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Curses, Cut-Ups, & Contraptions:
The “Disastrous Success” of William Burroughs’ Magick

5,685 words

BurroughsMagicMatthew Levi Stevens
The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs
Oxford: Mandrake of Oxford, 2014[1]

My very first question to him, a living, breathing, Beatnik legend in the flesh was . . . “Tell me about magick?” William was not in the least surprised by my question. “Care for a drink?” he asked. Putting on the TV to watch The Man from U.N.C.L.E., he explained “Reality is not really all it’s cracked up to be, you know . . .”—Genesis P-Orridge 

For the longest of times I’ve repeated the story that I was first exposed to William S. Burroughs through the now-legendary meeting of Burroughs and Bowie brokered by Rolling Stone. However, since others have been sufficiently and similarly obsessed enough to document all this on the interwebs,[2] it would appear, assuming as always continuity in space/time, that this could not be the origin, as I was already sufficiently au courant to purchase a copy of The Wild Boys in London in the summer of 1972.

Further research on the intertubes would indicate that the source must have been the Robert Palmer interview in May, 1972,[3] which likely have caught my eye due to the coverage of the Master Musicians of Joujouka, and thus, Brian Jones.[4] I would not be in the presence of the Master—or Uncle Bill, as he likes to be known as—until 1976-’77, when I was studying Buddhism at the Naropa Institute, and he was in residence at their Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.[5]

Now, I take this trip down Memory Lane because our Author under review, one Matthew Levi Stevens, asserts a more precocious relationship with all things Burroughs:

I was a 14-year-old schoolboy, and already a huge fan of William S. Burroughs, when I first made contact with Industrial Music pioneers Throbbing Gristle. [Later, in] September, 1982, William S. Burroughs is in town for The Final Academy. Psychic TV are prime movers, and thanks to Genesis P-Orridge I have a ringside seat. Everybody wants to get their books signed, or have their photo taken with “Uncle Bill” as he is affectionately known. I choose to do neither, deliberately. As well as the PTV connection, I am in touch with J. G. Ballard, Eric Mottram, Jeff Nuttall, and know Bill’s old pal Alex Trocchi; I am also a skinny, pale, intense, bookish young boy of nearly 16. I’m sure none of any of these details hurt. Eventually I am in just the right place at just the right time . . .[6]

Coincidence? Perhaps. But mere coincidence?

In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen. The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces, and I think thats just ridiculous. Its as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it is for a reason. Among primitive people they say that if someone was bitten by a snake he was murdered. I believe that. – William S. Burroughs [7]

Well, surely then this is the man for the job at hand, which is the twofold nature of The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs:

Firstly, and probably most obvious, is the material that appears in the output of Burroughs the Writer that can be seen as describing or referring to some magical, mystical or occult idea. Invocations of Elder Gods of Abominations, descriptions of Sex-Magick rituals, references to amulets, charms, ghosts, omens and spells, all the thematic set-dressing that we all know and love, from Hammer Horror Movies to Weird Tales, from H. P. Lovecraft to Dennis Wheatley and The X-Files.

Secondly, and perhaps less obvious, there is the personal interest and involvement of Burroughs the Man with belief systems and practices that come from those strange Other territories that lay outside the bounds of either conventional mainstream religion or scientific materialism . . . and various other areas that can perhaps be considered Fringe Science (perhaps even pseudoscience), as well as Contested Knowledge of a more Traditional kind: partaking of the Vine-of-the-Soul with Amazonian shamans, attending the Rites of Pan in the Rif Mountains outside Morocco, participating in a Sweat-Lodge with Native American Indian medicine men, and as we have seen, latterly an engagement with that most Post-Modern of Occultisms, Chaos Magic.

Or, as his classic biographer Ted Morgan wrote:

As the single most important thing about Graham Greene was his viewpoint as a lapsed Catholic, the single most important thing about Burroughs was his belief in the magical universe. The same impulse that led him to put out curses was, as he saw it, the source of his writing . . .[8]

As Stevens quotes Burroughs Longtime Companion James Grauerholz,

“He developed a view of the world that was based primarily on Will: nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen. Curses are real, possession is read. This struck him as a better model for human experience and psychology than the neurosis theories of Freud. . . . He did pursue a lifelong quest for spiritual techniques by which to master his unruly thoughts and feelings, to gain a feeling of safety from oppression and assault form without and from within. The lists of liberational systems that he took up and tried is a long one.”

