Beats of Summer, Blog Post, Events, GLBT, LGBT, William S. Burroughs

Friday’s Featured Beat: William S. Burroughs!


Name: William S. Burroughs

Born:   February 5, 1914 (St. Louis, Missouri)

Died:   August 2, 1997 (Lawrence, Kansas)

Seminal Work:  Naked Lunch (1959)

Relationship to The Beat Generation:

William S. Burroughs is often called the founder of The Beat Generation and the godfather of punk (music).  Although he was older, at the time, than most of the Beat writers, he was involved in their movement and was an inspiration to and role model, of sorts, for them.  Burroughs was a drug addict for much of his adult life and his addiction inspired him to write books such as Naked Lunch, Junky (1953), and his Nova Trilogy [The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket that Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964)].  He was known for always carrying a gun, even in bed, and for using a walking cane which had a sword inside of it.

Importance to Literary History:

200px-NakedLunch1steditionThe Nova Trilogy, mentioned above, as well as some of his other works, were crafted using Burroughs’s now-signature “Cut-up” technique.  This is a type of narrative form which Burroughs created and which has since enjoyed a movement of its own.  This aleatory technique comes about when the writer writes a text (or texts), then “cuts-up” the original and rearranges it, creating a new text with the same content.  The technique was inspired by Brion Gysin, a painter-friend whom Burroughs visited in Paris in 1959.  Gysin used the cut-up technique on his paintings and Burroughs noticed that it was quite similar to what he had done (juxtaposition technique) in Naked Lunch, but even more radical.  His employment of the cut-up technique in literary form, coupled with his belief that was groundbreaking and innovative, and it has inspired the style of many postmodern writers.

William S. Burroughs on his cut-up technique:

Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, New York 1953. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, New York 1953. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate.

“A page of text-my own or some one else’s-is folded down the middle and placed on another page- The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other-The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track-For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred-I insert the resulting composite as page ten-When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one-The déjà vu phenomena can so be produced to order-(This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangement of musical themes-In using the fold in method I edit delete and rearrange as in any other method of composition-I have frequently had the experience of writing some pages of straight narrative text which were then folded in with other pages and found that the fold ins were clearer and more comprehensible than the original texts-Perfectly clear narrative prose can be produced using the fold in method-Best results are usually obtained by placing pages dealing with similar subjects in juxtaposition.”

Biographical Information & Fun Facts:

  • William Burroughs wrote his first story in 1922, at the age of eight.  This was also the year in which he fired his first gun.
  • He graduated from Harvard with a degree in English literature.  He was known for being that “quiet guy” on campus who could always be found playing with his gun (a .32 revolver).
  • In 1937, he married a European woman named Ilse von Klapper in order to help her escape Nazi occupation and emigrate to the U.S. They divorced a few years later.
  • He cut off one of his fingers (the left pinky) when he was 25.  On purpose. He brought the pinky to a mental hospital in order to be admitted, where he claimed he cut off his finger as part of an “initiation ceremony into the Crow Indian tribe.” (See his short story, “The Finger”).
  • In 1943, Burroughs moved from Chicago to New York City, where he met and became friends with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
  • Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on a novel, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which was inspired by the true story of their witnessing the murder of their friend Dave Kammerer, by another of their friends, Lucien Carr.  Carr killed Kammerer because he (Kammerer) had made sexual advances toward him. And the Hippos was written in 1945, but not published until 2008.
Birth of the Beats ... William Burroughs (L) and Jack Kerouac in New York in 1953, photographed by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph: Corbis

Birth of the Beats … William Burroughs (L) and Jack Kerouac in New York in 1953, photographed by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph: Corbis

  • Burroughs and his new (common-law) wife, Joan Vollmer, moved to Texas and grew marijuana. They moved to Mexico in 1949, where Burroughs went to graduate school and studied Anthropology.
  • Burroughs killed Joan in 1951 when playing a game of “William Tell.”  He was trying to shoot a glass off her head, but shot her instead.  He served two weeks in jail, until his brother arrived and paid thousands of dollars to get him out.  He reported to the jail every Monday for a year, until returning to the U.S. He was convicted of manslaughter, but only received a two-year suspended sentence.
  • Burroughs later wrote that he did not believe he would have become a writer if not for Joan’s death.
  • Burroughs later moved to Colombia, then Tangiers, and then, in 1956, to Morocco, where Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky (Ginsberg’s lover) helped him to organize Naked Lunch.
  • Naked Lunch was rejected for publication in the United States, so Ginsberg and Burroughs took it to Paris, where it was published in 1959.  The editor of the Chicago Review, who had tried to publish portions of it in the U.S., was fired.
  • In 1966, obscenity charges were brought against Naked Lunch.  The courts rejected these chargers – this was the last major censorship hearing over literature in America, the ruling of which paved the way for much greater freedom of expression in literature and the arts.
  • Burroughs is on the cover of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  He is next to Marilyn Monroe, near the top center, just below and to the right of Edgar Allan Poe.


