If you use social media and have any interest in the Beat Generation, you’ve probably come across a number of fake quotes, particularly by Jack Kerouac. Some of them are shared so frequently and with such conviction that you may not even realise that they’re fake. (“Climb that goddamn mountain,” anyone? How about “Here’s to the crazy ones”?)

For many years, there has been a quotation attributed to Burroughs that does the rounds. It changes so often that one’s suspicions are naturally raised. Here are a handful of variants:

  • The paranoids are the only ones with any idea what’s going on.
  • A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.
  • Sometimes paranoia is just knowing all the facts.
  • A paranoid is a man who just figured out what’s going on.
  • A psychotic is a guy who has just found out what is going on.
  • Paranoid, is the one, who starts to understand, what is going on around him.
  • A paranoiac is a man in possession of all the facts.
  • Paranoia is just having the right information.

With so many variants, some of which make little sense, it should be obvious that something is wrong.

A quick Google search yields a great many variants of this supposed Burroughs quote.

In fact, Burroughs was asked about this quote by Alan Bold, Burroughs replied:

I never made that remark about paranoia, though I guess somebody must have made it.

Burroughs Live, p.577

Was this a joke? Did he really never say anything about paranoid people having all the facts?

Unfortunately, researching dubious quotes can be a headache due to the hundreds of quote generators now available. It seems people just enter whatever they remember a person saying alongside a photo of them and this clogs up the first dozen pages of any Google search. Naturally, none of these people bother to include anything as trivial as a source.

A bit of old-fashioned investigation, however, leads us to the origin, a 1970 interview:

AM / PA: Do you think that paranoia is a sickness? […]

WB: A paranoid might be defined as someone who has some idea as to what is actually going on.

Burroughs Live, p.161

It is amusing to me that both of these quotes can be found in the same interview collection. Was Bill joking in the second, or had he really forgotten he had made this claim? Perhaps he was merely tired of the quote following him around, or maybe all of its variants had come to bug him.

So, to conclude, can we say that the Burroughs’ “paranoia/paranoid” quote is real?

Well, it depends on which one you use. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen his exact words used when this quote is shared on social media or even in a book, but then some of the above quotes do come close to capturing his meaning.

It should also be noted that a few people who knew Burroughs have claimed that he often expressed this core idea and probably in different words to the quoted interview. I highly doubt that any of the variants that appear on quote-generating websites are taken from real sources but it is possible that they come close to something he once said.