William Burroughs -1976 – 7 (Q & A)

William S Burroughs, Naropa Institute, 1985. Photo Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries/Allen Ginsberg Estate

Student: [in media res] ….maybe something like that, and then… I was given sodium pentothel, and, trying to stay alert while going under, the last thing that went was my hearing. All my other senses went before them.

WSB: Well, naturally your sight would go first.

Student: And hearing, that just kind of folded back, and hearing was the first thing that came back.

WSB: Did you remember anything from the operation?

Q: No I don’t (didn’t)

WSB: Well, it’s there, it can be recovered – Yes?

Student:  In meditation, I sometimes have the experience of getting bored with pre-recordings and they just stop because (at a certain point)…

WSB: Well, excuse me, then what happened? I mean..was there a blank, or what? – there was no words?

Student: No but just certain types of internal dialogues I would get into stopped happening for a while. Then after the meditation experience was over for a while they came back.

WSB: No, what I was interested in was the dialogue that actually does occur during meditation. See, I spoke of the fact that these voices go on all the time, and one way, certainly, to, say, to contact them is to, say, put yourself in a meditative state, to lie down and make your mind a blank, as if you were just a recording instrument, and then you will hear something, you know, that is quite surprising. I wonder if you had any experience of that sort with meditation?

Student:  You mean, like voices?

WSB: I mean, what did you actually hear when you had suspended..suspended, you say, the boring everyday internal dialogue, was there some… did you hear something else?

Student: Well, not particularly. I would get into things, like composing songs and this and that, which… they were things that would dissolve after a while.

WSB: Yeah, because I’ve had the experience, say, of sometimes just sitting and deliberately cutting sensory input, of suddenly hearing a quite inexplicable voice, or a word, which may mean something to me later. It may be something I read in the newspaper next day, a name or something.  I say, “Why did I think of that?”. And the same thing happens in dreams – Yes?

[The next question from the floor is noted as inaudible. From here on in, with assistance, the speaker is led to a microphone in the front by the stage] – 

Student: I had an interesting experience with an unconscious voice. I had stayed up all night, I was trying to get tickets for a concert, and I came back and I fell asleep in my room and a friend came in, and I got up amd I thought I was telling him about the concert (I heard my voice telling him about waiting for the tickets), and he kept making funny faces, and finally I just went like this [gesticulates] – like he wasn’t responding to me, so I went back to sleep. And later, he told me that I was telling him to go get his “golden shackle”, and I kept yelling at him to go get his golden shackle, and I said ,“I have one. Where’s yours?”, and that I heard myself telling him about waiting. And it just totally surprised me, you know.

WSB: Well did this “golden shackle” have any particular significance for you, or was it just something more or less inexplicable ?

Student: The phrase itself still has meaning for me, but I haven’t worked with it that much. I.. It’s a full phrase to me.  I was telling him   (sic – indicating his friend)

Student 2: I was scared

Student: Of course, he wasn’t responding. His responses were totally out of tune with what I was saying, you know.

WSB: No, I don’t understand. Were you still asleep or just waking up?

Student: I was sitting up in my (bed). I remember sitting up in my bed, talking to him, I was up.

WSB: Yes.

Student: But, apparently the voice that I was speaking…

WSB: Apparently, partly still-asleep.

Student: Right, right, yeah.

WSB: Yeah,  yeah, (I)  see what you mean, yeah.

Student: You know this idea that “It is written” somewhere [“Mektoub]. I did an automatic painting years ago and I just started out sort of doodling on the canvas with a big brush and didn’t have anything in mind and I came up with this painting of a sort of a giant crystal machine and it looks like it might be out somewhere on another planet . And, it didn’t have any meaning for me at the time, and I just gradually.. I didn’t even know it was..I didn’t think of it as an automatic painting, I just sort of.. I named it “Alpha Centauri”. And then, along beside this crystal machine were these sort of wraith-like forms and, it took me years before I finally came to the idea that this was really on some other planet and it was a machine that was manufacturing some kind of thought-forms and that we were sort of under its control

WSB: Well, yes, I’ve had experiences like that of something that seemed to come almost automatically, maybe writing   (I don’t draw so I don’t get much through that avenue) but which, later, has some very definite meaning, maybe   something that I will use in a story, well, I will say, ”well, that’s what this means”   now. I think we all have those experiences – Yes?