Now, while the first angle has been covered by Burroughs’ now numerous biographers and literary scholars,[9] Stevens’ unique contribution is using that material, and his own experiences with Burroughs and his acolytes, such as Phil Hine, Peter Carroll, Malcom MacNeill, and Genesis P-Orridge, to locate in and explain through his life, the magical beliefs and, more importantly, magickal practices therein.

This makes the book required reading for anyone interested not just in Burroughs, but in late 20th-century literature, music (from the relatively popular Bowie, hip hop, ambient, and trance to the unfriendly extremes of punk, Industrial, and Noise), film (again, from the relatively mainstream David Cronenberg to Anthony Balch) and even painting.[10]

Steven suggests a genetic component in Burroughs’ lifelong involvement with the occult. His mother claimed to be psychic,[11] while his father was a relatively poor relation of the Burroughs office machine creator; perhaps this mixture accounts for Burroughs’ fascination not just with the occult but what might be termed the machinery of fringe science: Scientology e-meters, Reich’s orgone boxes, Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, and even his famous “cut-up” technique of chance composition and the experiments with altering reality with tape recordings.

Appropriately, then, Stevens begins with Burroughs’ childhood, and the curses he learned from family servants, [12] and which he later used both in books and in life.[13]

Burroughs fitfully studied the occult on own and in the context of stays at Harvard and the University of Mexico City, but it was at the Beat Hotel in Paris at the end of the ’50s that he met his next, most important occult mentor, Brion Gysin. Among other things, it was Gysin who made the serendipitous discovery that newspapers, cut up while serving as an improvised cutting board, could be rearranged to create new texts. Burroughs soon realized this was not only a literary technique but an occult one as well, making the connection to Dunne’s study of precognitive dreams:

“You will recall Experiment with Time by Dunne. Dr Dunne found that when he wrote down his dreams the text contained many clear and precise references to so-called future events. However, he found that when you dream of an air crash, a fire, a tornado, you are not dreaming of the event itself but of the so-called future time when you will read about it in the newspapers. You are seeing not the event itself, but a newspaper picture of the event, prerecorded and pre-photographed.” (The Third Mind)

Leading to this realization:

“I would say that my most interesting experience with the earlier techniques was the realization that when you make cut-ups you do not get simply random juxtapositions of words, they do mean something, and often that these meanings refer to some future event. . . . Perhaps events are pre-written and pre-recorded and when you cut word lines the future leaks out.” (The Job)

Stevens adds that

Burroughs felt that the cut-up was a way to break through the Word Lines of this insidious, all-pervading enemy and get to the Truth. . . . This was an attitude he would extend increasingly to all communications, and eventually all relationships.

“This was a magic practice he was up to, surprising the very springs of creative imagination at their source.” (Brion Gysin, Here to Go)

After claiming the famous Edinburgh Conference that he had actually caused a plane to crash, Stephen Spender noted that

“It seems to me like a rather medieval form of magic rather than modern science.”

Some twenty years later, Burroughs made use of another book, Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, to elucidate the occult significance of the cut-ups. Harkening back again to the Edinburgh Conference, when Norman Mailer had famously proclaimed Burroughs to be “possessed by genius,” Burroughs, typically, said that he took the idea of “possession” literally: he did not have genius but was possessed by it.

To me “genius” is the nagual: the uncontrollable—unknown and so unpredictable – spontaneous and alive. You could say the magical.

The role of the artist is to make contact with the nagual and bring a part of it back into the tonal [the everyday, predictable world] in paint or words, sculpture, film, or music. The nagual is also the area of so-called psychic phenomena.

Burroughs’ cut-up technique, while in one sense merely continuing (as he acknowledged) the innovations of writers as outré as Breton and as (currently) established as T. S. Eliot or John Dos Passos, was, in another sense, something very different: by introducing chance the lines of determinism were cut. Cut ups “had the potential to be oracular”:

Whereas the basis of fiction was “once upon a time”— with the cut-ups it was “once in future time.”

Among Burroughs earliest cut-ups were phrases that meant nothing at the time but which in hindsight took on an eerie prescience.

