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Old 09-20-2007   #1
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Cyril Tourneur
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William S. Burroughs

(just thought that 'El Hombre Invisible' deserved a thread of his own);

when I think about W.S. Burroughs (and reading the prior comments on him) , it comes to my mind that you have to seperate his work into different periods, for example Junkie or Queer were partially written before the 'Wilhelm Tell' incident, they are very straightforward and boring at least in my opinion.
His second period (mid 50s to mid 60s) consists of the manuscripts written in Tanger, Paris and London like Naked Lunch or Nova Express, definitely more interesting though too chaotic because of the Cut up method, but you should give Nova Express a try.
Most interesting is his last period beginning in the mid70s up to the mid80s, back then Burroughs created his own mythology in works like Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands. I think he develops some sort of elliptic plot like Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow, some kind of triptych by using a back and for shifting in time, characters and places and like Lovecraft's Cthulhu (btw. I have one of Bowen's Artist copies) you feel the underlying words of Hassan i Sabbah in his work ' Nothing is true, everything is permitted'

(Dictated while taking a stroll) I have come to realizewhat a superbly contrived marionette man is. Though without strings attached, one can strut, jump, hop and, moreover, utter words, an elaborately made puppet! Who knows? At the Bon season next year, I may be a new dead invited to the Bon festival. What an evanescent world! This truth keeps slipping off our minds.

- Tsunetomo Yamamoto, The Hagakure

Last edited by Cyril Tourneur; 09-21-2007 at 11:10 PM..
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Old 09-21-2007   #2
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Re: William S. Burroughs

The only Burroughs that I have read is Naked Lunch and Interzone. I have always wanted to read his screenplay, Blade Runner. From what you have said about his later period works, I will probably check those titles out after I finish the 4 books that I am reading right now.
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Old 09-21-2007   #3
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Re: William S. Burroughs

I may be wrong but I don't recall Naked Lunch as one of Burroughs' cut-up books. Great book nonetheless... every 14 year old should read it, in my opinion.

There's a collection of interviews called Burroughs Live that I recommend to those interested in learning more about Burroughs than seems apparent in his novels. The Job, which is a novel-length interview interspersed with bits of fiction and essays, also comes highly recommended.

Of his lesser known works my favorite is his book of dreams called My Education. However, overall I'd say my favorite piece of his writing is called Word which was published in Interzone!. If memory serves me right, it was originally a long chapter in Naked Lunch that was taken out.

As much as I enjoyed the Cut-Up Trilogy (Nova Express, The Soft Machine and The Ticket that Exploded) I haven't gone back to them as I have with most of B's other writings.

Finally, I second Cyril's praise for Cities.., and The Place... The latter book has one of the best openings I've read yet!
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Old 09-21-2007   #4
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Re: William S. Burroughs

Well, I have to agree partially that Naked Lunch is no 'Cut Up' book because it was written 'automatically' (although I have doubts that automatical writing exists); Burroughs supposedly wrote most of it under the influence of Eukodal and Majoun and Kerouac had to help fitting the material into an adequate form.
The more classical 'Cut Up' texts are as you said Soft Machine, Nova Express and The Ticket that exploded.
as a side note, I like the introduction to Cities...because it's an invocation directly taken out of the Necronomicon

(Dictated while taking a stroll) I have come to realizewhat a superbly contrived marionette man is. Though without strings attached, one can strut, jump, hop and, moreover, utter words, an elaborately made puppet! Who knows? At the Bon season next year, I may be a new dead invited to the Bon festival. What an evanescent world! This truth keeps slipping off our minds.

- Tsunetomo Yamamoto, The Hagakure
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Old 09-22-2007   #5
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Re: William S. Burroughs

Well, its an invocation taken directly out of WSBs Necronomicon perhaps, great that it is. The Cities of the Red Night trilogy are my favourite Burroughs. Theres a cohesion there that is lacking in some of his earlier books (again wonderful that they are) although Port of Saints and Wild Boys hold somthing of the same quality.
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Old 10-27-2010   #6
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Re: William S. Burroughs

I've been reading some Burroughs and have a few rambling thoughts to share. Just read Ghost of Chance. Very well written. Shows very little admiration for "Homo Sap", but shows concern for the natural world. Pessimism different from Ligotti's, at least in some ways. Here's a nice image:

Quote
Brion Gysin had the all-purpose nuclear bedtime story: Some trillions of years ago, a sloppy, dirty giant flicked grease from his fingers. One of those globs of grease is our universe, on its way to the floor.

Splat.
A view of Christianity that I think is fairly unusual, and interesting:

Quote
As magic men in Morocco eat their excrement to distinguish themselves from other humans, Christ held power through the ancient corruption of a different blood. The question arises: Did Christ actually perpetrate the miracles attributed to him? My guess is that he did certainly commit some of these scandals. Buddhists consider miracles dubious if not downright reprehensible.
Then there's this, which might be very funny or very offensive, depending on who you are:

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Now Christ says if some son of a bitch takes half your cloths, give him the other half. Accordingly, Lits stalk the streets looking for muggers and strip themselves mother naked at the sight of one. Many unfortunate muggers were crushed under scrimmage pileups of half-naked Lits.

