On the seventh anniversary of 9-11, William S. Burroughs’ darkly comedic vision of worldwide terrorist anarchy seems sadly appropriate—and perhaps necessary: Burroughs gives us a much-needed measure of distance so we can look at our current plight from a fresh perspective.
From William S. Burroughs’ The Soft Machine:
It was a transitional period because of the Synthetics and everybody was raising some kinda awful life form in his bidet to fight the Sex Enemy—The results were not in all respects reasonable men, but the Synthetics were rolling off that line and we were getting some damned interesting types by golly blueheavy metal boys with near zero metabolism that shit once a century and then it’s a slag heap and disposal problem in the worst form there is: sewage delta to a painted sky under orange gas flares, islands of garbage where green boy-girls tend human heads in chemical gardens, terminal cities under the metal word fallout like cold melted solder on walls and streets, sputtering cripples with phosphorescent metal stumps—So we decided the blue heavy metal boys were not in all respects a good blueprint.
I have seen them all—A unit yet of mammals and vegetables that subsist each on the shit of the other in prestidigital symbiosis and achieved a stage where one group shit out nothing but pure carbon dioxide which the other unit breathed in to shit out oxygen— It’s the only way to live—You understand they had this highly developed culture with life forms between insect and vegetable, hanging vines, stinging sex hairs —The whole deal was finally relegated to It-Never-Happened-Department.
"Retroactive amnesia it out of every fucking mind screen in the area if we have to—How long you want to bat this tired old act around? A centipede issue in the street, unusual beings dormant in cancer, hierarchical shit-eating units—Now by all your stupid Gods at once let’s not get this show on the road let’s stop it."
Posted everywhere on street corners the idiot irre-sponsibles twitter supersonic approval, repeating slogans, giggling, dancing, masturbating out windows, making machine-gun noises and police whistles "And you, Dead Hand, stretching the Vegetable People come out of that compost heap—You are not taking your old fibrous roots past this inspector."
And the idiot irresponsibles scream posted everywhere in chorus: "Chemical gardens in rusty shit peoples!!"
"All out of time and into space. Come out of the time-word ‘the’ forever. Come out of the body word ‘thee’ forever. There is nothing to fear. There is no thing in space. There is no word to fear. There is no word in space."
And the idiot irresponsibles scream: "Come out of your stupid body you nameless assholes!!"
And there were those who thought A.J. lost dignity through the idiotic behavior of these properties but he said:
"That’s the way I like to see them. No fallout. What good ever came from thinking? Just look there" (another heavy metal boy sank through the earth’s crust and we got some good pictures. . .) "one of Shaffer’s blueprints. I sounded a word of warning."
His idiot irresponsibles twittered and giggled and masturbated over him from little swings and snapped bits of food from his plate screaming: "Blue people NG conditions! Typical sight leak out!"
"All out of time and into space."
"Hello, Ima Johnny, the naked astronaut."
And the idiot irresponsibles rush in with space-suits and masturbating rockets spatter the city with jissom.
"Do not be alarmed citizens of Annexia—Report to your Nearie Pro Station for chlorophyll processing— We are converting to vegetable state—Emergency measure to counter the heavy metal peril—Go to your ‘Nearie’—You will meet a cool, competent person who will dope out all your fears in photosynthesis—Calling all citizens of Annexia—Report to Green Sign for processing."
"Citizens of Gravity we are converting all out to Heavy Metal. Carbonic Plague of the Vegetable People threatens our Heavy Metal State. Report to your nearest Plating Station. It’s fun to be plated," says this well-known radio and TV personality who is now engraved forever in gags of metal. "Do not believe the calumny that our metal fallout will turn the planet into a slag heap. And in any case, is that worse than a compost heap? Heavy Metal is our program and we are prepared to sink through it. . ."
The cold heavy fluid settled in his spine 70 tons per square inch—Cool blocks of SOS—(Solid Blue Silence)—under heavy time—Can anything be done to metal people of Uranus?—Heavy his answer in monotone disaster stock: "Nobody can kick an SOS habit—70 tons per square inch—The crust from the beginning you understand—Tortured metal Ozz of earthquakes is tons focus of this junk"—Sudden young energy—I got up and danced—Know eventually be relieved—That’s all I need—I got up and danced the disasters—"
Gongs of violence and how—Show you something— Berserk machine—"Shift cut tangle word lines—Word falling—Photo falling—"
"I said the Chief of Police skinned alive in Bagdad not Washington, D.C."
"Switzerland freezes all foreign assets."
"What?—British Prime Minister assassinated in Rightist coup?"
"Mindless idiot you have liquidated the Commissar."
