Our transcription of William Burroughs’ 1980 Naropa lectures continues from here – . Burroughs on Conrad.
WSB: An Outcast of the Islands – how many of you have read it? That was, I believe, his second book, No-one? – [surveys the class] – No-one has read it. It’s.. the characters.. there’s nobody comparable to Jim [in Lord Jim], everyone’s more simplified, much more simple characters in that book, and the emphasis seems to be on the sets more than on the characters, but it’d make a good film, because it is essentially a novel of rather simple corruption – that this character Wilhelms has.. falls in love with this girl which completely , well, ruins him, he just deteriorates
Under Western Eyes. How many of you have read that, by (Joseph) Conrad? – Under Western Eyes, yes. That, I think is a very good book, and would make, I think, an excellent film. I would..I will talk more about that in the next lecture when I have my copy which is being brought in from Kansas (my assistant is bringing it in with him, I couldn’t get a copy in Boulder here)., but there is a book that I think would make an excellent film. It has..it is film material, whereas I don’t think Lord Jim is. It was not a.. it was very unsuccessful, when it first came out (I mean, unsuccessful, from the point of view of sales and critics). But there’s.. there’s a superb passage in there, that.. the interview of Councillor Mikulin and Razumov, and there’s a great passage in Lord Jim here. (I’m assembling just passages that I think are particularly good (on this whole list) and this would be…this passage of the French naval lieutenant, describing his experience when he boarded the ship and so on is, would be, certainly one of those passages. Let me find that…). And he, in a way, seems similar to Mikulin, Councillor Mikulin in Under Western Eyes. He has the same trick of leaving a sentence unfinished, or conveying something just by his… without moving, or just by the flicker of an eyelid.
Let me see about this. oh yeah.. oh. [Burroughs quotes from Conrad’s Lord Jim] – “”Because, mind you (notez bien), all the time…” – (I’m telling you, this is the French gunboat that found the Patna, which didn’t sink, and towed it ashore) – “all the time of towing, we had two quartermasters stationed with axes by the hawsers to cut us clear of our tow in case she….” – and – “He fluttered down with his heavy eyelids making his meaning as plain as possible…” (Councillor Mikulin has that same trick of leaving a sentence unfinished and so looking down for a moment).
And this is just an extremely fine passage, with the French, the translations of the French, and the way that he puts his finger on the essence of this affair – “That’s it. That is it.”… “And so that poor young man ran away along with the others”.
And then he has some things to say about fear and the way everybody experiences it. It’s just the way of, you know, putting on a good face, and people around you, (that) enables most people to overcome that fear. He said “Man is born a coward”. (L’homme est ne poltron) – “It is a difficulty (- parbleu)” And then he said, “It would be too easy other vise”. – (That’s) very interesting. So.. “habit -habit – necessity” (and) “the eyes of others”. And then Marlow says, “That young man – you will observe – had none of these inducements – at least at the moment”, that he was completely alone, and the skipper and the other officers were busy trying to launch the boat,
There are some very funny passages in this, actually, particularly when they ..well, let’s see, there’s the third engineer and the second engineer and the chief and the skipper all trying to launch this boat. and they’re having all sorts of difficulties, and the skipper refuses to get under the ship to try to get it loose. He says, “I am too thick”, and then the second engineer has to go down to get a hammer, and they finally do get the boat off. And there’s also some scenes in the boat (that) are really very funny. It’s not generally considered to be a funny book, but I think it is, and also…yeah.. those sections are very funny indeed.
And there are also some quite funny sections in The Great Gatsby, mostly those involving Buchanan (that is, the party, and some of his dinner talk). He is.. Buchanan himself is, quite a comic character (although he doesn’t think of himself in those terms)
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-two minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-nine minutes in]