Student: Once I was in a meditation camp and I started hearing very high-pitched sounds that seemed to resemble voices and the teacher chuckled and told me that I was hearing the devas singing and to forget about it, not to attach any significance to it anyway, and I’m really surprised.. interested to hear all this discussion of psychic phenomenon because it seems like there’s a very real danger in trying to interpret them in some way, (rather than) to let them be, especially within a meditative context. I mean, people.. I mean, Joan of Arc heard voices and the Buddhists would say “Big deal. So you heard voices? Go back and sit another couple of hours, before you’re put on the stake”, or something”. It’s really.. it’s really strange to know how to work with these things without getting ego caught up in them. Do you have any feelings or thoughts or interest about this?

WSB: That’s a point where I have a very sharp disagreement with the Buddhists, because they say that everything that is, to me, material for writing, should not be paid attention to. As a writer, I do pay attention to these voices and I frequently use them. I get a voice like that and I say, “Who’s talking? What does he look like?”. I can elaborate that into a story. So if they just tell me that I shouldn’t pay any attention to these voices, I don’t pay any attention to

Student: Well, within the context of writing is one thing..

WSB: Well that’s the context that I’m talking about here

Student: But you don’t attach yourself to them and get caught up in them?

WSB: I use them. I use them in writing. Now, listen, I don’t know what you mean by “attach myself “ to them, I get caught up in them, I elaborate from them, or.. use them in some way..

[Student/Technician interrupts -“If we can pause for a moment, we’ve got some trouble with the…” WSB: “Excuse me, we’ve got some technical difficulties here” (a brief delay, and then Q and A resumes]

Student: I’ve noticed during extended periods of not having sleep that the phrase, “peanut butter alligator underground kindergarten spider”! …

WSB: “Kindergarten….” – What was that last again?

Student: “Peanut butter alligator underground kindergarten spider”…

WSB: “Kindergarten fighter”? – that is, a fighter in kindergarten? – Is that what it means?

Student: I don’t know

Student 2: “Spider”

WSB: Oh “Spider”. I thought you said “fighter”.

Student: And it’s continued, for, like, a period of years, and, I’ve begun to relax around it, but I find that..

Student 2: You ought to start using it as a mantra?

Student: No, I’ve tried using it as a mantra but.. I’m wondering whether it’s there all the time and whether, if I enter a state of mind in which either the voice itself is slower than I usually hear, or faster. that that’s when it’s.. it’s main access to my hearing (actually).

WSB: Well, it’s not something we know a great deal about. We know we have all these voices stored on tape, and they’re there, and then they can be activated to replay by various factors. So, they’re there, but they may not be playing back.

Student: I’m also interested in..what’s your definition of a psychosis? ..or what..where is that point where a psychotic would hear a pre-recorded voice whereas a person in some form of sanity. isn’t..

WSB: I don’t think there’s any line at all, The only line is that a psychotic maybe completely unable to deal with the real context. I mean, they can’t get around, they can’t get themselves across the street, that sort of thing.

Student: So the pre-recorded is not heard as a pre-recording but as some kind of message or order?

WSB: Yeah. They think that the voices are objective. As I said, they may well be objective, and I think we all hear voices all the time. But they.. I think it’s a sort of confusion of levels of reality really. Yes?

Student:  Your concept in the Naked Lunch on the sender turned my head around completely and I’ve been fascinated by the idea for years and it keeps coming back to me.And on a recent visit to Mexico I saw the great symmetrical lay-out of places like Chichen Itza, Uxmal Palenque,and so forth. Could you tell us something about.. (and now that you’re talking about voices and so forth so this sort of ties in with this). Is there.. was there some way that they were actually.. at least they considered that they were working with..sending out ideas that.. I wasn’t sure if this was all fact or fiction when you were talking about the sender principle.

WSB: No, I think this happens all the time, that people are sending (with varying degrees of effectiveness). Now what..after all, what is the salesman saying? – “Buy my product, buy my product”. He is trying to send something into the mind of the client. So this happens all the time. Now.. But we could easily conceive of a group of people who were sending voices to a whole population (let’s say, with such equipment as I have described, that is the electromagnetic broadcast which produces voices in the mind)

Student: Do you see those temples that they’re built in the Mayan area of Southern Mexico as.. Were those utilized as some form of energy accumulator and dispenser?

WSB: They might well have been. There’s a lot been written on pyramids lately. There are several interesting books on the psychic energies created by pyramids and by people meditating in pyramids, so that may well be a very important factor.

Student: How did you get..come across, or get turned on to, this idea of the sender? For one person who would be, say, in a tower, and..

