05 May 2009

William Seward Burroughs: Last Bastion of Modernism OR the First Icon of Post-Modernism?

The recently deceased writer J.G.Ballard mentioned more than a few times in various interviews and publications his admiration for one of the most controversial literary/cultural figures of the last century, W.S.Burroughs. Burroughs has been someone who invited strong reaction from some quarters while eliciting die-hard loyalty from others for the last few decades. He is most famous for his "cut-up" works and novels which have been used and abused by countless since the 1960s. Many claim that he was the first true icon of post-modernism: the destruction of the word and language in modern text, the revelry of "anything is possible everything is permitted" (as opposed to "nothing is true everything is permitted")po-mo reflexes and of course the irreverent godhead of "cool".

The cut-ups are seen as taking anything and literally cutting them up and thrusting it forward to signify something new and chic or dangerous and subversive. Most of them are missing the point: Burroughs did not just cut anything up and present to the world, he painstakingly experimented with the method over the years with his partners-in-crime Brion Gysin (an underrated figure) and Ian Sommerville in both text and sound to dive deep into (sometimes too deep that affected his personality to the abhorence of his good friends like Allen Ginsberg)the phenomenon of the word as a tool of control of the powers-to-be. He proposes a re-thinking or re-formulation of how we look and examine the word: thus Burroughs is not so much about the celebration of the destruction of language of humanity but a demystification of humanity through the cut-ups. He sees himself as a prophet (and rightly so) to unveil to us the malignant intent and control of the "system" which has imprisoned us for thousands of years. He suggests a way forward, which is a way out of the current cul de sac of modern society into a post-human condition rather than the often mis-interpreted post modernist "con"dition of today. Perhaps there is still hope for us, in this world of cutting up for the sake of style, plain posterity and the heck of it, if we continue to delve into the endless wealth of Burroughsian knowledge.

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