William Burroughs – 1975 – 4 (Q & A)

William Burroughs – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

William Burroughs Q & A continued from yesterday

WSB: Speaking about the – where is my reference here? – about the whole matter of the Surrealist movement. which is, in a sense, some of the ideas were already there. The Surrealists actually got their start with Anatole France. At the time of his death, he was the most reveresd old man of letters in France and a member of the Académie française and the d’honneur and the lot. And at his funeral, the Surrealists distributed a scurillous pamphlet called Un Cadavre ( A Corpse) and covering the coffin of Anatole France with vile abuse. Now Brion (Gysin) and I considered doing something similar but we couldn’t find a suitable target. (Albert) Schweitzer seemed to be a sitting duck, and there was of course the English Royal family, but I didn’t want to get thrown out of England just then. But I decided, we both decided, that we weren’t really interested to start a literary movement in the French tradition and make a movement out of what is simply a technique (because these movements can absorb all of one’s time).Andre Breton used to reply to and write twenty abusive letters a day. Starting such a movement is basically pretty simple, First you draw up a manifesto and have five or six charter members, and then with your manifesto and charter members, the next step is to round up some co-pants Now co-pants are your rank-and-file supporters and these can be had for free drinks and small services of one sort or another. And these are your storm-troopers, your street-fighters, and they distribute pamphlets in the street, pack your meetings, shout-down hecklers, and heckle and harrass your opponents. And then the next step is usually to get rid of the old charter members, the old Bolsheviks, and concentrate power in the hands of one, or at most two or three people. See, Andre Breton finally became the undisputed leader of the movement and he expelled most of the old charter members, Tristan Tzara was expelled and a number of others. We decided we didn’t have time for these power games and the twenty abusive letters a day, so we passed the deal up. That’s something very French, the very definite movement with a very definite manifesto and a definite position which is put down by the leaders of the movement.  Any…any further questions relative to..  yeah?

Tristan Tzara (1896-1963)

Q: I wondered if you’d know where there’s any works of, by or about Tristan Tzara, I’ve never been able to find them.

WSB: I don’t know. Now he was..he was still alive when I was in Paris in 1959, and I think Gregory (Corso) knew him, but he was very much.. he was very..in very bad shape, I mean, he was…he didn’t have any money, he was also quite ill. Yeah, there are some works by him but I don’t believe that I’ve see them
Anne Waldman : There’s a book published in England, I think, translated by Lee Harwood of Tristan Tzara works [Chansons Dada – Selected Poems subsequently republished in the US by Black Widow Press] – and there’s some Surrealist anthologies that I know of, one edited by Robert Motherwell (The Dada Painters and Poets), published by Wittenborn, [now published by Harvard University Press], which probably isn’t readily available but you might find it in the library. It has some of his manifestos and experiments. I would look in Surrealist anthologies, I mean, that woould be the most accessible.
Student: I’ve got a translation of Andre Breton’s manifesto.
WSB: There’s plenty by Andre Breton available. He’s written quite a lot and published quite a lot. Yeah. Further..further questions?

Well I was speaking of these various methods of contacting the unconscious, the creative process, and of course another way is through dreams. I get, I think about, well, a good forty percent of my material comes from dreams, (I) get characters, sets, etcetera, and I find it useful of course to write the dreams down. You have to write them down or you will forget them often. There is some basic difference between the brain traces left by a dream and the brain traces left by a waking experience because, I’ve, for example, woken up from a dream, run through it five times in my mind (in other words, I didn’t want to get up for some reason or another, it was cold, or something) and forgotten it completely the next day. So the actual memory traces are somehow different, and the quicker you write it down the more likely you are to remember it. But, I find that doing this over a period of years, that this sets up a feedback between writing and dreaming, so that I will dream about what I am writing about, naturally. And, of course, many mathematicians have solved formulas in dreams and inventors have gotten ideas and so forth. I find it a very.. for my own purposes, a very useful avenue for creation, and I’ve also.. sometimes in a dream I’ll find a book and read, read a book, and then the next day, all I have to do is to sit down and transcribe it. In other words, I’ve read a whole story, which I just have to write the next day. That’s the… It doesn’t happen so often but it’s certainly the easy way to do it! – But, I think that dreams are very helpful for writing. Yeah.

Michel Jouvet

Well here’s something interesting on the whole matter of dreams that I found a couple of years ago in the London Times, called “The Mechanism of Dreams”. This is someone, a professor named  (Michel) Jouvet in experimental medecine at the University of Lyon. Now here’s the..there are two very interesting facts  here.  One is the difference between the animals and the people who do or do not dream.. For example, “cold-blooded animals like fish and reptiles do not dream but warm-blooded ones like mammals and birds do” – Now that’s just something I didn’t know. I suppose it’s accurate, although I don’t know to what extent. I mean, to check out of course, all the species of reptiles and transitional forms like duckbill platypus etcetera, would take an awful lot of time and an awful lot of money, but I suppose he has evidence for that.  Now, this fact gave Jouvet his first clues towards the theory of dreaming. Sleep, we know, rests the thinking brain and recharges the batteries needed for mental effort. To Jouvet, it seemed dreaming does the same for our instinctive activities like walking, feeding, aggression,and so on. (Well, he’s falling right in to the either/or error of Korzybski – as I say, if you read Korzybski, you’ll see that coming up again and again, and here is a scientist, a biologist, who should know better, that any action or activity, including dreaming, is always both instinctive andintellectual – I mean, if you’re walking, your cerebral cortex is also being used to avoid obstacles and get you where you’re going, so you can’t say that walking is a purely instinctive activity.