“In 1964 I made a cup-up and got . . .’And here is a horrid air conditioner.’ In 1974, I moved into a loft with a broke air conditioner which was removed to put in a new unit. And there was three hundred pounds of broken air conditioner on my floor—a horrid disposal problem, heavy and solid, emerged from a cut-up ten years ago.”

“Perhaps events are pre-written and pre-recorded and when you cut world lines the future leaks out.”

“He had the ability to write ahead.” —Malcolm McNeil

“This was a magic practice he was up to, surprising the very springs of creative imagination at their source.”—Brion Gysin

In Burroughs’ hands, what could have been a mere literary technique, perhaps even just a parlor trick, became an instrument of Archeofuturism:[14]

“Not so much a case of ‘life imitating art’ as art with a magical intention attempting to initiate events in everyday life.” – Malcolm MacNeill [15]

After moving to London, Burroughs extended the cut-up and fold-in techniques to film and audio tape. Among other projects, bad service at a local coffee bar led to Burroughs declaring occult war; as recently recalled on a blog:

Morgan: There, “on several occasions a snarling counterman had treated him with outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy, and served him poisonous cheesecake that made him sick.” Burroughs “decided to retaliate by putting a curse on the place.” He chose a means of attack that he’d earlier employed against the Church of Scientology,[16] “turning up . . . every day,” writes [on his blog The Great Wen, Peter] Watts, “taking photographs and making sound recordings.” Then he would play them back a day or so later on the street outside the Moka. “The idea,” writes Morgan, “was to place the Moka Bar out of time. You played back a tape that had taken place two days ago and you superimposed it on what was happening now, which pulled them out of their time position.”

The attack on the Moka worked, or at least Burroughs believed it did. “They are seething in there,” he wrote, “I have them and they know it.” On October 30th, 1972, the establishment closed its doors—perhaps a consequence of those rising rents that so irked the Beat writer—and the location became the Queens Snack Bar.[17]

Watts on “genuine fake”:

You cannot will spontaneity but you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.

The cut-up and later fold-in techniques, as well as the Dreamachine (“a kinetic sculpture—basically a lightbulb mounted on a turntable—designed to induce visions by playing flickering light on the closed eyes of the viewer”[18]), emerged during the intense period of the Beat Hotel, when Burroughs and Brion Gysin “lived in and out of each other’s rooms, minds, and lives as much as any married couple. “ This “commingling” they dubbed “The Third Mind,” the phrase itself a kind of cut-up, having been lifted from Napoleon Hill’s 1937 self-help classic, Think and Grow Rich:

“No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.”

Stevens doesn’t make the point, but this is yet again another link to the Midwest tinkering tradition, Hills’ book being a late classic of the New Thought or Mind Cure movement, which I have previously called our native Neoplatonism, home-grown Hermeticism, and our two-fisted Traditionalism: the “New Thought” or “Mind Cure” movement.[19]

Although Stevens tries to make Burroughs’ magical obsessions seem more respectable than cranky—by, for example, linking him to Aleister Crowley at various points[20]—I was rather more interested in seeing, for the first time, how similar his pursuits were to Baron Evola’s. indeed, the very title of Stevens’ book echoes, no doubt inadvertently, Cesare della Riviera’s 1605 treatise The Magical World of the Heroes (Il mondo magico de gli heroi), which Evola republished with his own commentary in 1932,

[A]sserting that in this hermetic treatise can be found the most open and clear statement of the principles of spiritual alchemy and hermetic art. René Guénon notes in his review, however, that the work of della Riviera is far from being as transparent as asserted in Evola’s commentary.[21]

As Stevens points out, the cut-up method clearly evokes the Dada techniques of Tristan Tzara, who was also a decisive, though early, influence on Evola:

Dada seemed more than a mere art movement, something along the lines of a total reconstruction of the world, [cutting it up to reach the nagual?], the need for which Evola had come to believe in passionately.[22]

In addition to reconstructing the world, Evola and Burroughs shared interests in magic, Buddhism, and painting.[23] But I think the most intriguing similarity occurs when

Burroughs and Gysin in the 1960s . . . sought to extend their “Third Mind” to others.