"Terminal electric voice of C—All ling door out of agitated—Ta ta Stalin—Carriage age ta—"
Spectators scream through the track—The electronic brain shivers in blue and pink and chlorophyll orgasms spitting out money printed on rolls of toilet paper, condoms full of ice cream, Kotex hamburgers—Police files of the world spurt out in a blast of bone meal, garden tools and barbecue sets whistle through the air, skewer the spectators—crumpled cloth bodies through dead nitrous streets of an old film set—grey luminous flakes falling softly on Ewyork, Onolulu, Aris, Ome, Oston—From siren towers the twanging tones of fear—Pan God of Panic piping blue notes through empty streets as the berserk time machine twisted a tornado of years and centuries—Wind through dusty offices and archives—Board Books scattered to rubbish heaps of the earth—Symbol books of the all-powerful board that had controlled thought feeling and movement of a planet from birth to death with iron claws of pain and pleasure—The whole structure of reality went up in silent explosions—Paper moon and muslin trees and in the black silver sky great rents as the cover of the world rained down—Biologic film went up . . . "raining dinosaurs" "It sometimes happens . . . just an old showman" Death takes over the game so many actors buildings and stars laid flat pieces of finance over the golf course summer afternoons bare feet waiting for rain smell of sickness in the room Switzerland Panama machine guns in Bagdad rising from the typewriter pieces of finance on the evening wind tin shares Buenos Aires Mr. Martin smiles old names waiting sad old tune haunted the last human attic.
Many readers have read only one book by William Burroughs, Naked Lunch. And many don’t realize that Naked Lunch is actually a kind of gateway or “prequel” to his Nova Trilogy, three experimental novels which, like Naked Lunch, were assembled from Burroughs’ “The Word Hoard,” a series of manuscripts Burroughs wrote in Tangier, Paris and London between 1953 and 1958. The Nova trilogy is comprised of The Soft Machine (1961), Nova Express (1964), and The Ticket That Exploded (1962). After their initial publication, Burroughs revised The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded, while leaving Nova Express in its original form (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nova_Trilogy).
Here’s the opening section of William S. Burroughs’ The Soft Machine:
Dead on Arrival
I was working the hole with the sailor and we did not do bad. Fifteen cents on an average night boosting the afternoons and short-timing the dawn we made out from the land of the free. But I was running out of veins. I went over to the counter for another cup of coffee. . .in Joe’s Lunch Room drinking coffee with a napkin under the cup which is said to be the mark of someone who does a lot of sitting in cafeterias and lunchrooms. . . Waiting on the man. . . "What can we do?" Nick said to me once in his dead junky whisper. "They know we’ll wait. . ." Yes, they know we’ll wait. . . There is a boy sitting at the counter thin-faced kid his eyes all pupil. I see he is hooked and sick. Familiar face maybe from the pool hall where I scored for tea sometime. Somewhere in grey strata of subways all-night cafeterias rooming house flesh. His eyes flickered the question. I nodded toward my booth. He carried his coffee over and sat down opposite me.
The croaker lives out Long Island. . . light yen sleep waking up for stops. Change. Start. Everything sharp and clear. Antennae of TV suck the sky. The clock jumped the way time will after four P.M.
"The Man is three hours late. You got the bread?"
"I got three cents."
"Nothing less than a nickel. These double papers he claims." I looked at his face. Good looking. "Say kid I known an Old Auntie Croaker right for you like a Major . . . Take the phone. I don’t want him to rumble my voice."
About this time I meet this Italian tailor cum pusher I know from Lexington and he gives me a good buy on H. . . At least it was good at first but all the time shorter and shorter. . . "Short Count Tony" we call him. . .
Out of junk in East St. Louis sick dawn he threw himself across the washbasin pressing his stomach against the cool porcelain. I draped myself over his body laughing. His shorts dissolved in rectal mucus and carbolic soap, summer dawn smells from a vacant lot.
"I’ll wait here. . . Don’t want him to rumble me. . ."
Made it five times under the shower that day soapy bubbles of egg flesh seismic tremors split by fissure spurts of jissom. . .
I made the street, everything sharp and clear like after rain. See Sid in a booth reading a paper his face like yellow ivory in the sunlight. I handed him two nickels under the table. Pushing in a small way to keep up The Habit: INVADE. DAMAGE. OCCUPY. Young faces in blue alcohol flame.
"And use that alcohol. You fucking can’t wait hungry junkies all the time black up my spoons. That’s all I need for Pen Indef the fuzz rumbles a black spoon in my trap." The old junky spiel. Junk hooks falling.
"Shoot your way to freedom kid."
Trace a line of goose pimples up the thin young arm. Slide the needle in and push the bulb watching the junk hit him all over. Move right in with the shit and suck junk through all the hungry young cells.
There is a boy sitting like your body. I see he is a hook. I drape myself over him from the pool hall. Draped myself over his cafeteria and his shorts dissolved in strata of subways. . .and all house flesh. . . toward the booth. . .down opposite me. . . The Man I Italian tailor. . . I know bread. "Me a good buy on H."
"You’re quitting? Well I hope you make it, kid. May I fall down and be paralyzed if I don’t mean it. . . You gotta friend in me. A real friend and if."
Well the traffic builds up and boosters falling in with jackets shirts and ties, kids with a radio torn from the living car trailing tubes and wires, lush-workers flash rings and wrist watches falling in sick all hours. I had the janitor cooled, an old rummy, but it couldn’t last with that crowd.
"Say you’re looking great kid. Now do yourself a favor and stay off. I been getting some really great shit lately. Remember that brown shit sorta yellow like snuff cooks up brown and clear. . ."