  • In 1993, Burroughs was featured in a TV. Commercial for GAP clothing.   In 1994, he was in an ad for Nike.
  • Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs collaborated on a speaking album (The “Priest” They Called Him).  Cobain visited Burroughs just six months before committing suicide.
  • Burroughs died of a heart attack in 1997.

Notable Quotes:

“Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.” (These are the last lines from the last entry in William S. Burroughs’s personal journal).

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”

“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say, ‘I want to see the manager.’”

“Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”

“Language is a virus from outer space.”

“In my writing, I am acting as a map-maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.”

“I am getting so far out one day I won’t come back at all.”

2013 Challenges, Allen Ginsberg, American Lit, banned books, censorship, Classics, Classics Club, Drugs, Events, Fiction, Gay Lit, Giveaways, GLBT, Jack Kerouac, LGBT, Literature, Read-Alongs, Reading Challenges, Reading Event, Sexuality, William S. Burroughs

The Beats of Summer: A Reading Event! (Sign-Up Post)

Welcome to the sign-up post for:

BeatsOfSummer-ButtonThe Beats of Summer: A Reading Event!

Summertime is coming, and what better time than Summer to immerse ourselves in the works of the most rebellious, daring, and “hot” generation of American writers??

For this event, the goal is to read as many pieces of “Beat Generation” literature as you want to, from June 1st through July 14th. Audiobooks, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction all count, as long as the writer is considered to be a part of the Beat Generation.  Memoirs, biographies, essays, theory/criticism or other works of non-fiction written about The Beats are also acceptable!

Update: We are looking for volunteers to provide Guest Posts and/or offer Giveaways throughout the event. If you would be interesting in participating in this capacity, please fill out This Form. And Thanks!

What is the Beat Generation?

“In American in the 1950s, a new cultural and literary movement staked its claim on the nation’s consciousness. The Beat Generation was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic. The Beat Generation saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, the Beats stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before.”  –The Literature Network

I will post throughout the event to  discuss different subjects related to The Beat Generation, its writers, and its influences on later movements in literature, film, and music, as well as my own reviews of the Beat Generation books that I finish.  I will also be offering giveaways, and I am hopeful that some participants will be interested in writing guest posts or hosting giveaways of their own, to make this more interactive!

Below is a  list of writers and works of The Beat Generation.  This list is by no means comprehensive, it is simply a starting point.

Major Writers:
Richard Brautigan
William S. Burroughs
Neal Cassady
Gregory Corso
Diane DiPrima
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Allen Ginsberg
John Clellon Holmes
Joyce Johnson
Hettie Jones
Jack Kerouac
Joanne Kyger
Gary Snyder
Carl Solomon

Important Works:
Dharma Bums
Gasoline (poetry)
Howl (poetry)
Minor Characters (memoir)
Naked Lunch
On the Road
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (memoir)

Affiliated Writers/Biographers:
James Campbell (This is the Beat Generation)
Carolyn Cassady (Off the Road)
Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Brenda Knight (Women of the Beat Generation)
Matt Theado (The Beats: A Literary Reference)
Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

In the meantime, if you would like to host a giveaway or provide a guest post, please: CLICK HERE.

And if you want to sign-up to participate in The Beats of Summer (yay!), just leave a comment on this post saying YOU’RE IN! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read.  I plan to read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (in an announcement post or in your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation.  It goes without saying that this is meant to be a positive, fun, and educational event – it’s an at-will project, so negativity is a no-go!

Sign-ups are open from now through June 15th.  If you sign-up after June 15th, you can still absolutely participate, but you may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes.