Among other things, Burroughs began a series of monthly articles entitled Academy 23 (later reprinted in The Job), and in the Bowie interview claims that

At the moment I’m trying to set up an institute of advanced studies somewhere in Scotland. Its aim will be to extend awareness and alter consciousness in the direction of greater range, flexibility and effectiveness at a time when traditional disciplines have failed to come up with viable solutions. You see, the advent of the space age and the possibility of exploring galaxies and contacting alien life forms poses an urgent necessity for radically new solutions. We will be considering only non-chemical methods with the emphasis placed on combination, synthesis, interaction and rotation of methods now being used in the East and West, together with methods that are not at present being used to extend awareness or increase human potentials.

We know exactly what we intend to do and how to go about doing it. As I said, no drug experiments are planned and no drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and personal medications obtained on prescription will be permitted in the center. Basically, the experiments we propose are inexpensive and easy to carry out. Things such as yoga-style meditation and exercises, communication, sound, light and film experiments, experiments with sensory deprivation chambers, pyramids, psychotronic generators and Reich’s orgone accumulators, experiments with infra-sound, experiments with dream and sleep.

Again, very American, but also very much like the occult groups (or “magical chains”) created by Baron Evola with the explicit aim of influencing modern society. On the more public front, there were the journals UR and KRUR, later collected and published as Introduction to Magic (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2001) as well as his contributions to various Fascist periodicals. This semi-public work continued during his futile attempts to interest the New German Reich, as well as his postwar books for youth (Orientamenti, 1950[24]) and for “aristocrats of the spirit” (the subtitle of 1961’s Riding the Tiger [Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions, 2003]).[25]

One might even use this similarity to justify applying to Evola’s efforts Marianne Faithful’s verdict on the Dreamachine: “It’s like a wonderful idealistic idea, but you know it’s never gonna fly . . .”

Returning to the theme of archeofuturism, Burroughs and Gysin found another occult escape technique in the Master Musicians of Joujouka, Morroco, whose “secret . . . guarded even from themselves was that they were still performing the Rites of Pan under the ragged cloak of Islam” (Brion Gysin). “Like a message in a bottle for subsequent generations,” this music (oldest in the world: “a four thousand year old rock band” as Burroughs dubbed it) cuts lines of pre-recordings.[26]

Over time Burroughs obsessions became less magickal and more Gnostic, emphasizing not just escape from Control but from Time, Space, and especially the Body itself. As Stevens notes, Burroughs still evinced the “show me” attitude of his Missouri forbears (or his New Thought ancestors, I’d add), based not on faith but technology validated in personal experience.[27]

In the goal of non-body freedom from past conditioning in space, he may have thought that he had found both a solution and an escape. 

Here too the analogy to Evola continues, as Burroughs’ concern with Egyptian doctrines of psychic doubles and astral travel (most especially in his last novel, The Western Lands) finds an echo in Evola’s controversial (among airy-fairy New Agers) denial of universal immortality and reincarnation, relying instead on the need to construct a “Body of Light” with which to survive post-mortem dissolution.[28]

Even towards the end of his life, William S. Burroughs engagement with The Magical Universe (and struggle against The Ugly Spirit) did not wane. The magical, psychic, spiritual and occult appear in his later fiction like never before, from depictions of astral travel and “sex in the Second Stateto descriptions of actual rituals, referencing everything from Crowley and The Golden Dawn to the Myths of Ancient Egypt and even the Necronomicon all interwoven with increasingly neo-pagan concerns for the Environment, the impact on Man and Nature of the Industrial Revolution with its emphasis on quantity, not quality. . . . His adoption of the Ancient Egyptian model of Seven Souls, continuing development of a very personalized myth of Hassan-i Sabbah and the Assassins of Alamut, and resistance to Christianity (the worst disaster that ever occurred on a disaster-prone planet virulent spiritual poison) made him of increasing interest and relevance to the new occultists who were emerging from successive generations of counter-culture that Burroughs had helped to shape through the example of his Life and Work.

William S. Burroughs engaged with a number of methods and systems down the years, in the search for some method, special knowledge, or technique, which would free him to be whom he wanted to be, to live how he wanted to lives – and, perhaps most important of all, liberate him from the ever-impending threat of possession—by Control, by junk, or by The Ugly Spirit. Ultimately, the most successful of Burroughs’ mechanisms against Control was methadone, for which he was prescribed the last 20 years of his life, and over which personal stash of which he worries obsessively lest he find himself without the only thing, despite his “clean” public image, that keeps him off junk.[29]

But there was still one technique left. Confronted with Chogyam Trunpa’s insistence that he not bring any writing materials to a Buddhist retreat, Burroughs had to admit that writing was is chief method or technique, “his only salvation.”

