William burroughs the now essay

In spite of the riotous dark comedy and starkly innovative character of his writing, Burroughs' reputation has been chiefly as the writer whose book Naked Lunch challenged the conservative mores of post-war America.

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In recent years, many cuttings from Burroughs' texts have emerged in commercial culture as soundbites and cryptic political slogans. Their relevance to an understanding of post-modernity is confirmed by their intimate relationship with the generally fashionable texts of Guattari, Deleuze, Baudrillard, and Derrida.

Burroughs is of course also one of William Gibson's principal sources, and the Burroughs fold-in method is a part of the history of cyberspace.


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The link that Burroughs makes between theory and sf lies in his understanding of the force of language, the danger it poses to free and evolving life, and just what a writer is supposed to do about it anyway. He classes both Baudrillard and Haraway as sf theorists whose texts operate in a hyperreality in which the categories of subject, body, machine, and text have become thoroughly confused by the evolution of technology and its discursive ripples. Ballard, 3 asks just this question of Baudrillard.

Durham uses Crash to illustrate a sort of comic failing that is characteristic of the actual functioning of cybernetic systems.

The William S. Burroughs Reader

While Burroughs uses the same black humour as does Ballard, explores the same marginal territory and like Ballard offers an antidote to totalitarian cybernetic systems, the absolute dismembering of conventional narrative in Burroughs' science-fictional works indicates a self-consciously operational inspiration, as opposed to a metaphoric one. Accepting that we do live in a world rapidly being enclosed by massive interconnected cybernetic machines, and that our words have no recourse to truth or accuracy as guarantors of their behavior, a question of pragmatics arises.

How are we cyborg-writers to understand the effects of our words such that we are not unwittingly or unconsciously participating in the kinds of cybernetic machines we would prefer to avoid? Csicsery-Ronay describes this problem by imagining conventional language as a Trojan Horse which is carried into a utopian future and proceeds to disgorge the very same social relations which characterize the dystopian present.

Haraway's response, Csicsery-Ronay argues, is to protect her imagined future from corruption by refusing to make it explicit or give it a name. The silence demanded by Burroughs is not a passive, a quietist, or a conservative silence, but rather a generative silence, a silence on the part of those faculties that manage representational meaning and enforce a controlling order on experience. Burroughs is a key figure in the history of theoretical and textual resistance.

William S. Burroughs - The Technology of Wishing 1/2

Although Burroughs and Derrida seem to make strange bedfellows, there is much that might have attracted them to one another. The two line up on the same side of most issues, the most noteworthy exception being their differing conceptions of the role of writing with respect to those totalitarian systems.

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Because writing confuses the defining categories of absence and presence, Derrida considers the very idea of writing to be a threat to metaphysically-based modes of Western thought including structuralism and the social order associated with them. Burroughs, on the other hand, understands writing as essentially a force alien to the human.

At first glance, Burroughs' categorical separation of language and human being invites the same sort of deconstructive treatment Derrida gives other Western writers and thinkers. If language is not part of the human, just how does Burroughs define the human? Not as body; Burroughs is as famous as Gibson's console cowboys for his disdain of the human body. But if the body is nothing but an obsolete artifact, and language a virus infecting that artifact, just what is it that Burroughs feels so strongly about rescuing?

I propose that Burroughs is attempting to direct us to the energy of continuous evolution, or mutation, which, temporarily embodied in the human, is in Burroughs' view under siege by the insidious self-replication of language. Burroughs twists the words of those fiction writers who imagine that humans can live in outer space like fish in a tank; Derrida critiques those philosophers who seek to revolutionize philosophy while repeating the same old logocentric thought-patterns.

The governing structures of thought, both writers argue, must be shaken from within the communication networks through which they perpetuate themselves. Once in, his meticulous scholarship is set to work stretching and reshaping the fabric not along normal patterns of use, but along lines of tension never tested by its creator, using the seam as a fulcrum.

When challenged on his having made the seam into a centre, Derrida quickly moves his work elsewhere. His philosophical practice is not unlike the musical practice of an early twentieth-century composer, endlessly modulating at the very moments that tonal centres threaten to establish themselves. Through this mobile deconstruction, Derrida seeks to turn hierarchy into anarchy. Burroughs' approach to his source material is somewhat less intellectual, but the result, for the reader, is not dissimilar.

Rather than looking for seams, Burroughs simply cuts and sews the garments randomly, keeping an eye out for the hidden patterns which begin to reveal themselves when the rationalist filters of everday perception are removed. Just as Haraway finds her freedom in living as a cyborg in a cybernetic system that can't quite be closed, so did Derrida once find that, when nothing is true, the world becomes text. When everything is permitted, the result is anarchy. And anarchy is precisely what a cyberpunk aims at. What Burroughs terms the viral function of language is its ongoing ordering of reality toward the limit of total control, the opposite of anarchy.

He employs the figure of the virus , a force hovering between evolving being and mere replicator, to problematize conventional definitions of living and non-living. This is the very problem addressed by Csicsery-Ronay when he cites Jameson's skepticism over sf's linguistic aporia. It is exceptionally difficult for any resistant message to avoid complicity with the dominant communication systems in whose language it is composed.

The trick, argues Burroughs, is to transmit a kind of force that doesn't immediately contribute to the virus-effect but can actually help work against it. The fold-in is the principle textual method of guerilla resistance against the virus or, as Burroughs puts it in his science-fictional work, against the Nova Conspiracy ; one takes a strongly linear form like the typewritten word, cuts it, and reassembles it such that its ordinative powers are deactivated. Burroughs as Body without Organs. Scott Bukatman is another writer who has taken the role of language in contemporary sf as an issue to be addressed.

