Thursday, December 16, 2004

an interview with William Burroughs...from 30 years ago

PM: Would you say that Kerouac also belonged to the picaresque novel?

WB: I would not place Jack Kerouac in the picaresque tradition since he is dealing often with factual events not sufficiently transformed and exaggerated to be classified as picaresque.

PM: Isn't it a bit striking that a major verbal innovator like you has expressed admiration for writers who are not mainly verbal innovators themselves: Conrad, Genet, Beckett, Eliot?

WB: Well, excuse me, Eliot was quite a verbal innovator. The Waste Land is, in effect, a cut-up, since it's using all these bits- and-pieces of other writers in an associational matrix. Beckett I would say is in some sense a verbal innovator. Of course Genet is classical. Many of the writers I admire are not verbal innovators at all, as you pointed out. Among these I would mention Genet and Conrad; I don't know if you can call Kafka a verbal innovator. I think Celine is, to some extent. Interesting about Celine, I find the same critical misconceptions put forth by critics with regard to his work are put forth to mine: they said it was a chronicle of despair, etc.; I thought it was very funny! I think he is primarily a humorous writer. And a picaresque novel should be very lively and very funny.

PM: What other writers have influenced you or what ones have you liked?

WB: Oh, lots of them: Fitzgerald, some of Hemingway; "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was a great short story.

PM: Dashiell Hammett?

WB: Well ... yes, I mean it's of course minor, but Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in that genre, which is a minor genre, and it's not realistic at all. I mean this idea that this is the hard boiled, realistic style is completely mythologic. Raymond Chandler is a writer of myths, of criminal myths, not of reality at all. Nothing to do with reality.

PM: You have developed a personal type of writing called the "routine." What exactly is a routine?

WB: That phrase was really produced by Allen Ginsberg; it simply means a usually humorous, sustained tour de force, never more than three or four pages.

PM: You read a lot of science fiction, and have expressed admiration for The Star Virus by Barrington Bayley and Three to Conquer by Eric Frank Russell. Any other science fiction books that you have particularly liked?

WB: Fury, by Henry Kuttner. I don't know, there are so many of them. There's something by Poul Anderson, I forget what it was called, Twilight World. There are a lot of science fiction books that I have read, but I have forgotten the names of the writers. Dune I like quite well.

PM: There is no particular science-fiction author that has notably influenced you?

WB: No, various books from here and there. Now, H. G. Wells, yes, The Time Machine, and I think he has written some very good science fiction.

PM: What about the other Burroughs, Edgar Rice?

WB: Well, no. That's for children.

PM: In The Ticket That Exploded you write: "There is no real thing-- all show business." Have Buddhism, Zen, and Oriental thinking in general exerted a strong influence on you?

WB: No. I am really not very well acquainted with the literature, still less with the practice of yoga and Zen. But on one point I am fully in agreement, that is, all is illusion.

PM: Has the use of apomorphine made any progress that you know of since you started recommending and advocating its use?

WB: No, on the contrary. Too bad, because it is effective.

PM: In a recent interview, you said that apomorphine combined with Lomotil and acupuncture was the remedy for withdrawal. What was wrong or insufficient with apomorphine to require the combination of two other elements?

WB: I found out about Lomotil in America some time ago, and then doctors have been using it here with pretty good results. The thing about apomorphine is that it requires pretty constant attendance. In other words, you've got to really have a day and a night nurse, and those injections have to be given every four hours. And it isn't everybody that's in a position to do that. But at least for the first four days, it requires rather intensive care. And it is quite unpleasant.

PM: And it's emetic...

WB: Well, no, there's no necessity; see, it's not an aversion therapy and there's no necessity for the person to be sick more than once or twice when they find the threshold dose. They find the maximum dose that can be administered without vomiting, and they stick with that dose. You'll get decreased tolerance; sometimes the threshold dose will go down. Usually, almost anyone will vomit on a tenth of a grain. So then they start reducing it, but as the treatment goes on, you may find that a twentieth of a grain or even less than a twentieth of a grain produces vomiting again. You may get decreased tolerance in the course of the treatment. So it's something that has to be done very precisely, and of course people must know exactly what they're doing. It's very elastic, because some people will take large doses without vomiting, and some people will vomit on very small doses. Continual adjustments have to be made.


PM: You have kept an unchanged point of view about the origins of humanity's troubles. In The Naked Lunch you wrote: "The Evil is waiting out there, in the land. Larval entities waiting for a live one," and in Exterminator!, "The white settlers contracted a virus," and this virus is the word. But who put the word there in the first place?

WB: Well, the whole white race, which has proved to be a perfect curse on the planet, have been largely conditioned by their cave experience, by their living in caves. And they may actually have contracted some form of virus there, which has made them what they've been, a real menace to life on the planet.

PM: So the Evil always comes from outside, from without?

WB: I don't think there's any distinction, within/without. A virus comes from the outside, but it can't harm anyone until it gets inside.


PM: You hate politicians, right?

WB: No, I don't hate politicians at all, I'm not interested in politicians. I find the type of mind, the completely extraverted, image-oriented, power-oriented thinking of the politicians dull. In other words, I'm bored by politicians; I don't hate them. It's just not a type of person that interests me...(more here)

Was intending to post some more personal reflections on The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles, which I have just finished, finally (begun back in July). But then the above just seemed more interesting. So mabye later.

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