I am more concerned with writing than I am with any kind of enlightenment, which is often an ever-retreating mirage like the fully analysed or fully liberated person. I use mediation to get material for writing.

The role of the artist is to make contact with the nagual and bring a part of it back into the tonal in paint or words, sculpture, film, or music. The nagual is also the area of so-called psychic phenomena

According to Trungpa [psychic phenomena] are mere distractions. . . . [They] are all means to an end for the novelist. I even got copy out of scientology.[30]

Perhaps this (along with writer’s block) accounts for Burroughs’ return to a more conventional narrative style in his last work, the Dead Roads trilogy.

Another concern was a growing sense that magick, especially curses, was not just a means of communication but what I’ve called “passing the buck”; karma is never destroyed but only passed on to another, the “sucker” or “rube” to use Burroughs’ favorite carny lingo.[31] This is one reason why the “enlightened man” may, in fact, seem – or be – quite far from the conventional “good guy.” As one of Burroughs’ favorite magickal authors, David Conway, is quoted by Stevens:

Of common concern to [me and Burroughs] was the access magic gives to a wellspring of power which, in terms of conventional morality, is staggeringly evil yet ineffably beautiful. In confronting it, the magician becomes less the knightly hero that slays the dragon than the damsel who succumbs to its depravity.[32]

On the other hand, Burroughs was also aware that

Sometimes a curse can ‘bounce back and bounce back double.’ Though he didn’t’ say so—cursing amounts to dialogue.”(McNeill, quoting Ted Morgan biography)

In The Hermetic Tradition, Evola is keen to disabuse the reader of the cliché that the successful Magus is rich, powerful, etc. Partly, this is because one doesn’t reach such a level without giving up such childish desires; but it’s also because there can be “psychic repercussions” in the everyday world from actions in the psychic realm.[33] In short, what I like to call “Evola’s Boomerang.” One’s very success in the psychic realms has devastating consequences in the terrestrial.

Perhaps this “disastrous success” (as Gysin, prophetically, termed the cut-up technique) explains the reather subdued ends of occult masters like Crowley, Evola himself, and William S. Burroughs. Less than a month before he died in 1997 he wrote in his journal:

Mother, Dad, Mort, Billy[34] – I failed them all[35]

As for the book under review, Stevens provides more than enough material, biographical and occult-theoretical, for the reader to make up his own mind about Burroughs’ disastrous success. Under “Further Reading” Stevens provides a useful “key selection” from Burroughs’ “personal recommendation of works pertaining to the esoteric, magic and the occult, or other paranormal interests.” He also provides a presumably helpful anthology of reviews of the book itself (talk about manifesting future events!), including one from the no doubt grateful Mr. Wills, though, oddly enough, it seems to have been is cut off, at least in my kindle copy.[36]

Notes

[1] “Cut-ups”: Brion Gysin: “Cut-ups: A Project for Disastrous Success,” collected in William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin: The Third Mind (New York: Viking, 1978).

[2] Craig Copetas, “Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman,” Rolling Stone, February 28, 1974, transcribed by Nick a.k.a. EuropeanCanon here. Jon Savage’s account of the past and future of the event , “When Bowie Met Burroughs” (The Guardian, 9 March 2013) is here. When Genesis P-Orridge met Burroughs he asked “Why did you do that stupid interview with David Bowie?” to which Burroughs replied “Advertising!” http://realitystudio.org/biography/nothing-here-now-but-the-recordings/

[3] Robert Palmer, “Rolling Stone Interviews William Burroughs,” Rolling Stone, May 11, 1972; reprinted in Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs, 1960-1997 (ed. Sylvère Lotringer; New York: Zone Books, 2001), pp. 163-91.

[4] See my “Welcome to Club 27: Brian Jones and the Myth of the Rolling Stones,” here.

[5] For an account of the previous, inaugural year of Naropa, see Sam Kasnner’s When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School (New York: HarperCollins, 2009).

[6] Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle tops us both: “The discovery of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch at the back of W. H. Smith’s one rainy Saturday afternoon had been a revelation to the 13 year old boy. . . . It changed my life!”

[7] Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs (New York: Norton, 2012), p. 252. Burroughs’ rejection of both dogmatic science and dogmatic, Abrahamic religion echoes the recent Illuminati Conspiracy; see, for example, Mike Hockney’s recent kindle Richard Dawkins: The Pope of Unreason (The God Series Book 16) (Hyperreality, 2014).

[8] Op. cit., p. 632.

[9] Ranging, as Stevens notes, from the pioneering work of Eric Mottram (The Algebra of Need, 1971; see Jed Birmingham’s tribute here) to The Secret of Fascination (1983) by “the most eminent living scholar of William Burroughs and his works,” Oliver Harris. For some reason Stevens never mentions one of my favorite ones, Timothy Murphy’s Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs (Berkeley: University of California, 1998).

[10] Admittedly, Burroughs’ “shotgun” paintings haven’t been all that influential, but from the other direction, the cut-up techniques are obviously attempts to employ collage and Dadaist chance procedures to literature, while when Stevens summarizes Burrough’s “magical thinking” as an attempt to “exploit the ability of the brain to perceive apparent connections or resemblances between things which, rationally speaking are not linked” he explicitly links it to Dali’s “paranoiac-critical method.”

[11] “[Kim’s] mother’s character was enigmatic and complex. . . . [She] was extremely psychic and was interested in magic.”—The Place of Dead Roads.

[12] I had an old school English professor from Boston who once casually mentioned learning Italian “from the servants.” Burroughs has both an Irish nurse, who taught him to “call the toads,” as well as a later Welsh nanny, who taught him, inter alia, “the blinding worm.” I’ve identified a similarly occult inheritance from my servant-class Welsh mother; see my interview with Greg Johnson in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

[13] Stevens gives extensive coverage of Burroughs exuberant use of curses in both Interestingly, Burroughs seems to have had a longstanding feud with Truman Capote. “This late 1960s document, listed in the archive’s finding aid as “An Open Letter to Truman Capote,” forms a disconcerting counterpart to Burroughs’ interest in magic, with Burroughs taking Capote to task for a “betrayal” of literary talent before concluding by effectively casting a curse on Capote’s writing abilities. Read with the benefit of hindsight, the text is all the more disturbing given that history bore out the desired effects of Burroughs’ sinister wish. . . . Regardless of how seriously Burroughs intended his prediction for Capote’s future, his words proved eerily prescient. After the publication of In Cold Blood, Capote announced work on an epic novel entitled Answered Prayers, intended as a Proustian summation of the high society world to which he had enjoyed privileged access over the previous decades. . . . Capote’s betrayal of the confidences of friends (who recognized the identities lurking beneath the veneer of fictionalized characters) resulted in swift exile from the celebrity world which Capote had courted for much of his career. …Burroughs [was voted into] the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983. After a long decline, wrought by the inability to break a harrowing cycle of alcohol and barbiturate abuse, Capote died the following year at the age of 59.”—“In Cold Blood: William Burroughs’ Curse on Truman Capote” by Thom Robinson, here.

[14] Compare my discussion of Ed Wood’s supposed “incompetence” as productive of “accident” that act archeofutristically (“Future events like these will affect our lives, in the future!”) See my review of Rob Craig’s Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films, here.

[15] MacNeill took over Burroughs’ Franklin Street loft in Tribeca and discovered Burroughs had set up a Blinding Worm curse directed against New York Times reviewer Anatole Broyard, which had remained behind and apparently produced visual hallucinations in MacNeill.

[16] At the time, scientology was quasi-respectable on the occult fringes, and needless to say the E-meters caught Burroughs’ interest, although he quickly “cooled on the set-up” and became an implacable enemy. At the appropriate historical point I began to wonder if Stevens would reference fellow Beatdom author David S. Wills’ Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the “Weird Cult” (Temple, Penn.: Beatdom, 2013). But Levin went one better and devotes a few pages to a review of his “good friend’s” book. I should try this labor-saving idea on my next book!

[17] “How William S. Burroughs Used the Cut-Up Technique to Shut Down London’s First Espresso Bar (1972)” here: http://www.openculture.com/2014/12/how-william-s-burroughs-shut-down-londons-first-espresso-bar-1972.html

[18] See Brion Gysin: Dream Machine by Laura Hoptman (New York: Merrill/New Museum, 2010). You can make you own with Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine Plans (Seattle: AK Press, 1994).

