Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1959-1974 [NOOK Book]

Overview

William S. Burroughs was one of the twentieth century’s most iconoclastic literary and artistic figures, an inimitable writer whose groundbreaking work in novels such as Junky and Naked Lunch forever altered the shape of American culture. Now, in this long anticipated collection, editor Bill Morgan takes readers through Burroughs’ correspondence from the early sixties through the mid-seventies, in more than three hundred letters that document Burroughs’ steady drift away from the Beat circle and that witness an ...

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Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1959-1974

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Overview

William S. Burroughs was one of the twentieth century’s most iconoclastic literary and artistic figures, an inimitable writer whose groundbreaking work in novels such as Junky and Naked Lunch forever altered the shape of American culture. Now, in this long anticipated collection, editor Bill Morgan takes readers through Burroughs’ correspondence from the early sixties through the mid-seventies, in more than three hundred letters that document Burroughs’ steady drift away from the Beat circle and that witness an era in which he became the center of a new coterie of creative people who would establish his reputation as an influential artistic and cultural leader beyond the literary world, toward multimedia.

Written to recipients such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, and Burroughs’ son, Billy Burroughs Jr., these letters shed new light on the writer’s controversial artistic process and literary experimentation, as well as his complex personal life. Here are letters to new friends in North Africa and Eur-ope—partners in Burroughs’ expatriate life—including Paul Bowles, Ian Sommerville, Michael Portman, Alex Trocchi, and the surrealist artist Brion Gysin, who became a close confidant and whose “cut-up method” would deeply influence Burroughs’ writing.

An intimate glimpse into the private life of an often misunderstood artist, Rub Out the Words is also an unforgettable portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most uncompromising literary personalities.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A continuation of the selected letters of the unique writer in the same format as editor Olivia Harris' The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945–1959 (1993). Beat Generation expert Morgan (The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation, 2010, etc.) has assembled a representative selection from the 1,000-plus letters that Burroughs (1914–1997) wrote during the 15 years the collection comprises. Most are to three correspondents: his son, Billy; his friends and colleagues Allen Ginsberg and Brion Gysin. Billy, we learn through the letters, had adolescent troubles with drugs (are we surprised?), including several arrests--but by the end of these letters he was married and having some publishing success as William Burroughs Jr. Ginsberg's role as principal confidante was soon assumed by Gysin, to whom Burroughs wrote most frankly about everything from gay porn to drugs and Timothy Leary (whom he grew to revile) to philosophies of composition to books he liked (Dune, The Godfather) or despised (In Cold Blood). Included is a vicious letter Burroughs wrote in 1970 to Truman Capote, accusing Capote of betraying, even killing, his talent. Many of the letters deal with the process first employed by Gysin and then adopted and championed by Burroughs--the "cut-up" process. For years Burroughs was enamored of this technique of snipping passages from publications and pasting them up in novel arrangements. He tried the technique with photographs, motion pictures and audio recordings as well--all discussed at length in the letters. Burroughs also followed some complex choreography with scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, whom he later accused of creating a "fascist cosmos." Perhaps most surprising: Burroughs' phenomenal work ethic and assiduousness. Each letter is a window that permits a fresh view of a most complex and revolutionary writer.
The Barnes & Noble Review

This volume of selected letters written by the novelist and counterculture icon William Burroughs, during the period from 1959 to 1974, is a remarkable testament, since it manages to confirm Burroughs's legendary public persona while simultaneously shattering it. In other words, we get the whole picture of the man, not just the usual cropped and etiolated snapshot.

The author's epistles — brilliantly selected and annotated by editor Bill Morgan from a thousand candidates — are alternately scabrous and demure, tender and lashing, profane and reverential, contrarian and conventional, funny and dire. Viewed from one angle, they paint the familiar portrait his ardent fans expect: an emotionally distant expatriate visionary and hedonist, disdainful, drug-fueled, and primed with brilliant, almost alien insights into culture and the human psyche, always ready to experiment and pioneer new literary territory. Viewed from another coign, the letters show us the loving son, father, and steadfast friend; a homebody and cautionary anti-druggie, moralist and ascetic. He's even a sensible, all-American businessman and careerist. Letter of May 4 1964: "One has to think of writing as any other job. You work at it all day and every day if you expect to make a living." And Burroughs figured it would be swell to place an article with Reader's Digest or The Saturday Evening Post! Put the two spheres of overlapping activity together, and you begin to sense the three-dimensional depths of Burroughs's true nature.