The Implacable Forgivers, a subset of the Lits, will go to any lengths to seek out an enemy and forgive him. The Mafia don has barricaded himself in his Long Island retreat lest a rival don sneak in and collapse into his arms and forgive him all over for everything.
I am now reading Interzone, which is a collection of early works. Liking it very much. Next I think I will try one of Burroughs' two last books, The Western Lands or My Education. A lesser known book of interest is the W. S. Burroughs/B. Gysin/Throbbing Gristle Re-Search book, which includes a very entertaining transcription of a Burroughs novel on cassette. Other highlights are the Burroughs interview and the three Throbbing Gristle interviews.

Ligotti said in an interview, "Even more than Poe or Lovecraft, Burroughs is the one whose writing provides that measure of fever, nightmare, and the grotesque by which all other American writers who aspire to representing these qualities in their work should be judged." Are there Ligotti stories that seem particularly Burroughs influenced? Maybe this bit, from "The Master's Eyes Shining with Secrets":

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It seems that a few years ago the Master of the Temple began to exhibit some odd and very unpleasant forms of behavior. He apparently lost all sense of earthly decorum, even losing control over his own body. At one point an extra head sprouted from the side of the Master's neck, and this ugly little thing started to issue all sorts of commands and instructions to the monks which only their lofty sense of decency and order prevented them from carrying out.
I am also interested in Burroughs influenced writing by other authors. Burroughs and his book, The Yage Letters are a part of Poppy Z Brite's story, "Vine of the Soul", which is about some people taking the drug, yage. Brite's story doesn't have any of the grotesque imagery or experimental form of Burroughs. Having read The Yage Letters, Brite's fictional account seemed unrealistic. It is my understanding that yage is overwhelming and ego-destroying, not a stimulant and an aphrodisiac, which is what it seems to be in Brite's story. I have not read much of Brite but I was impressed by "The Crystal Empire", in the Brite/Kiernan collection, Wrong Things. I don't think "Vine of the Soul" comes anywhere near the excellence of that story.

Soon I intend to read J G Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, which I expect is a very good Burroughs influenced story or stories (according to Wikipedia, it is unclear if it is one or many stories, which makes me think it's very Burroughs-like indeed). Burroughs himself wrote the introduction.
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Old 10-27-2010   #7
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Re: William S. Burroughs

Quote Originally Posted by Gray House View Post
Soon I intend to read J G Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, which I expect is a very good Burroughs influenced story or stories (according to Wikipedia, it is unclear if it is one or many stories, which makes me think it's very Burroughs-like indeed). Burroughs himself wrote the introduction.
It's not really Burroughs-like. Ballard and Burroughs admired each others work and were both highly original, imaginative and subversive writers but their work is so distinctive as to be unmistakably their own. In fact it's hard to think of two other writers whose works are so instantly recognisable purely from the style.
The BBC did a good Arena documentary about Burroughs in 1983 and I recently saw a new documentary at the London Film Festival which is worth looking out for:
http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff/node/1114
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Old 10-27-2010   #8
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Re: William S. Burroughs

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Ballard and Burroughs admired each others work and were both highly original, imaginative and subversive writers but their work is so distinctive as to be unmistakably their own. In fact it's hard to think of two other writers whose works are so instantly recognisable purely from the style.
The only Ballard I've read is the short story, "The Subliminal Man". I'm now intrigued. I'm thinking The Atrocity Exhibition might be a good place to start.
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Old 10-27-2010   #9
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Re: William S. Burroughs

The Atrocity Exhibition isn't really Burroughs-like in its style or even its subject matter. Ballard was focusing intensively on his own characteristic themes, in a telegraphic version of his own writing style. But I think it might be fair to say that he was goaded by his fascination with Burroughs into producing these extreme writings. Without the example of Burroughs I don't think he'd have taken things so far in The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash. Other Ballard admirers are free to take umbrage at this claim. Am I wrong?

Whether The Atrocity Exhibition is a good place to start with Ballard depends on your own taste. For what it's worth, my favorite Ballard stories are "The Terminal Beach," "The Voices of Time," "Myths of the Near Future," "The Enormous Room," and The Crystal World.

In some ways, Michael Cisco is a Burroughs-like writer. I've only read The Divinity Student and Secret Hours, but it seems to me that there are clear traces of Burroughs in Cisco's prose style as well as in his brilliantly bizarre and gut-wrenching imagery. If I remember rightly, Cisco has acknowledged the influence. I'm quite taken with the way he uses Burroughsian inflections in his own prose style. Very well done.

Philip Jose Farmer wrote a sharp mash-up parody of Edgar Rice Burroughs/William S. Burroughs called "The Jungle Rot Kid On the Nod," although once you've gotten the joke and laughed at the great title the rest of it isn't quite as hilarious.
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Old 10-28-2010   #10
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Re: William S. Burroughs

Dear Old Bill Buroughs could be quite moving sometimes as well. There's a short collection of vignettes called 'The Cat Inside' where he basically writes about his cats which is really worth a try...

As for JG Ballard, you'd have to add 'Concrete Island' and 'High-Rise' among my favourite. I recently read 'The Crystal World' and I have to agree this is a very good story!

These two (WSB and JGB) have another thing in common : 'Naked Lunch' and 'Crash' are both excellent films by David Cronenberg.

"How he made them laugh... sometimes"
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