To Share/Discuss on Twitter, Use Hashatag #BeatsOfSummer

2012 TBR Challenge, Book Review, Drugs, Dystopia, Gay Lit, GLBT, Postmodernism, Satire, Sexuality, The Beats, William S. Burroughs

Experimental Review: Nova Express by William S. Burroughs

Nova Express by William S. Burroughs

YTD: 03

William S. Burroughs is an unusual author, and this book irritated me, in a way. I’ve decided to adjust my review a bit to fit my mood, reaction, and the author.  I do this out of love and respect (and frustration).  William S. Burroughs was a master of the cut-up technique – he was a postmodern writer, “Godfather” to the Beat generation, and he oftentimes had a habit of writing in a nonsensical, satirical way, particularly about things – political/social- that he felt were being addressed nonsensically by those in power.  This includes, primarily, drugs, sex, and privacy.  As Burroughs is a favorite of mine, and because this book and its predecessor (the third and first, respectively, in a trilogy, which includes a book called The Ticket that Exploded, which I’ll likely read later this year) were so ridiculously cut-up and disjointed, I’ve decided to pay homage in my review, thusly:

Plot/Story: 2 – Plot/Story could work with better development.

Third in a trilogy.  Fourth in a quartet.  Nova Express – agents of the body searching for, fighting against, elements exploding.  Some sex – homosexual, heterosexual, asexual- mild.  Tame. Boring, comparatively.  Not the Wild Boys. Third book following Naked Lunch makes Burroughs prudish, bizarre, twisted, normal, odd. Remember disembowelment?  Remember parasites – anuses, walking and talking?  Anuses like mouths, with teeth to bite.  Burroughs forgets – forgets the past, forgets the future, forgets, mid-sentence.  Remembers.  Where are the cats? The balance?  Closed captioning provided by the Nova Agents – looking for you.  Put you on drugs to make you weak. Make you stupid.  Catch you on drugs – detox, death.  Double paradox.  Double jeopardy.  No-win situation.  Chemical and biological hazards, walking bombs, all of us.  Overdose.

Characterization: 2 – Characters slightly developed.

Character development.  Human faces, human emotions, inconsequential.  Attachments where attachments due, feeling detached.  Characters Good?  Bad?  These are descriptors – qualifying phrases applied to one and another, sometimes with cause and sometimes without.  Fruit salad.  Rabbits.  “Agents.”  Characterization lacking – list of goods, non-existence, list of bads, like The Goodbye Mister.  People stand for things, things mean what?  Control elements vs. language – power vs. power.  Nature vs. machine.

Prose/Style: 3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

Jonathan Swift, but not really.  Eat the young?  Maybe. Probably – especially the boys, if they’re high.  To get high.  Brilliant in a way, subtle.  Subtle but over the top – possibilities previously impossible, unexplored.  “Good Grief, Charlie Brown.”  Masterful like Stein – obnoxious like Stein.  Henry Miller.  Love child. Cut-up experimentation, finished.  Culmination of phase, of trilogy, of mathematical series (four).  Onward to reality (which is what, exactly?).

Additional Elements: 3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Control elements:  Government, Society, Culture.  Language is virus.  Language is power.  To catch the virus – to get sick – to make noise.  To be vocal, is power.  Is wrong and right.  Right is might.  Speak out against Control Elements.  Law powers create criminals to justify existence of Law powers.  Good creates bad to create good.  To be in control.  Addiction, dependence.  Junkies.  Criminals are the powerful ones – only if infected.  Infected with speech.  What is human?  Who defines humanity?  Addicts, homosexuals, criminals – disappear for utopia?  Not really.  Make more for Utopia? Not really.  Break down the walls – with voice – break down the walls to win.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Drugs, Privacy (Invasion of), Sexuality, Cut-Up Prose, Postmodernism, Beats, Culture

Ancient Greece, Book Review, Fiction, Gay Lit, GLBT, Historical, History, John Steinbeck, Literature, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Religion, Satire, Sexuality, Suzanne Collins, William S. Burroughs

Brief Thoughts on 8 Books

The books listed below are those I read for last week’s Read-a-Thon.  I planned not to write a review for each, because I don’t really have time to play catch-up on 8 book reviews, particularly with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starting in two days.  I did want to get some thoughts and a “rating” down for all of them, though.

1. Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal by Anonymous (Oscar Wilde) 5 out of 5

2. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck 5 out of 5

—While I did not enjoy this one quite as much as The Pearl, it is still incredible.  The Red Pony is actually a tightly woven collection of four short stories about the same young boy and his family.  Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest storytellers, and I’m reminded anew of just how brilliant he is every time I pick up and read something by him.  The way he recreates rural and poverty-stricken American life goes beyond genuine accuracy – it is perfection.  The emotions he evokes, the nationalism (not patriotism) he inspires, and the history he harkens back to — I am never disappointed.  The story of Jody, his parents, and their farm hand is the story of every American boy and his wide-eyed American dreams.

3. The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain 4 out of 5

—Absolutely hilarious.  I almost don’t know what else to say about this book.  It is simple but imaginative.  Hilarious but poignant.  The book is a reimagining of the Creation, through the diaries of Adam and Eve.  The reader first sees the world’s creation and the discovery of all life and things, including Eve, through Adam’s eyes.  The diary entries are typically “male” – not much concern for anything but hunting and gratification (“What is this annoying thing that talks, talks, talks, and gets wet in the eyes when I ignore it?”).  Then, the reader sees the same events and things through Eve’s eyes, which is wholly “feminine” – the pretty lights in the sky that one could reach if they only just climbed a bit higher in their tree, the moon that someone steals each morning and brings back each night, the animal friends and the new babies to love and nurture (which Adam believes must be another species – perhaps bear? Perhaps kangaroo?).  Not my favorite Twain, as it is a bit simple, but it is still classic Twain – witty, cynical, holier-than-thou.

4. The Cat Inside by William S. Burroughs 3 out of 5

—For those not familiar with William S. Burroughs – he was the “godfather” to the American Beat generation.  He did a lot of drugs, had sex with a lot of boys, and shot his wife when trying to aim at an apple on her head.  He was a strange, twisted, brilliant man who had a bizarre love for cats.  He worshipped them in a way near to the adoration given cats by the ancient Egyptians.  Burroughs believed cats were the ultimate species and he allowed them to run rampant on his ranch, feeding them, playing with them, forcing friends to care for them when he had to be away.  This book is a sort of collection of diary entries about his life with cats.  It certainly tells of Burroughs and there are many “Burroughs-esque” elements to it but, overall, it’s probably one which could be skipped. Unless, maybe, you’re a bizarre cat lover.

5. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 3.5 out of 5

—The final book in The Hunger Games trilogy, and definitely my least favorite.  I enjoyed certain aspects of the book – such as the inside-look at District 13 and how it is managed, not to mention the way it must readjust to the influx of new residents, as people from the other Districts flee their homes.  I also appreciated that this book took place in the “real world,” outside the games – and was not just all about the champions (although, largely, it was).  I was disappointed in the ending, though – it felt haphazardly constructed and unfulfilling.  Too much time was spent inside District 13, doing not much at all (even the group’s attempts at rescuing the captured champions in the Capitol is left to the imagination) – too much politics, too much angst, and too quickly resolved sub-plots.  The finale was predictable (though a bit welcome) and the fate of one of Katniss’s love-interests (and that relationship) was sadly, sadly deconstructed, as if Collins just got sick of having Katniss so indecisive so made up her mind for her.  It was an okay book, but not a great conclusion to an otherwise interesting series.

6, 7, & 8 The Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides) by Aeschylus 4 out of 5

—I definitely enjoyed this trilogy more than I expected to, especially since I was reading it in the late, late hours of the read-a-thon (somewhere around hour 18).  It is hard to rate these as separate plays, since the trio really only works together in total – but they are separate plays and were written and performed separately at times, until the collection was completed.  All-in-all, I found Agamemnon to be the strongest of the set, but each of the three were interesting.  The Eumenides, in particular, with its examination of morality and judgment, a new judicial system and the struggle between old and new gods (old and new belief systems, moral structures, punishment processes, etc) was fascinating to read, particularly as precursor to modern-day judicial systems (the presence of the first ‘jury of peers’ is here).  Aeschylus and The Oresteia are definitely worth the read.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I will be writing my very first novel (at least 50,000 words) and would truly appreciate your sponsorship. All donations go to The Office of Letters and Light – a great charity working for a great cause! If you can spare even $5 (or more) – please Sponsor Me and help me stay energized to write my book and WIN NaNoWriMo!

