William S. Burroughs

William Burroughs enjoying cake and alcohol at...
William Burroughs enjoying cake and alcohol at his 70th birthday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was an innovative, influential author who kept company with literary stars like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Burrows was a bisexual, on-and-off junkie (heroine addict) who shot to stardom with his book, Naked Lunch, written over three years in a Moroccan hotel room.

Most of his works are taken as autobiographical, and Naked Lunch is no exception. The protagonist Bill Lee, a heroine addict, travels from New York to Tangiers and then into the Interzone. There he confronts a hellish, hallucinogenic urban fantasy land where the individual is forced to grapple with the dark, frightening forces of totalitarianism.

According to one account, the manuscript was disjointed and probably would never have been published had not Ginsberg and a few other beatniks saved it from a flooded hotel room floor.

Originally printed in Paris in 1959, Naked Lunch reached the U.S. in 1962. There, a well-publicized obscenity trial over the novel in 1966 is usually seen as marking the end of literary censorship in that country. Burrows won the case.

Joan Vollmer
Joan Vollmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In retrospect, one has to wonder if Burrows was anticipating the internet and virtual reality with his idea of the Interzone. Others, however, say the Interzone is a metaphor for a borderless city.

Burrows’ take on semiotics is probably best summed up by his claim that “Language is a virus…[words]…become images when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not of the image of the thing itself.”¹ Just what he meant by that is still open to debate.²

Apparently Burroughs accidentally killed his second wife Joan Vollmer in a drunken stupor in 1951, for which he was charged in Mexico with “criminal imprudence.” He, himself, believed that this tragic incident was a catalyst for his writing career. In essence, Burroughs found himself plunged into a world of darkness, and the only way he knew how to escape was to write autobiographical fiction while living a life that included heavy drugs and casual sex.

¹ http://www.coolidge.org/balagan/text_spring2003.html

² http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091007222931AAUtbkE


One comment

  1. Burroughs is a big literary hero and an early influence on my own writing. He freed me from narrative constraints and gave me the permission to experiment with forms and themes. Thanks for posting on the grand ol’ mugwump…


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