[William S Burroughs signing copies of The Western Lands at the Bunker, New York City, December 1987. Photo: Allen Ginsberg]
William Burroughs 1976 Q & A continuing from yesterday
Student: I read an interview with you once in Rat magazine, where you said that nothing happens unless it’s written, and I was wondering if you meant that seriously, and how that fits in to this whole notion of a pre-recorded universe?
WSB: Yes, I meant it seriously, to some extent. When the Arabs say mektoub, (it is written), they mean just that, that, according to their concept of fate, it’s all written somewhere.
Student: When we’re writing things, we’re making things happen?
WSB: Indeed we are. Yes. Didn’t (Karl) Marx make quite a lot happen? – Yes?
Student: And conversely that nothing happens unless somebody wrote it somewhere?
WSB: I would say nothing happens unless somebody, or some force, intended it to happen, that will is what makes things happen. that of course is the magical conception of the universe – that nothing happens unless someone, some entity, some force, wills it to happen. And you don’t… You’re made of much the same material as this table, but you move, right? – well, something moved you – I mean this table doesn’t move of itself and neither do you. And what moves you is your will , or a will, whatever it is (an) entity.
WSB: Well, yes. I always write down my dreams. I keep a pad and pencil on a table, by the bed, on a table by the bed, and that’s the best way I think, because if you don’t write them down you’ll often forget them. Now there seems to be some kind of a difference between the..brain..the memory traces of dreams and say the memory traces of waking events, because I have woken up – I wake up and I’m too lazy to get up and write it down (it’s cold, maybe) .So, I’ll go over it five times in my head and I couldn’t possibly forget it and I wake up in the morning and it’s gone! – Now that would never happen with a waking event. Now whether it’s completely gone or whether it’s still there on some level, I don’t know, but the brain..the memory traces are not the same. But now the best way, I think, to use your dream experience is to write it down.
as someone named John Dunne (not the poet – he was a British mathematician and physicist), and he noticed that some of his dreams seemed to refer to future events, and so he started writing them down, and he recommended that if you wanted to check this you have to write them down. I’ve got quite a few future events in dreams. But I wouldn’t have got them, you know, if I hadn’t have had the record there so I could compare it (although some dreams you remember without writing them down, some you can’t forget, so it really is quite mysterious. Yeah? Allen?
WSB: No, I was simply interested in getting material for writing for a novel.
AG: Well, yeah. So the Buddhists would say there would be people who have nothing to write about (except they would also say nobody’s mind is empty, that samsaric thought is continuous, or samsaric thought might be the equivalent of what we were talking (about), what you were terming a large-scale electromagnetic dome.
WSB: Yes well. That would.. What I was talking about was that there might be, and probably are, attempts to control, in this way, through broadcasts, but that they have never been completely successful.. Yeah… well..
Student: When you achieve the state of blank mind I was wondering if there was effort involved in this, and if so it would seem that that would tend to undermine the state of ego-less-ness because something would have to be putting out this effort
WSB: No. It’s an inverse effort. The most difficult thing you can do is to do nothing (although it should be the easiest – so the easiest thing to do is the most difficult – just to do nothing)
Student: Do you attempt to quieten your mind or does it just suddenly happen?
WSB: No, you just don’t do anything.. That’s hard.
Student: So you have to wait a while for your mind to quiet then?
WSB: Well, you nay have to, and you may not. It may not quiet. But it isn’t.. it isn’t an effort. If , as soon as it’s something you’re consciously doing, then you’re not doing it. I mean, if you’re trying to impose blankness on your mind then you can’t do it.
Student: Well I’ve had that experience before, I mean, just tuning into the environment in a really intense way…
WSB: Yeah, sure.
Student: …and actually blanking out my mind and identifying with the environment and then finally coming to understand that I should give that whole idea of meditation up.
WSB: Well, sure.
WSB Well, if you have no recollection of them, you know, well, I don’t know how you can…how you can compare them, but I have pointed out that if you don’t.. if you don’t write a dream down, you will often forget it . But others, other dreams, you remember whether you write them down or not. Now, I don’t know why.Now, they may be.. the dream that you remember may be purely banal . It doesn’t have to be, you know an intense dream. So it’s just really something that I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does.
Student: …or faintly remember.
WSB: Yeah. Well, I don’t know why that is, because there doesn’t seem to be any common denominator. You could say that you remember intense dreams, or that the dreams that you forget areof a certain category, but I’ve never found that to be true. Yes?
[The Crystal Skull in the British Museum]
As to the similarity of paranoid so-called hallucinations all over the world, yes, I certainly had observed that, I’ve seen Arabs go mad and exactly the same thing – ”The American Embassy has wires in my head!” – That was a man who ran amok and killed six people a couple of days later, and the American Embassy pulled their guard in and just stayed out of it – they could’ve stopped him, they didn’t. But, as I say, he may actually have been hearing something . I don’t know if you all heard about the microwaves scandal that the… I heard about it from some people who had been there, that the Russians.. (at) the American Embassy in Russia.. people were getting sick because of some sort of microwave surveillance that the Russians were carrying on. So we can’t just assume that this man was not hearing something (and the same is true of any psychotic patient). Okay, yes…. [tape concludes]