Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New William Burroughs biography

Barry Miles, the prolific biographer, has come out with a new biography of author William Burroughs. 

That would be of interest to sombunall RAW fans, as Robert Anton Wilson admired Burroughs' prose and adapted his techniques to RAW's own fiction. (Brion Gysin invented the "cut-up" technique of rearranging prose, which Burroughs popularized and which RAW took up in Illuminatus! and other works.)

The Wall Street Journal's review is here. A review in the Boston Globe is more sympathetic to Burroughs. Reviewer Matthew Gilbert concludes, "Reading about Burroughs in this amount of depth is an odd experience; I felt simultaneously turned off and fascinated — what many feel while reading his fiction. He was unerringly selfish and careless, and yet he lived a unique, uncompromising life that led to a body of unique, uncompromising work. With the help of Miles’ extensive research, he makes for a captivating antihero."

I haven't read a great deal of Barry Miles, but I did read his Frank Zappa biography a few years ago and thought it was fair-minded, entertaining and well done.

2 comments:

michael said...

I liked Miles's earlier shorter bio of WSB, but the reviews I've read for this one? A must-read.

"William Burroughs told me that his characters all manifest as voices in hypnopompic reverie before they have bodies, or names, or anything else."
-RAW, in interview with David Jay Brown, _Mavericks of the Mind_, p.124 (also online?)

IN the Kenn Thomas interview from 1992, RAW said he saw an early version of Naked Lunch, then titled, Seventeen Episodes From Naked Lunch (Ginsberg furiously edited the book) and thought WSB was great like Joyce, a prose-poet with fascinating ideas and a Korzybski connection. Leary, Fuller and WSB were Higher Intelligence Entities.

In RAW's first published book, Playboy's Book of Forbidden words, he alludes to or cites WSB in at least nine places, incl. p.177 of the ppbk version, on "what naked lunch means."

There's an article from Fact magazine [1966(?)], titled, "William Burroughs: High Priest of Hipsterism," from when "hipster" meant something different. It's by "Ronald Weston," but it seems about 98.7% likely it's RAW under another name.

Dig this passage:
"Syphilitics with advanced brain damage and John Birch Society members often visualize Kong, not as being shot off of a skyscraper, but overwhelmed and brought down by Andrea Dworkin leading a platoon of 100,000 Fat Ladies recruited from circuses, who then emasculate the Big Fellow in gory detail on widescreen in technicolor: the offensive organ is then thrown in the East River, weighed with pig iron so it will never rise again."
-RAW, seemingly channeling WSB in "Project Parameters in Cherry Valley of the Testicles, a cut-up from Historical Illuminatus and other RAW-sources, from _Semiotext(e) SF_, edited by RAW, Rudy Rucker and Peter Lamborn Wilson

beowulf1723 said...

'"Reading about Burroughs in this amount of depth is an odd experience; I felt simultaneously turned off and fascinated — what many feel while reading his fiction. He was unerringly selfish and careless, and yet he lived a unique, uncompromising life that led to a body of unique, uncompromising work."'

I've started reading Naoki Inose and Hiroaki Sato's massive (736pp.) Persona: a Biography of Yukio Mishima and this quote could fit Mishima as much as Burroughs.

Whether Mishima "makes for a captivating antihero" or not probably depends on your politics--especially for the Japanese. Certainly the right-wingers who have to date kept Paul Schrader's biopic on him out of Japan don't like to be reminded of some things about their hero, such as that he was gay and that the seppuku might have been a lovers' suicide as much as anything else. (The latter was suggested by Henry Scott-Stokes in his biography.)