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20 April 2014 @ 07:25 am
Burroughing  
I heard about William Burroughs in my teenage years. I was at an age where I'd be interested in anything by a homosexual druggie who'd written a book full of dirty words. And there was even more to it than that: He was the kind of mysterious figure that fortunately no longer exists in my part of the world: the victim of censorship, telling capital-T Truths capital-T They wouldn't allow us to hear.

When They finally let me read Naked Lunch, I agreed that it was a masterpiece—a magnificent collage of widely varied but almost always brilliant imagery held together by striking wit and a morbidly fascinating sensibility. I think it also was his One Book. Later works didn't add to it, and made it more obvious that he did not like women. At his worst, he called the whole sex a "mistake" and wrote books like The Wild Boys fantasizing about slaughtering them all and all the men who'd been contaminated by them (not unlike a Halloween movie). At best, he tolerated them.

Call Me Burroughs, by Barry Miles, is an excellent and thorough bio. It reinforces my view of the three Beat Generation superstars: Ginsberg was a saint, Kerouac was a turd, and Burroughs was a sicko. We read much about his mental adventures in Scientology and worse.

And it leaves us with a familiar problem: What do we do about great work by horrible people? I can't even decide whether the craziness is mitigating or exacerbating. At least Ezra Pound never said that the Jews were specially created by evil insects from space.
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Sarcasticia Nitpickersontisiphone on April 20th, 2014 11:41 am (UTC)
I have this problem with Martin Heidegger - the fact that some of his philosophy is essential to my work doesn't change the fact that he had Nazi affiliations he never fully disavowed, and vice versa. I compromise by being honest about why I use his work, and how his horribleness affects his greatness.
Mari Nessmariness on April 20th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC)
I thought this was going to end with a comment about this year's Hugo ballot :)

Thanks for the recommendation for the Burroughs biography. I just reserved it at the library. It seems from the waiting list that many others agree with your opinion.

El Coyote Gordo: buckysupergee on April 24th, 2014 11:47 am (UTC)
Reports from reliable sources confirm my suspicion that the novelette with the incorrect Latin title does not raise that question.
nancylebov: green leavesnancylebov on April 20th, 2014 02:48 pm (UTC)
I found out recently that Spinoza wrote anti-Semitic material. I am trying to deal.

See Anti-Judaism.
El Coyote Gordo: mogen davidsupergee on April 20th, 2014 02:49 pm (UTC)
Before or after the Jews kicked him out?
nancylebov: green leavesnancylebov on April 20th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
After. The book suggests that he might have been angry about that, or he'd picked up conventional anti-Semitism, or he genuinely thought the Old Testament was worse than the New, or (since he was writing for a predominantly Christian audience) he was using their prejudices to bolster his general argument against Biblical literalism (his actual target).
Nation of Tire Saletdaschel on April 22nd, 2014 05:13 am (UTC)
writers are *funny* ..
see also H.P. Lovecraft / guy would go off on anti-Semitic rants and his wife would have to remind him that she was Jewish . or Patricia Highsmith - one of my favorite Texans. how does her status as both strong, independent woman and lesbian square with her - very.often - treating women rather roughly, rather shabbily (in her personal life, sorta like a Bogart *character* from the movies ..).

Burroughs, so far as we know, enjoyed warm (for him) relations with women he would meet in the day-to-day : Anne Waldman, Debbie Harry, Laurie Anderson. Naked Lunch? i'll have to return to it someday. stuff that's left impressions since include Nova Express and The Western Lands. he managed a, eh, remarkable economy of imagery.