Junky in east bath room. . . invisible and persistent dream body. . . familiar face maybe. . . scored for some time or body. . .in that grey smell of rectal mucus. . . night cafeterias and junky room dawn smells, three hours from Lexington made it five times. . . soapy egg flesh. . .
"These double papers he claims of withdrawal."
"Well I thought you was quitting…"
"I can’t make it.*’
"Imposible quitar eso."
Got up and fixed in the sick dawn flutes of Ramadan.
"William tu tomas más medicina?. . . No me hágas casa, William."
Casbah house in the smell of dust and we made it . . . empty eukodal boxes stacked four feet along the walls . . . dead on the surplus blankets . . .girl screaming . . . vecinos rush in…
"What did she die of?"
"I don’t know she just died."
Bill Gains in Mexico City room with his douche bag and his stash of codeine pills powdered in a bicarbonate can. "I’ll just say I suffer from indigestion." coffee and blood spilled all over the place, cigarette holes in the pink blanket… The Consul would give me no information other than place of burial in The American Cemetery.
"Broke? Have you no pride? Go to your Consul." He gave me an alarm clock ran for a year after his death.
Leif repatriated by the Danish, freight boat out of Casa for Copenhagen sank off England with all hands. Remember my medium of distant fingers?—
"What did she die of?"
"Some things I find myself."
The Sailor went wrong in the end. hanged to a cell door by his principals: "Some things I find myself doing I’ll pack in is all."
Bread knife in the heart. . .rub and die. . .repatriated by a morphine script. . .those out of Casa for Copenhagen on special yellow note . . .
"All hands broke? Have you no pride?" Alarm clock ran for a year. "He just sit down on the curb and die." Esperanza told me on Nino Perdido and we cashed a morphine script, those Mexican Nar. scripts on special yellow bank-note paper. . .like a thousand dollar bill . . .or a Dishonorable Discharge from the US Army. . . And fixed in the cubicle room you reach by climbing this ladder.
Yesterday call flutes of Ramadan: "No me hágas casa."
Blood spill over shirts and light, theAmerican trailing in form. . . He went to Madrid. This frantic Cuban fruit finds Kiki with a novia and stabs him with a kitchen knife in the heart. (Girl screaming. Enter the nabors.)
"Quédase con su medicina, William."
Half bottle of Fundador after half cure in the Jew Hospital, shots of demerol by candlelight. They turned off the lights and water. Paper-like dust we made it. Empty walls. Look anywhere. No good. No bueno.
He went to Madrid. . . Alarm clock ran for yesterday. . . "No me hágas casa." Dead on arrival. . . you might say at the Jew Hospital. . . blood spilled over the American. . . trailing lights and water. . . The Sailor went so wrong somewhere in that grey flesh . . . He just sit down on zero . . . I nodded on Niño Perdido his coffee over three hours late . . . They all went away and sent papers. . . The Dead Man write for you like a major, . . Enter vecinos. . . Freight boat smell of rectal mucus went down off England with all dawn smell of distant fingers. . . About this time I went to your Consul. He gave me a Mexican after his death . . . Five times of dust we made it, . . with soap bubbles of withdrawal crossed by a thousand junky nights. . . Soon after the half maps came in by candlelight. . . OCCUPY. . . Junk lines falling. . . Stay off. . . Bill Gains in the Yellow Sickness. . . Looking at dirty pictures casual as a ceiling fan short-timing the dawn we made it in the corn smell of rectal mucus and carbolic soap. . . familiar face maybe from the vacant lot. . . trailing tubes and wires. . . "You fucking-can’t-wait-hungry-junkies! . . ." Burial in the American Cemetery. "Quédase con su medicina. . " On Niño Perdido the girl screaming. . . They all went way through Casbah House. . . "Couldn’t you write me any better than that? Gone away. . . You can look any place."
No good. No Bueno.
You wouldn’t believe how hot things were when I left the States—I knew this one pusher wouldn’t carry any shit on his person just shoot it in the line—Ten twenty grains over and above his own absorption according to the route he was servicing and piss it out in bottles for his customers so if the heat came up on them they cop out as degenerates—So Doc Benway assessed the situation and came up with this brain child—
"Once in the Upper Baboonasshole I was stung by a scorpion—the sensation is not dissimilar to a fix— Hummm."
So he imports this special breed of scorpions and feeds them on metal meal and the scorpions turned a phosphorescent blue color and sort of hummed. "Now we must find a worthy vessel," he said—So we flush out this old goof ball artist and put the scorpion to him and he turned sort of blue and you could see he was fixed right to metal—These scorpions could travel on a radar beam and service the clients after Doc copped for the bread—It was agood thing while it lasted and the heat couldn’t touch us—However all these scorpion junkies began to glow in the dark and if they didn’t score on the hour metamorphosed into scorpions straight away—So there was a spot of bother and we had to move on disguised as young junkies on the way to Lexington—Bill and Johnny we sorted out the names but they keep changing like one day I would wake up as Bill the next day as Johnny—So there we are in the train compartment shivering junk sick our eyes watering and burning.