The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase
This week’s topic is:
Talk about one author that you love and why his or her writing is unique.
Ah, this is a tough one. There are a few writers I could go with, the most obvious probably being my blog’s inspiration, J.D. Salinger. I could go with another favorite, Kurt Vonnegut, whose wit and dark humor I absolutely adore. Similarly, Mark Twain cracks me up and writes with such natural honesty it’s hard to deny him a spot at the top. Ernest Hemingway, Anthony Burgess, Leo Tolstoy, John Steinbeck, and Herman Melville: Love, love, and more love. It’s insane to have to pick one writer to talk about; there are so many I’m completely enamored with! But, okay, the question is to pick one, and I play by the rules, so let’s go with the Godfather of the Beat and Punk generations: William S. Burroughs.
What is so interesting about Burroughs is that he came from a wealthy, cultured background, but wrote so subversively. This in itself is not unusual, as many of the most limit-pushing writers came from the higher reaches of society so therefore had the largest possible swing on the pendulum of philosophies. He was even an outsider from the literary schools and cultures that he inspired, though, because he was Harvard-educated. He never identified as “punk,” though the movement was greatly inspired by him and his works.
William S. Burroughs
Video, Color Laserprint by Christiaan Tonnis, 2006
Aside from his status as an all-around outsider, though, what I love most about his writing are his prose and subjects. He was the first writer to expose so openly the life of a queer man and drug addict. Naked Lunch was the last major work in American history to challenge the censorship system (and ultimately win). The cut-up style of prose he used was first inspired by the Dadaists, but Burroughs honed the art and presented it in the starkest and most influential way seen to-date in literature, and it was this style that was later emulated by songwriters and artists across the Beat and Punk spheres. Burroughs was versed in human psychology and experimented with almost every possible narcotic and drug available, even those experimental drugs tested by the military and the government. Burroughs used these opportunities to test his mental and physical limits, and then to write.
Interestingly enough, though Burroughs used drugs for most of his life (resulting in the accidental murder of his wife and the ultimate disassociation from his children), his books are largely cautions against drug use. His books seem, on the surface, to glamorize or idealize drugs and sex, but Burroughs is actually explaining to his readers that dependence on drugs is the ultimate form of control – the control someone or something else has over your body and spirit. Burroughs hated nothing so much as this type of control and he was haunted by his addiction throughout his life because, though he broke every other possible restriction and “norm,” he could not regain control of his own life from the downward spiral of addiction. His works reflect this – they are sad, but brilliant. They are also not for the faint of heart.
“Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage.”
“Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is.”
“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”
“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ‘I want to see the manager.’”
“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”
I tried to read naked lunch once and I swear it nearly broke my brain! So it scared me and I had to hide it away somewhere. If you insist that he’s that awesome though, I’m going to have to give it another try, but im leaving a note in case my brain does break for anyone who wants to avenge my death!
Weird comment, huh?! I wrote about Steinbeck for the blog hop, come see if you would like to 🙂
Definitely worth it! I’ve read it three times – although, it is definitely one of his most bizarre. If you are interested in him as a writer/person and want something more accessible, I would say his novel Queer might be the way to go. It’s not as insane. haha
I’ve never read Burroughs but of course I know of him. He’s the Bob Dylan generation, right?
I think I’d need a lot of encouragement to try him, he sounds a bit scary.
I noticed that you mentioned some of my favorite writers, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, but… where are the girls? Do you prefer male writers? For about 15 years I read mainly female writers but now I read both, again. 🙂
I do tend to prefer and/or read more male writers than females. I wrote a post about that once, actually – it isn’t even really a conscious decision. I think I just tend to like the classics and “literature” – typically, more males were being published than females, so the math leads to more male-written books than female. I love Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and many others – maybe I should have popped one in there. 🙂
And, yes, Bob Dylan as a lyricist was definitely influenced by Burroughs’ style, though I don’t know if it was as much a direct influence as Burroughs had on, say, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, or Dead Kennedy’s.
Did you read his collaboration with Kerouac (And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks) that was published a few years ago?
No, I haven’t yet – though I was excited to hear about it.
Definitely give it a read, I really enjoyed it but I was on the fence whether to actually read it at all. Apparently Burroughs thought it was less than good and there was a bit of a kefuffle because kerouac and others really wanted him to publish it, which may or may not have ended in a lawsuit. Anyway it was only after his death that his partner put the wheels in motion to publish it, so I kind of felt guilty reading it knowing it was something he didn’t seem to be proud of, even if that was a perfectionist thing. Whew, that was a randomly long post about absolutely nothing of interest. Bottom line, I liked it but felt a little guilty!
I’ve never heard of this writer. He sounds complicated and interesting. I like that he describes drug addiction as the ultimate control.
Ironic, and sad, that drugs had him.
Thanks for sharing. 🙂
I’ve heard of Burroughs of course but haven’t read him yet. He sounds interesting and also a little scary. “Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is.” Great line.
I’ve heard about Burroughs, but no one has ever recommended him to me before. You’ve convinced me to give him a closer look.
I have to admit that I usually stay away from this sort of author because I get worried about being thrown into depression from their works. I have been interested in Burroughs in a peeping-from-the-periphery sort of way, though. He seems interesting, but still slightly terrifying.