Book Review, Drugs, Fiction, GLBT, Literature, Sexuality, William S. Burroughs

Review: Exterminator! by William S. Burroughs

Exterminator! by William S. Burroughs

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 37 


3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Exterminator! is a loosely-related collection of 30 short stories, all neurotically obsessed with the American human condition before & during the 1960s.  Like many of his other works, these stories are threaded with themes of “Control” (the American government over-reaching its power and invading privacy, commanding blind obedience and assimilation to “normalcy”), Drugs, Violence, and Sexuality.  In this collection, a boy named Audrey makes repeated appearances.  Audrey is the writer or, perhaps more appropriately, the creator – and one can assume that he is ultimately the narrator who is ultimately Burroughs.  There is a deep sadness to these stories, and also a great sense of strength.  Though the stories are bleak – offering little hope for or admiration of humanity, particularly America- they also assert the hope, however bizarrely, that people will discover and maintain their own unique individualities.  Burroughs (or the narrator) of course identifies with seedier elements which most would hardly call admirable – the pederast, the junky, the rioter, the terrorist; yet, the extreme personas are meant to be obvious, “in your face” examples of the variety of mankind.  Burroughs always romantics the unromantic, sexualizes the unsexy, and glorifies the unholy – Exterminators! is no exception to this tradition.


3 – Characters well developed.

While most of the stories are far too short to demonstrate any real character growth or development, even for those which include recurring characters, there is still a sense of well-crafted characterization.  This is due in large part to the stories acting as characters themselves – they are the example, the personification, of the characters portrayed briefly within.  Like many of Burroughs’s works, these stories are developed in such a way as to believe they almost exist – that they are living, breathing things.  This is a thing of beauty, although most of the stories are not what most would consider “beautiful” at all.  I speak, for example, of two particular stories: “They Do Not Always Remember” and “Seeing Red.”  The first is a type of meta-fiction (which makes a strong impression throughout this collection) wherein a man, the main character, believes himself to be a type of detective, only to be confronted by a detective who turns out not to be a detective when exposed by a third detective, who reminds the first that he is not who he thought he was either.  In contemporary terms, we might equate the story’s confusion to Alzheimer’s disease, but it is rather clear that, here, the culprit is likely drug addiction and the resulting brain damage.  The story itself is the character – explaining an event – a general event- to the reader through a specific recounting.  In the second story, “Seeing Red,” the story is again a grander story, applicable in wide swipes of the brush, but demonstrated through one specific instance.  A man returns home to America and is searched by customs – the officers discover a photograph of a naked boy (age not disclosed) and are so distraught, disgusted, and horrified by this fact (that a man would have in his possession the photograph of another nude male) that they are drawn to it like flies to a bug zapper.  They come in droves, from all across the county, to stare and to die.  Burroughs is, in creepy and disturbing fashion, mocking law enforcement and the government’s obsession with invasion of privacy and prosecuting people for their sexual proclivities but, again, it is more the story in action than it is the characters described.    


3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

Although Burroughs’s themes, subject matter, and language are oftentimes disturbing and raw, there is always a type of beauty in them.  Like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, Burroughs’s works often expose the strange loveliness of the primal and romance of the ignored.   As with his particular style of characterization, Burroughs’s prose takes on a life of its own.  He is a master of the “cut-up” style – often beginning or ending a thought in the middle of a completely different thought, or starting a story in the middle of a sentence.  He employs, somewhat, a stream-of-consciousness method, but it is the consciousness of the drug addict, random but almost cosmically interconnected – something one only understands on a large scale, but whose meaning disappears when examined too closely.  The language itself and the imagery it creates are not going to appeal to everyone.  This is not a book one would recommend to his grandmother, for instance, but though it can be disturbing, one cannot deny that it is masterfully crafted, genuinely constructed, and meaningfully employed. 

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

4 – Additional elements are present and enhance the story.

There are so many raw and painful moments in this collection, the majority of which have to do with the theme of “tarnished mirrors” – regret over one’s lost youth, muddled self-worth and confused identity.  The combination of insect/infestation and drug use is to be expected, as many “junk” addicts are afflicted by hallucinations of bugs but, in this collection, there is also a relationship between the insects and humankind in general.  We are all scurrying from the exterminator – trying to survive by hiding in the dark, forced to live in fear, to devour when we can, and to leech off of those who tolerate us or who are too weak to get rid of us.  That relationship correlates to the relationship Burroughs sees between the U.S. government and the American citizens, particularly the marginalized ones.  Anyone who is different is therefore dangerous and must therefore be eliminated.  Brief moments of hopefulness arise – images of human flight and tender friendships; however, ultimately, the book is not one of hope.  The final message is one of death and dying – the idea that we hold on to false memories and perceptions of our lives, in denial of what we have done, what we have become or what we have left unaccomplished.      