But this is the other interesting fact here – Now another factor that puzzled neurophysiologists but has been sorted out by Jouvet was that during dreaming the electrical activity in the brain is exactly the same as during waking, even the nerve fibers governing movement behave normally when we don’t move (that is ordinarily don’t, of course some people walk in their sleep). Somewhere in the brain therefore there has to be a structure which inhibits the movement that should result from the electrical activity. No-one knew what this was until Jouvet remembered the difference in dreaming between warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals (This is another interesting fact, but not a new one) – Now, in cold-blooded animals, the nervous tissue of the brain can regenerate itself when injured, (but) whereas in people and any warm-blooded animal it doesn’t. (In other words, if you cut.. if you cut down through a nerve, it will never heal, but in a fish or in a reptile it will – If you cut into the brain of an alligator it would heal up, just like flesh  (if it didn’t, if that didn’t actually kill him). I mean, their neural tissue renews itself – except, that is, for a small piece at the back of the brain that warm-blooded animals call the pns This is similar to the brain tissue of cold-blooded animals. And so Jouvet reasoned that the pns may play some part in determining dreams, and he removed the pns from cats and the animals acted quite normally, when awake and when asleep and not dreaming. But the minute they started to dream, they began to move around  and then, as Jouvet points out, their dreams were always instinctive ones. They fight and defend themselves, eat, play and so on just as they do when they’re awake. As I say, all those activities are both instinctive and also involve the cerebral cortex of the cat.Very very interesting of course but no data on human subjects, unless.. Of course, there might be a possibility that someone might have their pns damaged in an accident because it’s right in the middle of the brain – it’s right [Burroughs points] you see it’s right there

Student: There have been studies..
WSB: Pardon?
Student: There have been studies of that
WSB: Have there?
Student: Yes , the part of the brain, I think it’s called the..  I always forget the name of it  but the part that connects the right and left hemispheres.
Student 2: Reticular formation – >corpus callosum.
Student: Corpus callosum, that’s it,  and they have done various experiments, a series of experiments, one, a series of experiments, with a woman who was born without a corpus callosum (or it was) damaged and with all sorts of…
WSB: Well, did… What about this matter of acting out dreams, was that.. did that happen?
Student: Not that I’m aware of, but there were things when the corpus callosum wasn’t functioning – things were specific, things were either, you know, left hemisphere or right hemisphere, you know, either poetic or prose and they did not combine.
WSB: Yeah, because what he’s saying here is that this part, which is similar to the brain tissue of a reptile or a fish, which will renew itself, is what keeps people from moving around ordinarily in sleep, or keeps any animal from moving around in sleep, There’s a lot of questions here that you’d want to ask that he says nothing about. For example, the cat is moving around, lapping milk off the floor, imaginary milk, would it react to actual milk?
or would it avoid obstacles? – all those questions he just doesn’t go into. Any questions on this material here?
There’s a.. It would seem also, though there are hardly any experiments that I know of that have been done on putting fish and reptiles through mazes (they’ve done it with planarian worms but I don’t know of any experiments with reptiles or amphibians). Does anyone know of any experiments along those lines? They’ve done it of course with rats  – rats and dogs and so on –  just any number of these experiments. And also, all animals can be made as neurotic as human beings by a maze, just by shifting the signals around until they exhibit all the symptoms of schizophrenia as they cower in a corner and won’t move. But I don’t know any similar experiments with fish and amphibians and reptiles – whether you could produce a neurotic alligator or not. It would seem though that, if their neural tissue renews itself, that such a trauma wouldn’t last as long. In other words, that they would… a trauma would just heal like a cut.

Q: I heard somewhere that with ants, that they had caused ants to break down or whatever by changing a maze, that they’d done that.
WSB: That’s interesting, yeah . But, I just don’t know of any experiments on fish or reptiles. And of course they could, they could learn a maze (they’re certainly as intelligent as planarian worms – I know they put planarian worms through mazes). And to whether they could be made psychotic or neurotic, I don’t know. It’d be certainly interesting to try.
Another thing, another experiment I would like to see performed is to whether reptiles and  fish can be addicted to morphine, because  all animals can (except cats, who are allergic to it – they just climb the walls, they’d die before they became addicted, – but pigs, monkeys, dogs, rabbits, have all been addicted, show exactly the same symptoms, withdrawal symptoms, as people, and when they see the man with the syringe, they rush up, and the monkeys stick their arms out of the cage, the pigs rush up, grunting and squealing, and..

