William Burroughs Creative Reading (Conrad and Fitzgerald – 3 (Q & A)

William S Burroughs at The Bunker, New York City, March 1985. Photo: Allen Ginsberg

William Burroughs on The Great Gatsby and Lord Jim continues from  here

William Burroughs – 3 – Q & A

WSB: How many of you were re-reading these two books (Lord Jim and The Great Gatsby)? Yes..How did you find that they re-read? well?

Student: I think you have to read books more than once.

WSB: You really do, you really do, yes..Well, were you.. did you..were you struck by the parallels and the similarities of the two books?

Student: (Both) the Romantic heroes?

WSB: The Romantic hero..and..well, of course, the whole matter of the dream. For example, here, it says of Gatsby, “he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen- year-old boy would be likely to invent and to this conception he was faithful to the end”, We’re not quite as clear as to just what Jim’s standards of conduct are, or what, you know, what his dream is. It’s not, of course, as definite as Gatsby’s. Gatsby had something very definite that he wanted, and Jim didn’t, apparently. And actually, of course, his final, the final denouement of Lord Jim seems to me rather pointless, there was really see no point in his going back and getting shot, that I can see, except if he, for some reason, (as Conrad says, of course, this), that he was “under a cloud”, really – but you never really find out what motivates him.

There are a number, of course,of loose ends in this book. The suicide of Brierly is.. remains very mysterious. I thought a lot about that and I can’t see any reason for it (it’s almost as if the writer was cheating a little bit there) . Does anyone have any ideas on that as to what could possibly have been..,

Student: (Is it possible ..is it possible, just, that Brierly saw that he never was  “one of us”,  and he wants to ,( felt so defensive (of Jim) that)….)

WSB: Well, well, he also jumped, jumped off the boat. But I don’t know, It is and it isn’t. It isn’t made at all clear. It’s very mysterious. But he was, yeah, he’s very concerned with Jim

Student: (And perhaps) with Marlow saying he’s “one of us”… (and) he isn’t sure if he is that..)

WSB: Yeah..well, I know they have some. a few of the reviews of Lord Jim at the end of this edition, the Pan edition, and they comment on that – the fact that Brierly’s suicide is never really, never really explained. And, of course, there’s another… People said that no one could have talked that long, that Marlow, as represented, is actually narrating all this. I don’t think that that’s necessary. I don’t think it’s necessary to think in those terms, that he was actually ..that he was actually talking.

Student: (Do you think Fitzgerald (almost forgets to get) Gatsby to die, he dies an almost fantasy-like (death and)…..)

WSB: (It) was completely sort of random. In the first place,, Wilson was the wrong man. One wonders, of course, he was in one of those inflatable rafts, why the bullet didn’t go through and sink the raft, things like that. But it just doesn’t .. The book just seems to me sort of unconvincing at the end. I was never at all convinced by Gentleman Brown, that whole incident. It just seems.. it doesn’t seem to really add up to anything. I think the same is true of the end of Gatsby

Student: You think (he took it) that it may be kind of in some way justified, that Gatsby died in the book.. (as) some kind of justification for (all his…)

WSB: Well, it seems that he would have to die . I mean, as I said, heroes, if they don’t die, well, what can you do with them? I can’t think of any other…  I just think that these deaths seem sort of fortuitous. Much more likely, you know, (that) one of Wolfsheim’s boys (would’ve..)something like that would have happened – Yes?

Student: (I don’t know if you knew that) Fitzgerald wrote that, in writing The Great Gatsby, one of his purposes was to use the same (basic) story structure that Conrad used in writing Heart of Darkness

WSB: Er..no.

Student: Yes he did, he called it, Fitzgerald said, that he called it a structure with “a dying fall”  at the end, but.. stated with the most beautiful prose at the end of the book (which, of course, is (of that kind in) Heart of Darkness). And he started  the book, partly because he wanted to use that particular structure.

WSB: That’s very interesting. So he didn’t actually mention Heart of Darkness?

Student: Yes he did, he actually said that.

WSB:  Yeah, Well, I felt sure that he must have been, must have been thoroughly conversant with Conrad’s books. That is, that’s very interesting,  No, I didn’t know that. What does he mean by..what did he mean, exactly, by a “dying fall”?

Student ( That was) just this phrase that he used in the He explained this in a statement suggested to Ernest Hemingway (to use for an ending, when he couldn’t find an ending for The Sun Also Rises). I think what he meant was, that it was not an ending in the conventional sense of an ending at that time, that things ended. It ended, but then went on and on. Like the hero diesbut it goes on, and it’s that part, as the hero dies, that, he called “‘the dying fall”…..  (and (he) did say that, specifically, he was awakened to that in (the) Heart of Darkness)

WSB: (So it wasn’t meant by) a “dying fall”  something that somebody said after.. Yeah, no, I didn’t know that he had said that and made the comparison with Heart Of Darkness.

Student: I read that in Fitzgerald’s letters. He’s writing to explain…

[“I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who developed to me, in conversation, that the dying fall was preferable to the dramatic ending under certain conditions, and I think we both got the germ of the idea from Conrad” (F.Scott Fitzgerald to John Peale Bishop,  April 7, 1934]

WSB: Yes?

Student: In your lecture, you said that both men were …

WSB: Both men were.. what? –

Student: Both Jim and Gatsby were pretty much… At the begining you were talking about synchronization...

WSB: Synchronicity.

Student: …and I think Gentleman Brown and Wilson have the same tendency, within the novel. and I think that they seem… the same mind-springs…

WSB: They do indeed, they’re this..like..well, they have quite a lot in common, both of them just seem sort of to come out of nowhere, very much so..

Student: (They seem to be examples of) extensions of awareness.

WSB: Oh, undoubtedly.

Student: Their dreams – they move away from cause-and-effect, and I find that.. I don’t know, I didn’t find it strange, I just wondered because, in Jim’s case, it’s not just life, it’s (his) dreams..  I mean, I just thought, it’s an extension, in a sense.  You know, they’re just that, just an extension of himself…

WSB: Yes, of course.

Student:  ( (And his action of) not leaving town (his reaction to that) .Even after the scene  (when) he and his partner, that one afternoon..  (he was so permanently dreaming), (he says), “No, of course, we’re going to stay here. How could I leave at this point?”.. And I thought if the characters just show up.. the cops, maybe the cops effectively finding them isn’t that important, it’s just the fact that.. (Jim) (and Gatsby) is there. There isn’t that much control. Jim didn’t have control. He didn’t have control, not to go there….)

WSB: Yeah – that’s true, of course, but of course, Gatsby had no, well, no reason to fear anything from (the narc). He didn’t know this was happening. He didn’t know about Wilson’s (being) out to get him, with a gun. Whereas, of course, Jim did know. But Wilson, Wilson, he does seem distant. He doesn’t ever convince as a character either in his..  His motivations, I mean, just seem to be completely hidden.

Student: Well, Wolfsheim…

WSB: Yeah, well both he and Brown are a little bit crazy. There’s that. Any other questions or comments on these two books? If not, we can, I’ll speak briefly about some of Conrad’s other books..

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-two minutes in]

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