[19] While discussed with respect by no less than William James, and even arch-sceptic Mark Twain, “New Thought” is seen as hopeless square and uncool today, suitable to sweaty salesmen and repackaged as “The Secret” for Oprah’s minions. Nevertheless, this kind of “self-help” spiritualism is essentially American and quite similar to Burroughs own life-long pursuit of a means of quelling his possession by what he called “The Evil Spirit.”

[20] Burroughs himself was rather “ambivalent” about Crowley, as Stevens notes, calling his books “unreadable” and imitating him with a high pitched shriek: “The Greeeet Beeeeeeeast!” The feeling was apparently shared by Andrew Lyles, who writes of reverently putting on an LP record of Crowley and hearing “a feeble, effete, well-spoken man. . . . My friend Alex . . . laughed and said, “What a load of shit, he sounds like Larry Grayson.” Of course, when the record was removed and another selected, the record player refused to work. See his “Foreword” to Mighty in Sorrow: A Tribute to David Tibet and Current 93; edited by Jordan Krall (East Brunswick, N.J.: Dynatox Ministries, Intl., 2014). Burroughs always preferred a kind of Jack Donovan style masculinity, for both his self-presentation and choice of friends and lovers (see Jamie Russell’s Queer Burroughs [New York: Palgrave, 2001]) and consequently a horror of effeminacy (see the note on Crowley). It was up to his acolyte Genesis P-Orridge to take the logical step and apply the cut-up technique to gender, with his concept of Pandrogyny. Similarly, Evola’s animadversions against homosexuality are relativized by his earlier employment of androgyny as the goal of the hermetic quest throughout the Hermetic Tradition, as well his counsel to “acquire the power of the feminine” in “Serpentine Wisdom” (an UR essay reprinted in his Introduction to Magic).

[21] Alexander Dugin, “ORION, or the Heroes’ Conspiracy,” here.

[22] An excerpt from Gary Lachman’s Revolutionaries of the Soul (Wheaton, Il.: Quest 2014), online here.

[23] Lachman suggests another as well: “It is also quite possible that in Dada’s leader, Tristan Tzara, Evola found a new role model: photographs of Evola displaying his elegant, smooth shave face, immaculate dress and imperious gaze—complete with monocle—are strikingly similar to Tzara.” This surely recalls Burroughs’ famous “banker drag”; as Stevens say, “With his three-piece suit, glasses, hat and raincoat, Burroughs seemed like the ultimate undercover hipster.”

[24] See the translation published by Counter-Currents here.

[25] Given his well-known animadversion to homosexuality, it’s amusing to note that his postwar activities actually got him prosecuted by the Italian government for the rather Socratic crime of “corruption of the youth.” Burroughs, through his association with Throbbing Gristle, might also be styled a “wrecker of civilization” himself. See Simon Ford’s Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle (London: Black Dog, 1999), a sobriquet suggestive of both Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World (1932; Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995) as well as his Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (1953;. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2002).

[26] For more on the Master Musicians, see my “Welcome to Club 27: Brian Jones and the Myth of the Rolling Stones,” here, and on this and other archaic music as tool of liberation see “Our Wagner, Only Better: Harry Partch, Wild Boy of American Music” in my collection The Eldritch Evola … and Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

[27] Compare Evola, “The Nature of Initiatic Knowledge,” in Introduction to Magic.

[28] See op. cit., especially “The Problem of Immortality” and “The Doctrine of the ‘Immortal Body.’”

[29] “How can anyone endure this furtive, precarious life without junk? Shows me the full power that junk has over me, lying hypocrite that I am. “Oh yes, oh yes–I’m off the junk.”—Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs.

[30] “Retreat Diaries” (1976) in The Burroughs File (San Francisco: City Lights, 1984).

[31] I’ve explored this notion in several movie reviews here at Counter-Currents which will be reprinted in a volume entitled Passing The Buck later this year.

[32] Cf. the remarks above on “Serpentine Wisdom.” The idea of being the damsel not the dragon recalls the idea in the Northern Tradition of the shameful effeminacy of Seidr, despite Odin himself being a practitioner.

[33] The Hermetic Tradition (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995, especially Chapter 51: “The Invisible Masters.”