Q: Are there any alchemical reason given for the allergic reaction of cats?
WSB: I think the reason suggested was that the histamine content of their blood is very low, the histamin content of their blood is very low, and histamine, to some extent, counteracts the effects of morphine, because rabbits, who have a very high concentration of histamine in their blood, can take huge doses of morphine, relative to their size, that is about four or five times as much as a person could.
Now that may be it. I don’t know whether that explanation is adequate or not, but it is a fact that they are allergic to it and therefore can’t be addicted. Yeah?

Q: I was wondering, in the back of Naked Lunch, you had the..you said there was one drug that was successfully able to bring addicts down from withdrawal, like, it would, you know, like quench the need, but, I remember that you said that the drug was illegal in the United States
WSB: Yes, that was apomorphine, it is apomorphine. It’s not illegal, it’s on the same.. subject to the same regulations as morphine itself (although it has absolutely no addictive properties whatever. (And) above a certain dosage it has emetic properties, but no-one can be addicted to apomorphine. What it does is re-regulate the metabolism so that you don’t need something that you’ve been addicted to, whether it’s morphine (it works with morphine), alcohol, barbiturates..
Q:  (Why isn’t it legalized?)
WSB: Well,they’re not interested in solving the problem of curing addicts because it’s too much of a big business. I mean, look at the billions of dollars. The Drug Enforcement Agency alone (which is of course just about to fold up, they’ll be another one) had an appropriation of a billion dollars a year, and plus all the limitless opportunities for graft and the Mafia and everything – it’s a big industry. And one thing could knock it out. See, this whole industry is dependent on the addict in the streets. You don’t have any addicts, you’re not going to sell any drugs, right?  If they had a really effective cure, they would lose a lot of their business, no doubt about it. But apamorphine is on thing and another drug they don’t use here which is very helpful is something called lomotil. Well, lomotil was developed at Lexington, Kentucky, and they kept it off the market for a number of years because what it did, does, is drastically reduce the need for opiates. In other words, if  you’re accustomed to taking a grain of morphine in a shot, you can get by with a quarter of a grain if you take lomotil at the same time. Well, they kept it off the market as long as they could. Exhaustive tests showed that lomotil was quite un-addicting. It has no habit-forming properties. And they finally just released it, saying “not to be used in conjunction with any narcotics”. Well this was taken up in England and now English doctors are using it quite successfully in treating addicts.
Another thing that’s been used in England (I think they’re just taking it up here) is acupuncture (and I’ve heard varying reports on that). I’ve known people who have taken it [as a treatment], some of them say that it’s worked quite well and others said that it didn’t work at all. But certainly with a number of.. you know, if they put one tenth of the research that they put into developing new forms of morphine into curing..a cure..undoubtedly they could get a cure that was.. would be quite painless (that’s the point, people don’t want to go take a cure because it’s such an excruciating ordeal, but lots of them would if it wasn’t, I mean, if it could be relatively painless.
Q: So that works the other way with the whole CIA thing..in the opium traffic. It’s part of the whole bureaucratic mind-system there.
WSB: Yeah, well, there’s a tremendous amount of money involved.
Q: How do you spell that drug, apomorphine?
WSB: Apo.. – A-P-O – apomorphine.  Well, any further questions? – Yes?

Q: Since the discussion has shifted in this direction, I wonder if I can ask you if you are as opposed to the use of LSD as Timothy Leary reported in High Priest?
WSB: I’m not opposed to its use at all in other people. I’m in some way allergic to it. I get awful, awful reactions to it, which I think is some kind of an allergy. That’s all. If other people get something out of it, that’s certainly their business, it’s not for me.

Student: (Can you tell us something about Scientology?. How did you get interested in that?)
WSB: Oh, I studied it for about three or four months, I was interested in seeing what was going on and what they had, but I found that they.. There are some valid and interesting ideas but the whole authoritarian structure and their religion, religious aspects of it, I found really openly intolerable so I think I just couldn’t have any more connection.
Any other questions?

Student: : Do you know of any programs or institutes for something that have whatever those positive results were, which made you go in for a minute, without that authoritarian aspect..?
WSB: Yeah, yeah, there are a number of dissident sects of people who had been to Scientology, who had left Scientology, and they keep changing their names – there’s one called “The Awareness Center”, or something like that. They cut the prices and eliminated all the authoritarian aspects and give exactly the same material. They’re out in California somewhere (but) I think there are three or four of those now. I think it was “The Awareness Center”, they may have changed their name again, I don’t know, same..same material. Yes. Any further questions?-  Yes?

Student: (What advantages do you get from Scientology)?
WSB: Well, to give Mr Hubbard his due, his “enneagram” theory has been borne out. In other words, he says that what is heard in pain and unconsciousness forms an enneagram, and the people.. this is permanently recorded and hearing that will produce symptoms, and I find this in Esquire…  [tape concludes in mid-sentence]

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-five minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape

One comment

  1. These are interesting views on treatments for addiction that have not been made available by the government. Unfortunately, people continue to suffer because of their addiction to illicit drugs. Even those who are considered high-functioning addicts will struggle without the proper treatment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *