Was Robert E Lee overrated

William S. Burroughs

William Seward Burroughs (Born February 5, 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri, † August 2, 1997 in Lawrence, Kansas) was an American writer, essayist, social philosopher and artist. He is often assigned to the beat generation.

1 life

1.1 family

It spells out William S. Burroughs to distinguish it from his grandfather William Seward Burroughs, the founder of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, from which the Burroughs Corporation later emerged. His mother, Laura Hammon Lee (1888-1970) was the daughter of a pastor whose family descended from Civil War General Robert Edward Lee. His father, Mortimer Perry Burroughs, owned an antique and gift shop in St. Louis and later in Palm Beach, Florida.

1.2 Youth

Burroughs attended the John Burroughs School in St. Louis and the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico. He discovered his homosexual tendencies and described them in his diaries. He hid his sexual orientation from his surroundings into adulthood. After taking the sleeping pill chloral hydrate with some of his classmates and being caught, he had to leave Los Alamos and eventually finished high school at Taylor School in St. Louis.

Burroughs attended Harvard University from 1932, where he studied general semantics and medicine with Alfred Korzybski, among others. He graduated in 1936. It was in New York that he first encountered the gay subculture. Together with a friend, Richard Stern, he explored the gay scene of the time in the bars of Harlem and Greenwich Village. In addition, he developed a fascination for firearms and self-defense - he almost accidentally shot his friend Stern once.

1.3 Europe and Harvard again

After Harvard, Burroughs traveled through Europe, where he got to know the homosexual subculture and artist scene, especially in Austria. There he also met Ilse Klapper, a Jew who had fled from the National Socialists. Although they were not in love, they got married in Croatia so that Klapper could get a visa for the USA. They later divorced in the United States, but remained friends for many years.

At Harvard, Burroughs enrolled in postgraduate anthropology. For a short time he also studied at the medical faculty of the University of Vienna. The US Army wanted Burroughs to move in in 1941, but he was retired for psychological reasons. He went to New York and met his future friends Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who later became known as the authors of the Beat Generation.

In Junkie's prologue, Burroughs summarized his university experience: “I hated the University and I hated the town it was in. Everything about the place was dead. The University was a fake English setup taken over by the graduates of fake English public schools. "

1.4 First addiction to morphine

Burroughs had lived with Joan Vollmer Adams since 1944 in a New York apartment that they shared with Kerouac and his first wife Edie Parker. Vollmer Adams was married to a GI and also had a young daughter with him, Julie Adams.

Kerouac and Burroughs came into conflict with the law for failing to report a murder. Burroughs became addicted to morphine and began dealing heroin in Greenwich to pay for his addiction. He processed these experiences in the autobiographical novel "Junkie".

Vollmer also became addicted to drugs. She divorced in 1945 and married Burroughs a year later. After spending some time with his parents, he returned to New York, brought Vollmer out of the mental health department at Bellevue Hospital, and moved her and her daughter to a farm in Texas. Their son, William S. Burroughs Jr. was born there in 1947. After that, the family lived in New Orleans for a short time.

1.5 Mexico

Burroughs grew marijuana on his farm in Texas. The police found out about this when they intercepted a letter from him to Ginsberg in which Burroughs mentioned a delivery. To avoid jail time, the family fled to Mexico with plans to stay there for five years until the offenses were statute-barred.

On September 6, 1951, Burroughs accidentally shot his wife in Mexico City while he was drunk and tried to recreate the apple scene from Schiller's drama Wilhelm Tell. In the investigation that was opened, the crime was found to be an accident and Burroughs only spent a fortnight in prison. But he had to leave Mexico in 1952. Vollmer's daughter came to live with her grandmother and Burrough's son with his parents in St. Louis. Burroughs' son had been an eyewitness to the accident, and after he later also became a writer, he processed this experience in his works.

