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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Robert Anton Wilson and William Burroughs

I am interested in a now-obscure  poet named Charles Henri Ford. The other day, as I read a chronology of Ford's life, I noticed that he had known Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. Gysin came up with the "cut-up" technique for rearranging prose, which Burroughs popularized and which Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea used in ILLUMINATUS!, and Wilson in other works. William Burroughs appears as a character in ILLUMINATUS!, in a section describing the demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Burroughs also is credited by Robert Anton Wilson as the first person to notice the 23 Enigma.

Ford was a surrealist poet and later a photographer, moviemaker and "collage poet" who hung on in Paris in the 1930s with the likes of Gertrude Stein and was later part of Andy Warhol's circle in the 1960s.

It occurred to me that a having a tie to William Burroughs was a feature that links a great deal of disparate avant-garde, so I asked RAW expert Eric Wagner, for his "Ask Eric" blog, about how close RAW was to William Burroughs. Eric answered my question and also describes his own interactions with William Burroughs ("I found him the most intimidating person I ever met.")

Eric also writes that William Burroughs told Eric he had read RAW and a science fiction writer named Philip Jose Farmer (both favorite writers of mine, as it happens.) Farmer once wrote a story called "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod," which was a Tarzan story, written as if William Burroughs had written the Tarzan stories, rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs.


Oz Fritz said...

I showed a copy of RAW's "Coincidance" to WSB when I worked with him because it had computer software cut-up pieces in it. He seemed very interested so I told him he could keep the book. His face lit up like a kid getting a birthday present.

Eric Wagner said...

Cool story, Oz. I first heard of William S. Burroughs from that Phil Farmer story.

Synchronistically, I started reading Tarzan of the Apes with a ninth grade class this morning. I had forgotten that that book came out in 1912, so this year marks its centennial.