Category: Burroughs, William S.

uncharacteristic restraint from the author (excerpt)

William S. Burroughs’s NOVA EXPRESS, pp. 28-29

I spit blood under the sliding vulture shadows — At The Mercado Mayorista saw a tourist — A Meester Merican fruto drinking pisco — and fixed me with the eyes so I sit down and drink and tell him how I live in a shack under the hill with a tin roof held down by rocks and hate my brothers because they eat — He says something about “malo viento” and laughs and I went with him to a hotel I know — In the morning he says I am honest and will I come with him to Pucallpa he is going into the jungle looking for snakes and spiders to take pictures and bring them back to Washington they always carry something away even if it is only a spider monkey spitting blood the way most of us do here in the winter when the mist comes down from the mountains and never leaves your clothes and lungs and everyone coughed and spit blood mist on the mud floor where I sleep — We start out next day in a Mixto Bus by night we are in the mountains with snow and the Meester brings out a bottle of pisco and the driver gets drunk down into the Selva came to Pucallpa three days later — The Meester locates a brujo and pays him to prepare Ayahuasca and I take some too and muy mareado — Then I was back in Lima and other places I didn’t know and saw the Meester as child in a room with rose wallpaper looking at something I couldn’t see — Tasting roast beef and turkey and ice cream in my throat knowing the thing I couldnt’ see was always out there in the hall — And the Meester was looking at me and I could see the street boy words there in his throat — Next day the police came looking for us at the hotel and the Meester showed letters to the Commandnate so they shook hands and went off to lunch and I took a bus back to Lima with money he gave me to buy equipment —

space noir in blue, red, and green

IMG_0047The 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.

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interplanetary nastipiece

image found here
image found here

[CN: Racism, antisemitism, misogyny, lewd sex, drugs]

For some reason my default reading of the title is a machine that produces soft, rather than a machine that is soft…i dont really know what’s up with me either.

A notion from Simon O’ Sullivan that I really like is that when political/ethical/theoretical discourse gets stuck in a rut and begins looping itself, literary fiction comes along and “scrambles the known codes, upsets the accepted formulae.” Burroughs’ experiments with cutting up text and with chance-based composition square with the upheavals occurring in the humanities in the sixities — THE SOFT MACHINE rails against the comforting neutrality of language and reality, showing words, time, and space to be finite dimensions that can bottom out at any moment. Not that Burroughs had any stock in reality to begin with. His serious investment in conspiracy theories embodies all the antisemitism that implies, and his contempt for women reeks from at least a few of these pages.

His style was the kind of discipline that cant really be accommodated by books or by publication since his texts arent things that can be “finished.” Like Wong Kar-wai, whose movies are made in the editing room with change after change right down to premier hour, Burroughs constantly re-mixed and re-issued, even cutting and taping changes to the galleys. Oliver Harris in the introduction has to inform us that SM is not only the first volume of the Nova trilogy, but is itself a trilogy of three different editions.

Needless to say you dont really know what’s going on as you read this work, which is basically the result of cutting together deleted scenes from NAKED LUNCH with a swath of other material, both original and from other writers, to form an acid space opera. But im totally on board with this cut-up/fold-in practice. If conventional novels create stable, “realistic” worlds that you could almost step into and explore, then SOFT MACHINE itself, like the best experimental novels, feels alive with all its undulating sliminess and organic froth. Not recommended for readers with insect phobias.

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