It was my husband’s task to pack the books in the garage. Just take the good ones, I said. As I was unpacking his selection, I came across a 1929 edition of An Anthology of World Poetry edited by Mark Van Doren (Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg’s Columbia University English professor) and a 1984 copy of City Lights Books The Burroughs File. I look forward to what I might find in the other two unopened boxes of books, but this is certainly a fine start.
James Grauerholz’s introduction to The Burroughs File might be encouraging to unknown writers. Once, Burroughs was known only to a small group of friends, but after Naked Lunch he began to receive requests from underground publishers of “little mags,” and from 1962 through 1969 his work appeared in these obscure publications, which make up The Burroughs File.i
Burroughs writes to Alan Ansen: “complete dissatisfaction with everything I have done in writing,” ii how often do writers in their “tremendous isolation” iii have that feeling? Burroughs continues, “Unless writing has the danger and immediacy, the urgency of bullfighting, it is nowhere to my way of thinking . . . I am tired of sitting behind the lines with an imperfect recording device receiving inaccurate bulletins . . . I must reach the Front.” iv Bill does reach the front full frontal, and of course, many were affronted by his effrontery.
In “Who Is the Third That Walks Besides You” Burroughs writes, “So disinterest yourself in my words. Disinterest yourself in anybody’s words, In the beginning was the word . . . Yes, sir, boys, it’s hard to stop that old writing arm more of a habit than using,” and he grows poetic, “My writing arm is paralyzed ash, blown from an empty sleeve do our work and go./” v
I imagine it would take an American of a certain age to comprehend “ . . . quietly eating scrambled eggs in Needicks . . . Oswalds and Rubys were but plates dropped from our pockets human time bombs exploded on computerized order.” vi Needicks was a hot-dog chain that no longer exists and Oswald and Ruby refer to assassins in the JFK shooting. Oswald assassinated Kennedy and Jack Ruby assassinated Oswald, and both events were televised life for all the world to see. It was quite shocking, but especially for six-year-old schoolgirl me. So reading WSB is a nostalgic trip into my earliest childhood, and there’s an old-fashion-ness that I associate with him, and that is all filed in the inner-files of my computer brain.
Burroughs the writer, a serious writer, who writes interestingly of writing, and writes, “Writers don’t write, they read and transcribe.” He continues, “Any writer who does not consider his writing the most important thing he does, who does not consider writing his only salvation, I—“I trust him little in the commerce of the soul.” vii
WORDS. “I have always felt that the essence of self is words, the internal
dialogue.” viii And one must always listen to the inner voice.
i Burroughs, William S. The Burroughs File. (San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 1984), pp. 9-10.
ii Ibid., p. 23.
iii Ibid., p. 19.
iv Ibid., p. 23.
v Ibid., pp. 51-52.
vi Ibid., p. 121.
vii Ibid., p. 189.
viii Ibid., p. 194.