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: Adult

Interest: 1960s America, American Counter-Culture, Beat Generation, Drug Culture

Notable Quotes:

“Do you begin to see there is no face in the tarnished mirror?”

“As a young child Audrey Carsons wanted to be writers because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.”

Literary Blog Hop, William S. Burroughs

Blathering About Author Love

Literary Blog Hop

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.”

Book Review, Fiction, Gay Lit, GLBT, Sociology, William S. Burroughs

Review: Queer by William S. Burroughs

Queer by William S. Burroughs
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 20

3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

William S. Burroughs’s Queer is a story about American expatriates, living in Mexico during the 1960s.  Most of the ex-pats are male, and most seem to be homosexual or to have homosexual “tendencies.”  What is interesting about Queer is that it was one of Burroughs’s earlier works, but one of his last published.  The reason for this is that the book is “overtly” homosexual.  Upon reading, though, and particularly for one familiar with Burroughs’s work, it is quickly realized that this is one of Burroughs’s tamer novels.  Yes, it addresses homosexuality head-on, as opposed to via the abstract imagery and language employed in his other books; still, when one compares this to, say, Naked Lunch or The Wild Boys, it almost seems bland.   It surprises me, then, that Burroughs managed to get his other, more daring and dangerous works published, while this one sat shelved for decades.

4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

I was impressed with Burroughs’s characterization in Queer, particular with that of the main character, William Lee, and his love interest, Eugene Allerton.  There are minor characters, too, who play important supporting roles, and all of these are written in a way so as to be distinguishable and individually important – this includes every character from the nameless taxi drivers to the bar tenders, to the “working-boy” locals and the “king” of the Mexican city’s American-Gay community.  What Burroughs does so well is to allow you to empathize with a rather bizarre main character who is on an even stranger kind of journey (drug-induced romanticism).  The reader sees William for what he is, all the while William is putting on a show for the people around him, trying to hide his pain and jealousy and, particularly, how much he wants to be wanted.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

As always, I adored the style of the book and Burroughs’s prose.  He is a brilliant writer – it becomes impossible for me not to finish his books in one or two sittings, because the pages just turn and turn.  Particular strengths in this book, I think, are the dialogue and the chapter breaks.  The dialogue develops and flows naturally, so it is easy to imagine yourself in the room with these people, engaging in the conversation or simply overhearing it from the bar.  It helps, too, that the description (characterization as well as setting) is so vivid and clear.  The chapters are typically brief – they are much like individual scenes which progress William’s story – physically and temporally.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Reading Queer in retrospect, after reading his later works, is almost eerie.  There is this nascent, fetus-like Burroughs element to the writing.  The story subtly hints at some of Burroughs’s later terrors – McCarthyism and the Red Scare, invasion of privacy, social crucifixions, political over-reaching.  There are small glimpses, through William Lee of these fears – perhaps this group is made of the early refugees, the one who can sense the change coming, aren’t quite sure what it is, but know they have to get out to stay free and safe.  This book certainly forecasts Naked Lunch in many ways – and the brilliance of Burroughs is revealed further, knowing that decades before his sociopolitical rants against government brutality and regimentation, he had written one small little book that had already been projecting it all.  Also, it was interesting to see a softer-side to Burroughs.  This is the first of his books that I recall addressing the issue of “love.”  William has some clear yearning and need for companionship and the story here is very much about him trying to find it – sort of finding it – losing it, and dealing with that loss.  Incredibly touching.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Adult

Interest: Homosexuality, Drug Culture, Mexico, South America, 1960s American Politics

Notable Quotes:

William S. Burroughs on Queer:  “I glance at the manuscript of Queer and feel I simply can’t read it. My past was a poisoned river from which one was fortunate to escape, and by which one feels immediately threatened, years after the events recorded.  –Painful to an extent I find it difficult to read, let alone write about. Every word and gesture sets the teeth on edge.”