[34] “I’m now 36 years old, three years older than Billy Burroughs was when the weight of his father’s legacy ravaged his liver and landed him in a ditch in Florida, but less than half as old as William Burroughs was when he exited the world addicted, without a family, and adrift alone in the middle of a lake so muddy my wife refuses to set foot in it. I have a daughter now, who will be a year old in just a couple of weeks. Somehow I’m glad she’s not a son.”—John Proctor, “Burroughs and Son: Memoir,” here: http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2010/05/24/burroughs-son/

[35] 19 July 1997, Last Words.

[36] Kindle-wise, the book’s layout is not that great. Not only are the endnotes not linked to the text, but for some reason bookmarks can’t be displayed (why have them?), making it impossible to even bookmark the endnote section—my usual workaround—thus requiring you to page through the pull down menu.

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7 Comments

  1. R_Moreland
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve read Burroughs and Watts and Robert Anton Wilson. It’s interesting how these guys appeared to be leftwing counterculture once upon a time, but now can be interpreted as rightwing counterculture. Maybe because they show you how to shake your fist at the prevailing Establishment? And the Establishment has been at its core anti-white for quite some decades?

    On one level they are giving you the tools with which you can dismiss the shadows on the cave wall which are sold to you as “reality.” You come out of it with a completely different worldview. And even if that is not quit the real, real world, it puts you on the right path.

  2. Captain Clarke
    Posted January 24, 2015 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    I was introduced to the writing of William Burroughs via my introduction to the industrial music group Throbbing Gristle (now Psychic TV) way back in the early 80s. I must say some of his writings struck a Psychic cord with me. This an other things tempered my ‘art education’.

  3. W.N. Burroughs
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Like most (maybe?) American kids since the 1960s, I grew up on the Beats. First Kerouac, then Burroughs, then Ginsberg and the rest. Every one of them has virtually disappeared from my thoughts with the exception of Burroughs (and Ginsberg for different reasons: he propositioned me rather aggressively when I was fourteen years old, probably a familiar story for male Ginsberg fans who were around him during his lifetime). Needless to say, all of this was long before becoming a WN. Still, of all of them Burroughs was complicated and unique enough to remain interesting to me from my early days reading ‘Queer’ and ‘Naked Lunch’ in “dangerous” and exciting seclusion all the way to the present. His work still moves me in strange ways and I often think of passages from his novels at random times while doing other things (internalized, time-bending cut-up technique perhaps). I credit him, indirectly and in part, with leading me to White Nationalism because he early on oriented my mind towards new ideas and different ways of thinking without fear of imposed restrictions. I realize how trite that sounds but it is true.

    As always, great piece by James and thank you Greg for making Counter-Currents by far the most interesting place on the internet.

  4. Sandy
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces, and I think that’s just ridiculous. It’s as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it is for a reason. Among primitive people they say that if someone was bitten by a snake he was murdered. I believe that. – William S. Burroughs [7]
    That was a fascinating read. I can’t help but wonder what Burroughs would have thought of our animal sacrifice based medicine and if there is any connection between that and the sickly neurotic nightmare in which we live.

  5. Posted January 21, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    All that intricate O’Meara apparatus almost has me primed to buy the book (like Revilo Oliver, JO’M saves his best stuff for footnotes), even though my late onetime neighbor Mr. Burroughs never held much interest for me. Beyond, of course, his superb acting performance as Father Tom in Drugstore Cowboy. (“Narcotics have been sys-tem-atically scape-goated and de-mon-ized. The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is an anathema to these idiots.”) The appearance of Genesis P-Orridge at the start of the review was sort of a shocker, but a quick Google custom search shows that GPO is no stranger to these shores.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Yes, you are right, the good stuff tends to land in the footnotes. Someone once said they have to read my essays twice, once for the text, once for the footnotes. If that seems like too much investment, perhaps one could adopt your suggestion and just read the notes! BTW, where was WSB a neighbor, London, Paris, New York; surely not Lawrence KS?

      • Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        Bill Burroughs and I were both living in the East Village 30-odd years ago, a fact of which I became aware when I noticed that we sometimes walked home from the subway ‘together.’ Not too often; he seemed to prefer Union Square while I generally used 8th Street (BMT) or Astor Place (IRT). A few years prior to this, a mutual acquaintance named Michael O’Donoghue brought Burroughs on as a Saturday Night Live special guest. I recall him sitting at a table and reading a rant. I could have used that connection as a conversational opener if I wanted to introduce myself, but the old man in the narrow-brimmed fedora just looked too grim.

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