1.6 South America

After Vollmer's death, Burroughs traveled through South America in search of a magical drug called "yage," which was later identified as ayahuasca. He promised himself to relieve his dependence on opiates, but also new spiritual experiences. He wrote two novels during this time: In Junkie he dealt with heroin addiction and in Queer his homosexuality; both texts were published as dime novels and only later received literary attention. He summarized his correspondence with Ginsberg during his search for Yage in The Yage Letters. The novel Junkie was published in 1953 under the pseudonym William Lee, the other two works were published in 1963 and 1985, respectively.

1.7 Europe and naked lunch

Burroughs traveled from South America to Europe, including London, where he fought his addiction with the help of doctor John Dent, to Paris, where he began collecting notes for naked lunches in the “Beat Hotel”, and to Tangier in Morocco.

He first referred to his collection of material as The Word Hoard, and together with Ginsberg and Kerouac he edited the individual episodes of the novel Naked Lunch. The rest of the writings later became the Nova trilogy: The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express.

Unlike the previous novels, the Nova Trilogy was written in a new technique called the "cut-up" technique ("cut-up", American English for "snippets", "notepad"). Manuscript pages were cut into small pieces of paper and rearranged without a precise plan. This gave rise to an associative narrative structure that Burroughs developed further in later novels. The reader can go into any part of the book and let the text develop from there. Thanks to the cut-up technique and any entry into the work, each reader interprets the novel differently and has a different perspective on the narrative progression.

Naked Lunch was published in 1959. From its publication, the novel became part of the burgeoning counterculture in the 1960s. Publication has been banned in several US states. Massachusetts began banning it for profanity, such as the steel dildo described in the novel (which gave the 1970s rock band Steely Dan). However, in 1966 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that naked lunch was not obscene.

David Cronenberg processed the creation of the novel in the 1991 film Naked Lunch.

In the early 1960s Burroughs moved to London, where he wrote for small underground magazines. He was also working on a manuscript that would later appear in two parts as The Wild Boys and Port of Saints. He was in contact with like-minded writers (Alexander Trocchi and Jeff Nuttall).

1.8 New York and Electronic Revolution

With Ginsberg's help, Burroughs found a job as a creative writing teacher at New York City College. He came into contact with Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Susan Sontag, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern and Mick Jagger.

In 1971, Burroughs published Electronic Revolution, a mixture of fact, fiction, and predictions about the future impact of electronics development on society. Even if the text does not deal with digital technology, many literary critics consider it an early, prophetic, but also warning reference to the digital revolution that will begin a decade later.

In Electronic Revolution, Burroughs mentioned Scientology, and later briefly became a member of the organization. His ongoing criticism and a review of the book "Inside Scientology" by Robert Kaufman led to a correspondence between Burroughs and Scientologists, which was published in the American Rolling Stone magazine.

1.9 Late popularity

Burroughs became a pop culture icon in the 1980s and 1990s. A number of popular artists, especially from the New York scene, cited Burroughs as an important inspiration. He worked with Laurie Anderson and appeared in films such as Gus Van Sant's drugstore Cowboy. In 1990, the play The Black Rider emerged from the collaboration with the director Robert Wilson and the musician Tom Waits.

During these years Burroughs also appeared as a spoken word performer, who reached old and new audiences with his deep voice and slow, programmatic sentences. Many audio recordings of his works and conversations were made. He also worked with the rock musician Kurt Cobain, who played guitar for his work The Priest They Called Him.

In old age William S. Burroughs lived in Lawrence, Kansas. He participated in a methadone program and was lovingly devoted to his cats. On August 2, 1997, at the age of 83, he died at his home in the aftermath of a heart attack.

1.10 Rating

Some critics call him the most important American writer of the second half of the 20th century. Others consider his works to be overrated from a literary point of view. Burroughs' place in the development of pop culture and postmodern literature, however, is undisputed in literary studies.

2 works

3 literature

4 web links

William S. Burroughs link collection on the Hamburg education server