William S. Burroughs is a challenging figure in American literature, especially fringe literature. Key to the Beats, but not a part of it; key to drug culture, but not really a part of it; key to gay culture, but not really part of it. This book of interviews is as challenging and confusing as the man himself.
Scattered throughout, there are little bits of genius. Burroughs has some interesting ideas, and sometimes a real way with words. However, he’s also a major crank, a bitter contrarian, and fickle with his credulity. Who he trusts and who he believes seems to be based almost exclusively on who he likes, not on what they say or do. The book is sometimes repetitive, not only because some of the questions are, but because there’s a tendency to use excerpts from his preexisting writing to answer some questions, and those writings sometimes cover the same territory.
Not to be too negative on the book. Those moments, those kernels of something special are worth sifting through the whole. That’s sort of how I feel with Burroughs in general. It’s worth digging through piles of his personal bullshit, of which there appears to be no end, to reach those moments of genius. There are points when you know you’re looking at the world through totally alien eyes, seeing things in a way you normally could not. As a writer, those glimpses into and out of the other are indispensable. In fact, I can credit hearing Burroughs reading from one of his western tales when I was maybe 13 or 14, as being one of those watershed moments in my development as a writer. The way he used words, the way he made images, it wasn’t like anyone else, and it changed the way I did things, too.
He wasn’t ahead of his time. He wasn’t really of his time. He was outside of his time, a man from a parallel universe, trapped forever in ours, never able to fully integrate. In The Job, he tries to tell us about it.
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