ATOMIC BARK!

Thursday 17th March, 7 – 8pm (GMT) on Resonance 104.4FM (www.resonancefm.com) with a podcast to follow

Burroughs Brilliant Mind Bomb

Who was the phenomenon known as William Burroughs, and why was he so important and vital in the last decades of the 20th century? The man who (re)introduced the ‘Cut-Up’ technique to the literary world, accidentally shot his wife dead while playing a game of ‘William Tell’, and kick-started the multi-form, experimental, hallucinogenic Uber-Beat cult, was also inspired by, and borrowed, the techniques of pulp science fiction in his work. In the best traditions of a drug addled, down at heel, private dick we ask – Burroughs: How, what, where and why?

Hosted by James DC, with James Hollands, Richard Strange, Robin Tomens

Clip: William Burroughs reading from Nova Express

5 Comments

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  1. Yes, all of these counter-cultural movements are – as you say – of a piece. They are all basically striving for the same things: the absolute right of free expression, in art, sexuality and a ‘fair’ morality; creative autonomy and individualism – a suversive politics, for want of a better phrase – and a lot of the fractious divergences between, say, the Surrealists and Dadaists, are ego-driven, false idealogies. It is interesting to note that after the initial blossoming of the Beats, over about a 10 year period, Burroughs moved away from their ‘spiritual centre’ and went off on his own very unique path. They all did the same, to a point, but they still espoused a lot of the same politics and ideals, as they got older. So did Burroughs, partly, but I feel that he didn’t ostensibly adhere to the Beat ‘agenda’ in the same way.

    • Steve

      If you have an agenda you at got the beat, man😉

      Maybe Bill was the last beat and the others got lost along the way….

  2. Thanks Steve – some interesting points there.

    Yes – perhaps we were a bit over-zealous in our estimation of Burroughs as not really being a ‘part’ of the Beats, because they obviously had a lot of overlapping concerns, intrigues and philosophy. But I think he did have some unique characteristics which didn’t quite fit into the Beat movement and were quite distinct from their over-all ‘politics’ – his ideas were a lot darker and more trangressive. His radicalism went beyond anti-authoritarianism, free expression and self-determination – he was investigating the whole notion of corporeal existence in a deeply subversive manner.

    I understand what you mean by the recuperation issue, and in some respects you are right – the absorbtion of the Burroughs persona or Burroughsian cult into popular culture is a successful infiltration, as a virus invades the host from within, almost imperceptibly, but his anti-control ethical agenda is intransigent – rightly so – and is much more difficult to appropriate by the very system that maintains the status quo which he is railing against. Of course, he is attacking the deep forms of control which are intrinsic to our everyday navigations of existence, from linguistics to moralty and much else, and in this sense, the actual negation of ‘control’ is more problematic, because it is delving into the very nature and make-up of reality.

  3. Steve

    The dichotomy of the Beatniks and the Situationists etc in Paris is also an interesting phenomena. A friend who was there in 68 describes the Beats amusement at the Situationists as all talk and no action, idealogues who mostly didnt practice what they preached. While the Situationists largely dismissed the Beats as bourgeois and aimless and so easily recuperable. In particular a common remark was that the Situationists talked about free sex all the time but never got laid, while the Beats shagged anything that moved and had no critique of sexuality. This generalisation didnt stop them mutually influencing each other of course or prevent Jim Morrison attending Situationist gatherings at Venice Beach in Cali…

  4. Steve

    Nice program with some interesting debate, I think I only disagreed with two points of view on it, which is good for me.

    One, I think its wrong to exclude Burrough’s from the Beat genre, just because Ginsberg had a slightly different position and came to dominate it. I’d adopt the Wikipedia definition of the Beats as a starting point at least “Central elements of “Beat” culture included experimentation with drugs and alternative forms of sexuality, an interest in Eastern religion, a rejection of materialism, and the idealizing of exuberant, unexpurgated means of expression and being”. I think that covers Burrough’s quite well.

    Ginsberg’s dominance created or shaped the hippie movement I think, which suppressed the more extreme Burroughsian elements of the its Beatnik precursor. But the Punk revolution ressurrected some of these elements and later restored a balence to some extent in post-punk Crass era and in the hardcore rave culture (perhaps a slight simplification given that Ginsberg liked Punk and Burroughs denounced it, though thats just hyper Punk). But these are all modes of one movement essentially as demonstrated by the ammount of overlaps.

    A lesser point would be on recuperation, I suspect given Burrough’s viral theory he might have been disappointed not to have been recuperated as cultural change happens by contamination as much as opposition, the osmotic relation between true counterculture and subculture is a very important one for social change, and tricksterism the name of the game, thus I don’t necessarily denounce those former punks and hippies who take up the advertising game, life isnt black and white, there are no radical oppositions outside of redundant Marxian thought.

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