound talk suburban America and all accents and language mixed and fused and people shifted language and accent in mid-sentence Aztec priest and spilled it moved in swirls and no one knew what he was going out of space to neon streets —
“Nothing Is True — Everything Is Permitted –” Last Words Hassan i Sabbah
The Kid stirred in sex films and The People-City pulsed in a vast orgasm and no one knew what was film and what was not and performed all kinda sex acts on every street corner —
He took film of sunsets and cloud and sky water and tree film and projected color in vast reflector screens concentrating blue sky red sun green grass and the city dissolved in light and people walked through each other — There was only color and music and silence where the words of Hassan i Sabbah had passed —
“Boards Syndicates Governments of the earth Pay — Pay back the Color you stole —
“Pay Red — Pay back the red you stole for your lying flags and your Coca-Cola signs — Pay that red back to penis and blood and sun —
“Pay Blue — Pay back the blue you stole and bottled and doled out in eye droppers of junk — Pay back the blue you stole for your police uniforms — Pay that blue back to sea and sky and eyes of the earth —
“Pay Green — Pay back the green you stole for your money — And you, Dead Hand Stretching The Vegetable People, pay back the green you stole for your Green Deal to sell out peoples of the earth and board the first life boat in drag — Pay that green back to flowers and jungle and river and sky —
“Board Syndicates Governments of earth pay back your stolen colors — Pay Color back to Hassan i Sabbah — “