WSB: Well it could be one person, or any number. Well, from studying the Mayan civilization, the fact that about.. the priests consisted of about one percent of the population, and they really seemed to keep ninety-nine percent working. Much of the work, as far as they were concerned,(it wasn’t (for) food, it was building these these temples), without any formal police apparatus. So I said, Well they must have used some sort of psychological control..

Student: Thank you

WSB: Yeah

Student: Given your disagreement with Buddhists about voices, I’m trying to somehow put that together with what you said about the writer’s own source and some notion of originality as the least interesting part of writing. What I’m curious about, then, is your conception of ego and where that fits in to those voices that one might transcribe.

WSB: Well, I think that in order to receive the voices, you have to suspend, should we say, the everyday, sort of defensive internal dialogue. So you do achieve a state which is more or less egolessness in order to receive the voices.

Student: What’s the difference between those voices, I mean the internal dialogue and the voices? I mean how do you discriminate that?

WSB: You don’t.

Student: You don’t?

WSB: You don’t.

Student: You just get it out?

WSB: Yes,I mean I don’t think there is any short line at all. You don’t know how much of what you’re hearing is objective or subjective. It’s mixed, highly mixed..

Student: That has something to do with some difficulty I had Tuesday [sic] with somehow putting together some notion of spontaneous poetics and notions like “first words, best words” (sic) with doing the montages of the cut-ups, as opposed to just getting the stuff out on paper – you hear the voices (even if it’s from an ego-less place) and you put it down on paper. It seems like there’s as much problem with ego in contriving and manipulating pieces of paper as there might be trying to figure out which voices are defenses and which ones are the real thing.

WSB: Well you don’t have to figure it out. It.. they’re all.. they’re all mixed. It’s a question of what is usable for your artistic purposes. But by actually cutting up and rearranging, you get arbitrary combinations, you see, that keep you from contriving too much. You’re faced by something that has actually happened, been created from the actual cut-up, and I think that’s a very valuable exercise. I mean it’s similar to an artist testing colors on his palette, saying “What does this look like? Let’s stir it around, (and) see what we get”

Student: I think it’s pretty evident that telepathy is a fact and, perhaps, the first point that one ought to make is that the tape-recorders which have picked up voices ought to be analyzed. There might just be something electronically in there which we have been looking for, in fact, to pick up thoughts. What worries me is, basically, the idea of pre-determination which came up. Either everything is pre-determined or nothing is pre-determined, (which is really basically the same thing). If we assume that all thoughts. of course, are recorded in a computer. If these thoughts are, in fact, sent out..humanity, I think, is quite sufficient to form every possible thought. If this can be picked up (which I think it can) then I think the idea of predetermination would be automatic, because every possible thought is then somewhere available. It could be, of course, that this is universal, but I don’t think the idea, the fascinating idea that if you would change the pattern of a hundred billion thoughts floating around and being constantly available that this would change our future by cutting up these un-cut-able energies.. I have difficulties understanding what you mean

WSB: Well, I don’t think that we have un-cut-able energies, and that, as I say, I’ve illustrated that any..any data, once it is out in front of people, loses is power, to some extent. Nor was I saying that I believe in a pre-recorded universe. I think it has been often tried but it is sort of the goal of many control machines to predetermine, to predict by control and control by predicting. Whether it’s ever been actually.. I don’t think it’s ever been actually complete. It’s just a, should we say, an ideal towards which control machines will tend to strive.

Student: I’m a painter and I’ve been using the cut-up technique in my painting. I’ll do a painting of, say, stripes, and then cut it into strips and reassemble it, and I find it’s remarkable the possibilities that are offered by this method

WSB: Yes. As Brion (Gysin) said, “Writing is fifty years behind painting”. And if you use these methods that have been used by painters for tso long then you are accused of promulgating a cult of unintelligibility. No one paints cows in the grass anymore but best-sellers are still, basically, cows in the grass, that is, it’s purely representational narrative. Let’s see.. yeah?

Student: Have you ever done the following experiment with the typewriter – just typed out random letters for a period of time, and then come out with.. you find that you come out with words ..and done anything with that? If you have, did you come up with anything particularly interesting that you’d like to relate, or whatever?

WSB: No, I’ve never gotten much results that way, and I’ve never been able to do, any, should we say, automatic writing in the strictest sense (I’ve never had my hand write something automatically, and I find the same on the typewriter) . And I don’t say it can’t be done, (just) I’ve never done it.

to be continued

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-nine-and-a-half  minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-one minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.