Like Csicsery-Ronay, Bukatman would like to extend the boundaries of sf to include his own favourite theorist s , Deleuze and Guattari. In his place of total darkness mouth and eyes are one organ that leaps forward to snap with transparent teeth. The Body without Organs, in this illustration, is a sort of ad hoc body, one whose configuration can change according to present need.

Bukatman uses it as a way to explain what happens when the human is sublimated entirely into technology or text. This allows him to segue into a chat about surface vs. To my mind Bukatman is off course in his concern with the malleability of bodies. The Body without Organs is more than a figure useful for illustrating the intermingling of the human body and technology.

My own preference is to understand the BwO as a sort of ideal anarchist or Taoist existence in which energy flows freely within and through the individual, moving one between order and chaos; one works at it but can never completely achieve it. Instead of a mouth and an anus to get out of order why not have one all-purpose hole to eat and eliminate? We could seal up the nose and mouth, fill in the stomach, make an air hole direct into the lungs where it should have been in the first place. Alone in his cell, with nothing to organize or subdivide his need, the Vigilante has, in Deleuze and Guattari's reading, become the very image of a BwO, an undifferentiated body able to mobilize portions of itself ad hoc.

The Vigilante is thus a figure of Deleuzian desire suspended in a moment of temporary isolation, eventually to return to the drugged body from which he emerged. One clue to the relevance of the second quotation is the later citing by Deleuze and Guattari of Speed , a book written by Burroughs' amphetamine-addicted son, William Jr.

The junky also exemplified by the pre- Naked Lunch Burroughs, Sr. Burroughs himself worried about his extensive cut-up experiments ending up in just this way. It is not enough, obviously, to simply be done with the organs themselves, for when they are gone there is nothing from which to gain leverage. Deleuze and Guattari state that there is a fascist use of drugs and this is clearly the use Burroughs sees in the function of junk. Burroughs is an appropriate choice for Deleuze and Guattari not because these particular passages happen to be suitable illustrations of the BwO, but because Burroughs' own life experiences and theoretical orientation make him a model case for many of their ideas.

As already noted, Burroughs himself shows an intense lack of interest in the human body, which he identifies as a sort of weakness, a foothold for the forces of control. Most of his writing, however, is intensely visceral in its imagery, relying heavily on descriptions of sexual interplay, deformed bodies, and especially olfactory experience.

These mixed-up bodies, however, are not what the BwO is all about; they are merely symptoms of Burroughs' own quest for the BwO.

Burroughs originally made contact with junk in his attempts to throw off his stratified and stifling upper-class St. Louis upbringing, only to find that junk itself became a blockage point, preventing the circulation of desire because it in fact replaces desire itself. Drifting from one misadventure to another in his early adult years, Burroughs eventually found himself playing at the life of a small-time criminal and junkie in New York City, and the heroin habit he developed there lasted fifteen years. This was more than just a symbol of his upbringing; it was a long, flexible tentacle of upper-class judgement keeping Burroughs in a state of arrested development.

It was only when the allowance was cut off that he finally sought the infamous apomorphine cure and detoxified himself by writing the chaos of material that eventually became Naked Lunch.

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Category:Essay collections by William S. Burroughs

The Body without Organs is not only a figure through which to grasp the import of Burroughs' work, but also one which can be used to understand Deleuze and Guattari's own work, especially A Thousand Plateaus trans. Like Burroughs' work, A Thousand Plateaus is an attempt to function on the margin of both the medium book and the genre philosophy, science fiction by letting the conventions that define those discourses act as leverage points for resistance. Where Burroughs uses imitation and recombination to defuse the forces of push-button mind-and-body control, Deleuze and Guattari look past the sender-receiver relationship altogether and constitute their own work as a middle.

A plateau is always in the middle, not at the beginning or the end. A rhizome is made of plateaus. Their motive was not to make their book grow from the roots up, but from the middle out. The best way to read it, he argues, is to. As Burroughs writes chaos to engender silence, Deleuze and Guattari write a rhizome to engender anarchy. The understanding of chaos as a positive force in organisms and systems has gained acceptance with the popularizing of Ilya Prigogine's work, which in sf circles has been facilitated in part by Gibson, Sterling, and others, including Porush and Fischlin.


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It is equally important to understand the importance of chaos to experimental, subversive, or resistant communication strategies. In their own way, they, like Burroughs, are writing silence—a silence that is not equal to zero, but rather is unrepresentable in a conventional cybernetic model of communication.

The reason is that conventional cybernetic theory, drawn as it is from thermodynamic theory, equates order with life and disorder with death, in stark contrast with the theories of Burroughs, who sees a fixation with order as strangling the forces of life as they seek to mutate. As Massumi writes, Deleuze and Guattari understand chaos as a sea of virtuality which beings need to come in contact with in order to evolve. Though happy to borrow from Burroughs' texts to illustrate their ideas, Deleuze and Guattari, in A Thousand Plateaus , are skeptical that his work actually succeeds in doing what he intends it to.

Burroughs' work is held up as an illustration of the radicle model:.

naked lunch Essay - Words | Bartleby

Take William Burroughs' cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots like a cutting , implies a supplementary dimension to that of the texts under consideration. In this supplementary dimension of folding, unity continues its spiritual labor.

Burroughs' cut-ups are thus consigned to the museum of modernist obsolescence along with Joyce and Nietzsche. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the multiple is not made by adding more dimensions, but by subtracting a dimension from the number given in order to open the work to the forces of chance.


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The model put forth to supplant both the tree and the radicle-system is the rhizome. Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be.