Ah Burroughs is here


In The Quietus, Darran Anderson on William Burroughs’ centenary.

William S. Burroughs was a high modernist and a writer of complete trash; the two are by no means mutually exclusive. He was a genius and a bullshit artist. If his books prove anything, it’s that profundity and inanity can skip along merrily arm in arm. Sometimes his work was heavyweight, sometimes dumb. To borrow a Freudian analogy, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar and sometimes a man who taught his asshole to talk really is just a man who taught his asshole how to talk (what it’s saying and why is a different story). The paradox of the freest writer being a lifelong junky is really no paradox at all. As a user and pedlar, he understood the mechanics of how it all worked and kindly pointed it out to us, even as he was picking our pockets. He was a stiff morose patrician figure in a suit (so much so his friend Herbert Huncke initially took him for an undercover agent) with books and a history full of debauchery and depravity. If there seems a contradiction there, it’s in the eye of the beholder. What makes Burroughs’ work seem prophetic is that he was perceptive enough to see that people don’t change, the secret to all successful prophecies. We’re still continually re-enacting Greek myths on a daily basis and always will. Psychosis may mirror the zeitgeist (whether it’s paranoia of witches, Jews, communists, drug fiends, Islamists or whoever next) but its essential character doesn’t alter. The bugs and the feds are always with us and there’s only so much one man can do, calling door to door with an extermination kit.

Manipulations of documentary accounts


Fascinating interview with Iain Sinclair in the Guardian.

James Campbell: Some of the characters in your new book are fictional creations, based on real people. Yet long sections deal with meetings with Gary Snyder and people relevant to the story lines involving Bolaño and Lowry, which are important themes in the book. One of your subtitles is “Fictions of memory”. How is the reader to tell the difference between the fictions and the facts?

Iain Sinclair: Well, a fiction of memory is when I’m describing the more remote past. This becomes more like writing fiction. The process of dealing with something at that distance inevitably creates a smoothed-out narrative, often through the retellings that have occurred over the years. Things get arranged in certain ways to make a nice shape. The awkward details are forgotten or suppressed. And when you are confronted with them – as I was in the process of writing Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire – you often find that what you have remembered is completely wrong. When you go back to it, it’s this peculiar country. But when I’m describing Snyder or Gregory Corso, that’s fairly recent, and I’ve kept to what happened.