The prior volume in this series, covering the period from 1945 to 1959, was edited by a different curator, Oliver Harris, and appeared way back in 1993. But Morgan picks up seamlessly after such a long delay. "The final letter in the first volume of correspondence—was written to Allen Ginsberg on October 29, 1959. It is fitting that the first letter in this volume should be the one that was written the very next day to the very same person." With that, we're off and running, following Burroughs through Europe, North Africa, and the USA as he restlessly seeks the perfect environment to foster his artistic productivity, and the camaraderie of his fellow outcasts, rebels, lovers, and dreamers. He cadges mescaline from Ginsberg and dollars from his shady publishers, Maurice Girodias and Barney Rosset. He offers fatherly advice to his wayward son, Billy Jr. He tries to reassure his parents that his unconventional career amounts to something, and that his life deserves a last will and testament. Letter of June 21, 1964: "There is a considerable sum of money tied up in the books I have published and books waiting to be published. This could mean over the years a comfortable income for Billy." And this filial nervousness comes from a son aged fifty!

Always a seeker, Burroughs conducts enthusiastic experiments with Scientology, which ultimately prove futile, as do his LSD trials with Timothy Leary, whom he deems a sloppy wacko. Then, perhaps influenced by the Buddhism of pals Ginsberg and Kerouac, he develops a merciless Zen mindfulness practice of his own that stands him in better stead. Letter of November 1960: "Now look at the tree. and [lowercase sic] you will see the tree not the word tree. You will begin to see everything sharp and clear like after a rain. When you are in a restaurant Listen Out? When you walk down your Western streets defaced by signs, look at the signs." Of course, Burroughs was no saint, and there's plenty of snark and bitchiness in these pages, including the writer's consistent misogyny: Letter of June 18, 1969: "You see what you call WOMAN is simply a biologic weapon like whisky or smallpox employed to destroy resistance in growth areas."

Many personages flit into and out of Burroughs's letters, but none more significant than the invaluable comrade-in-scissors, poet Brion Gysin. His discovery of the cut-up technique stoked Burroughs's experimental ardor for years. Some letters here are composed in that delphic manner, but the vast majority are clear and linear. Some, such as that of April 8, 1961, even contain flash fictions as Burroughs works out kinks in whatever novel he's then composing. (And these letters span what is arguably the zenith of his accomplishments, though his later works are not inconsequential.)

Burroughs's passions for films, comics, lowbrow genres (he groks Dune early in that novel's arc), and multimedia presentations mark him as a quintessential postmodernist, sure to resonate with any hipster today. He even foresees a slice of our Internet-dominated visual world. Letter of April 28, 1972: "Any sex act can now be shown on the public screen with beautiful actors and that's a powerful sight. In fact not altogether to my advantage since when you can see it you are not so interested to read about it."

Finally, two great narrative arcs happen across these pages: the transition of the counterculture from beatnik- to hippie-centric; and Burroughs's ascent from obscurity and poverty and no audience to fame and relative financial well-being and a following. By the book's end, when Burroughs is sixty years old, the reader sees this flinty, zesty, sourpuss prophet accorded a little honor in his native land.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062096777
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/7/2012
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 480
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Born in 1914 to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, William S. Burroughs was one of the most significant people in twentieth-century American popular culture and literature. A novelist, poet, and essayist, he was a primary member of the Beat Generation, influential upon such writers as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs was the author of eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories, and four collections of essays, among them the 1959 classic Naked Lunch. After living in Mexico City, Tangier, Paris, and London, Burroughs finally returned to America in 1974. He died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1997.

Bill Morgan is a writer and archival consultant. His previous books include The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation; I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg; and Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America. He has edited several collections of letters by Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. Morgan has worked as the archivist of many writers, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Oliver Sacks, Michael McClure, Abbie Hoffman, and Arthur Miller. He currently lives with his wife in an old farmhouse at the base of a Vermont mountain.

Biography

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) -- guru of the Beat Generation, controversial éminence grise of the international avant-garde, dark prophet, and blackest of black humor satirists -- had a range of influence rivaled by few post-World War II writers. His many books include Naked Lunch, Queer, Exterminator!, The Cat Inside, The Western Lands, and Interzone.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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Read an Excerpt

Rub Out the Words

Letters of William Burroughs, 1959-1974
By William Burroughs and Bill Moran, Editor

Ecco

Copyright © 2012 William Burroughs and Bill Moran, Editor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061711428


