William Burroughs – Creative Reading continues – 7

William Burroughs. Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

William Burroughs on Creative Reading continues

WSB: Any further questions?

Student: What do you think of all these codes in Lord Jim. You know, he’s writing about all these kind of unexplained code and then, at the end, he’s… he’s killed, kind of, by the native’s code, and Brierly’s suicide that’s a kind of code. I’ve been kind of wondering what Conrad was thinking when he put all these open-ended codes of conduct into the book?

WSB: Yeah, well, so he says, faith in a fixed code of conduct. Now, this seems, of course, very remote from the present time, this Victorian “codes of conduct” (and, of course, the specific codes that refer to the seamen – and Brierly says that a decent man would not behave like that to “a…cargo of old rags in bales”, that he had violated them – but, I think it goes beyond that). I don’t feel that Conrad is really talking so much about anything as simple as a fixed code of conduct (that is, you know, a seaman’s.. captain-sticking-to-the-ship, and all that sort of thing,) which, as I say, does seem awfully remote. And next, as I said, I’d like to talk about the whole concept of the anti-hero, that is the rejection of any fixed code of conduct that you find in.. oh, in picaresque novels like (Thomas Nashe’s) The Unfortunate Traveller and Celine‘s Journey to The End of the Night. But very much the whole concept of the hero is very much out of date now.

Student: Do you think it kind of illustrates the futilty of all of those, I mean, none of them really worked, you know?

WSB: Well they…. they may have worked .. for a time…. So it’s that aspect, the whole Victorian era of the nineteenth-century codes of conduct is just completly out now. Of course, that’s very important in Lord Jim, it’s not really..it’s not very important in The Great Gatsby. there doesn’t seem to be any fixed codes of conduct there, except very superficial and snobbish ideas expressed by Tom Buchanan as to how people should behave. And as I say, as to how seriously Conrad, Conrad himself, took these codes, it’s difficult to say. But I think the phrase, “he’s “one of us”, is not nearly as simple as refering to the fact that he’s, you know, a good seaman, and abides by the code of seaman, and of taking to the ship, and performing his duties, and all that sort of thing, it means something more. Nor is Jim’s code of conduct ever made very clear as to why he thinks all this is so important (but obviously he does)

Any further questions?  No? – I think we’ll disband this evening.

Student: Which project will we be discussing tomorrow?

WSB: Pardon?

Student: Which project will we be discussing tomorrow?

Oh, I’ll cover a lot.. I’ll speak briefly about Under Western Eyes, and then the whole concept of the anti-hero as opposed to the hero concept in Conrad in (the) Lord Jim and The Great Gatsby. I’ll be talking about Jane Bowles, Denton Welch, Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan by (Louis Ferdinand) Celine, and then, on Monday, I want to go through this whole list and comment on reasons for all these books being on the list . So I’ll be talking mostly about the concept of the anti-hero in the next lecture (as conceived by Jane Bowles, Denton Welch and by Celine).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-six-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape]

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