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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs

By: Daniel Odier & William S. Burroughs

Published: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (March 4, 1989)

Softcover 224 pages

Finished 4/24/2017

Amazon Listing 

          “I advance the theory that in the electronic revolution a virus is a very small unit of word and image. I have suggested how such units can be biologically activated to act as communicable virus strains. Let us staring with three tape recorders in the Garden of Eden. Tape recorder one is Adam. Tape recorder two is Eve. Tape recorder three is God, who deteriorated into the Ugly American. Or to return to our primeval scene: tape recorder one is the male ape in a helpless sexual frenzy as the virus strangles him. Tape recorder two is a cooing female ape who straddles him. Tape recorder three is DEATH.”
          The book begins with the sort piece “Playback from Eden to Watergate”, originally published by Harpers in 1973. In it he describes the concept of the word virus. As per Genesis, the word came first. Burroughs interprets this as the written word which infested man and evolved into perfect symbiosis with him, manifesting as human speech. He goes on into his playback reality manipulation method involving three tape recorders and/or a camera (this was written in the early 70s remember, cutting edge stuff then). By splicing various sounds from an area from the first two devices and then adding an idea with the third, one can manipulate an effect where you aim the playback, like a high tech voodoo curse. He claims that he has used this to start fires on buildings and shut down restaurants with health care violations and so on. Whether he believes this to be true,  it is just wishful thinking, or him mixing up correlation with causation is anyone’s guess.
          I can never tell how much Burroughs believes his theories (to misuse the term). Are they exultations of a true believer or an intellectual exercise penned with a sardonic smirk? He has always come across as rather intelligent, but susceptible to various weird alternate scientific and therapeutic ideas. His involvement with Scientology and adherence to Wilhelm Reich’s orgone chamber being a few examples.
William S. Burroughs

          “Translate the Mayan control calendar into modern terms. The mass media of newspapers, radio, television, magazines form a ceremonial calendar to which all citizens are subjected. The “priests” wisely conceal themselves behind masses of contradictory data and vociferously deny that they exist. Like the Mayan priests they can reconstruct the past and predict the future on a statistical basis through manipulation of media. It is the dates preserved in newspaper morgues that makes detailed reconstruction of past dates possible. How can modern priests predict seemingly random future events?”
          The interviews in The Job take place in 1968 and as such several of his views are out of date. For example all of the technology he describes in his splicing technique are obsolete, replaced long ago by smartphones and pcs. Well before the silicon revolution, computers at the time were wall sized monstrosities operating on punch cards and magnetic tape. Your phone now has more computing power than the most sophisticated machine of the day. But don’t knock it, they put a man on the moon with this tech. 
Daniel Odier
          For those who are Burroughs aficionados there isn’t must new here. The book may well have been called a William S. Burroughs’s primer as he primarily reiterates all of his previous philosophical and sociological opinions from previous writings. In fact several times he simply substituted passages from the Nova Trilogy as his answers.
          He makes several good points, as the second quote above demonstrates, on the manipulation of the media to create a false reality and the reshaping of history through images. However again he is out of date. He envisioned one right-wing message (whom he was afraid would use the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as an excuse to take away our guns) tapered across all mediums, controlled by hidden masters. He didn’t foresee the YouTube age with its constant multiple manipulative narratives overlapping and conflicting where one can create their own narrative and illusionary image of the world. At the time, the masses were only a group of receivers, he did not envision a day where everyone could input as well, thus becoming their own illusionary master. I think he would have approved. 
First English Translation of The Job
          But there is a lot in here that many would disagree with, his praise of Reich and Hubbard being mentioned earlier. He asserts that the concept of a  nuclear family should be ended and that all children should be raised by state run institutions- the same institutions he describes as essentially amoral and evil a few pages earlier. As we all know, this idea worked out so well in its real life applications. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and their Killing Fields and the Romanian orphanages under CeauČ™escu that festered with AIDS and mental disorders, being a few instances. Burroughs practiced what he preached however, having abandoned his own son at the age of six.
          He continues on by stating all prisons should be abolished, with no more reasons given than they don’t really do anything more than punish. And eventually wraps up his criticism of the “American Nightmare” by stating that all institutions of Western Civilization must be destroyed. Ho-hum.
          He is most eloquent on the subject of drugs. Advocating a general legalization of all drugs. Heroin, cocaine, and so on should be back to being over-the-counter medications as it was in the early 20th century before the Harrison Narcotics Act. However he believes that this is impossible due to the media’s scare and the money making industry that has sprung up around incarceration and treatment of addicts.
          Drugs are not addictive, according to him, but the exposure to them is, if you can tell the difference. He deconstructs a bit here, by saying that the lifestyle associated with it. The clarity, the lack of responsibility, the absolute focus of your life on the next high means that your life will always have focus.
          However if one wants to kick the habit he devotes fifteen pages to the apomorphine treatment, which he claims is a metabolic stabilizer and reduces the desire for the drug. In 1968 Apomorphine was primarily used to treat erectile dysfunction and, briefly, as a psychiatric cure for homosexuality. At a private clinic Burroughs and several others were administered the drug and said it was the best cure he ever experienced. There have been no clinical trials of the drug ever made. Currently it is used primarily to combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
          Burroughs writes here with his characteristic fluid style, though rarely becoming as hallucinogenic as in other works. He truly is a master of the word and is certainly one of the most poetic writers I have ever read, even when I am shaking my head at nearly all of his arguments. On reflection, I have never more enjoyed reading a person’s opinion that I almost completely disagreed with more.

           For more readings, try my collection of books. 

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