Chapter One

EDITOR'S NOTE: By the fall of 1959 William Burroughs had settled
into a comfortable daily routine in Paris. He was living in a small room
on the Rue Git-Le-Coeur at the time. His pension was an inexpensive
place that would attract so many of his old friends before long that it
became known as the Beat Hotel. Only a few months earlier his second
book, The Naked Lunch, had been published by the Olympia Press,
under the direction of the somewhat devious owner, Maurice Girodias.
Burroughs was deeply involved in experiments with his new friend,
Brion Gysin, who, on October 1, had discovered a unique method of
literary composition. Quite by accident, Gysin had sliced through a pile of
old newspapers and noticed that the words from one page could be lined
up with the words from the page beneath to create entirely new texts.
When he told Burroughs about it later that day, William began to look
at the random pages carefully. He believed that Gysin had, by rearranging
the words at random, uncovered previously unseen messages hidden
within the words on the page.
WSB [Paris] to Allen Ginsberg [New York]
Oct 30, 1959
(9) Rue Git-Le-Coeur
Paris (6)

Dear Allen,

Thanks a million for the mescaline..(1) Split it with Brion [Gysin] (2)
for a short trip home..
Yes, you did make me the most famous novelist Roumanian
born of a better Tyrone Power (3) up from a headline of penniless
migrants.. And believe me, Al, I won't forget it. What's this
Elsee?? (4) On the ice again..?? I'll catch her this time..
(1) Ginsberg occasionally sent small amounts of mescaline as a gift to
Burroughs from New York.
(2) Bryon Gysin (1916–1986). An experimental artist who, over the course of
these letters, would become Burroughs' best friend and collaborator.
(3) Tyrone Power (1914–1958). A matinee idol known for playing the
roles of swashbuckling heroes. He had just died in November 1958.
(4) This is probably a reference to Allen's friend Elise Cowen,
who may have been planning a trip to Europe.
I look all over and can't find my Wyn contract (5) follow me around
for years through jungles and deserts and perilous unknown boy
countries and couldn't lose it and now.. Well don't get mad and cut
off your left hand, I always say.. But it seems to me that the contract
should be outlawed by now. I will look again for the contract
but some Arab probably wiped his ass with it years ago and it blew
away to return in hepatitis fall out.. But would I like to latch onto
that (2) Gs (6) go to India most like.. Gregory Corso lost all his money
in the Venice casino.. Oh God!! Quel infant of the Sunday Supplement.
Bought a dinner jacket, too I hear.. (7)
And now the question panel: (1) Whatever they may be, the
suppressors are not amateurs.. Old Old Old pros and don't ever
forget it.. Make you think you are winning when you are not, oldest
trick in the industry and still works.. Hannibal beat the Romans
with it.. Room for one more inside.. MALRAUX??? (8) He's nothing
but a public Latah (9) for Crisakes!?
(2): I have had very practical contact with "these people" they
are very practical people.. Jack Stern (10) was one of them.. The book
itself is not interesting all important teckniques [sic] classified.. But
name dropping is unchic and very poor hygiene..
Of course Scientology attracts all the creeps of the cosmos.. You
see it works..
In closing I will tell you a little story that happened to a friend
of mine calls himself Micheaux sometimes..
It seems that M. was hurrying home after swallowing his
mescaline tablet with hot tea in a cafe—too cheap to support a hot
plate you dig—and he met B [Burroughs] in the market and he
(5) A. A. Wyn (1898–1967). The publisher of Ace Books, the company
that published Burroughs' first book, Junkie. Burroughs hoped that he could
regain control of that book and sell the rights to other publishers.
(6) Girodias was negotiating a contract for $2,000 for the American rights
to Naked Lunch.
(7) The painter Willem de Kooning had given Corso some money for a trip to Greece, but
Gregory lost it all at the casino.
(8) André Malraux (1901–1976). French novelist and minister of cultural affairs.
(9) Latah. A person in a trance who talks mechanically or repeats motions
and is seemingly not in control of himself.
(10) Jack "Jacques" Stern was a young man, crippled by polio, who the
Beat group associated with in Paris. He claimed to be a member of the
Rothschild family, but Burroughs had doubts about this distinguished background.
He had met B before but never seen him as hardly anyone does see him
which is why he is known as El Hombre Invisible—So B. said "Ah
Monsieur M.. Sit down and have a coffee and watch the passing
parade.." and M shook him off saying: "No! No! I must go home
and see my visions" and he rushed home and closed the door and
bolted it and drew the curtains and turned out the lights and got into bed and
closed his eyes and therewas Mr. B. and Mr. M. said:
"What are you doing here in my vision?"
And B replied: "Oh I live here."
love
william burroughs
PS. Yes Burroughs will do as a name to publish under.. Its on the
papers.. I'll be caught short with it one day.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Rub Out the Words by William Burroughs and Bill Moran, Editor Copyright © 2012 by William Burroughs and Bill Moran, Editor. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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