William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in conversation 1991 – 1

The Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs’ conversation  Don’t Hide The Madness, so faithfully and intelligently transcribed by Steven Taylor, took place in Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, Kansas, in March 18-22 1992,  Steven informs us.

The following, tape recorded on a visit there the previous year, captures much of the same flavor, intimate engagement between old friends.

This tape was selected by the archivists at Stanford to draw attention to their extraordinary trove of Ginsberg recordings from which we’ve been (and will continue to be) systematically drawing.

The transcription follows

from May 27 1991

– After some preliminary setting-up of the recording equipment by the (also-present) James Grauerholz.  William Burroughs begins, in media res (he is speaking of Jack Kerouac)

WSB:   … he [Kerouac]  has delineated the various..  the limitations, and difficulties, (the) snares, of being a writer. I mean, he said more about the craft of writing than most people that I can think of. His idea that the first is the best to go to to get your idea – the Thomas Wolfe tradition of.. the whole idea that the writer is special, and very suspect (suspecte, in French) because he’s there, he’s there for some other reason than what he says he’s there for – to spy on someone’s else’s body.  He’s always pretending to be something that he isn’t.  There’s a tremendous falseness about a writer, a basic duplicity…

AG: Well, I wonder about that.

WB: …in that they are what they pretend to be.  (Well, I’m talking about novelists here).

AG: Yeah, right, but there’s this basic question of, you know, is there any fixed identity to begin with?

WB: No, of course there isn’t..

AG: So is a novelist..

WB: …but a novelist makes this more apparent..

AG: Yeah, okay.

WB: The idea, of course, that the “I’ is, necessarily, the novelist (it’s assumed). The “I’ is on paper as one of his characters – but not him.  Well, it is him, but someone he’s observing. It’s very much like (J.W) Dunne’s serial universe (you’ve read An Experiment With Time, of course?)

AG: Long ago. I sort of remember it.

WSB: Well, in a serial universe, you have observer one here, observer two observing observer one. However, he can see into the future because..  then there an observer.. observers to infinity, you know, of course, observers (of) observers (of) observers…

AG: So how much of that do you go through?  In other words, how much infinite regress do you put up with?

WSB: What?

AG: How much infinite regress do you put up with for practical purposes?

WSB: Well that’s… you don’t.. You don’t have to. It’s as much as, as much as occurs, as much as you need. You don’t have to think about it at all.

AG: I think, in Buddhist terms, it’s polite to consider more than three. After three it gets boring.

WSB: Oh I don’t say it gets boring. It just comes..

AG: Repetitive?

WSB:  ..incomprehensible. No not repetitive, either, because, the further out you go, the less repetition you have. Then, someone else who said a great deal, in one way, was Henry Miller “Who writes the books? – Not we who have our names on the paper on the covers”. A writer is simply someone who tunes in to certain currents, certain cosmic currents. A writer shouldn’t think too much. In other words, he’s sort of a medium and..

AG: One thing I’d..

WSB: … and the less of his ego, the less of him that’s there, (his “me”, his ego), the better. So that’s very Buddhist. In other words, a writer is a natural Buddhist in that he is striving to get himself, his ego, out of his writing. The less the ego is in there, the better.

AG: There’s also the aspect of being a spy, also. It’s, like Gelek (Rimpoche)was saying, to handle anger. As soon as you become conscious of it, it immediately becomes more transparent, (about fifty percent, or sixty percent), just the awareness of anger

WSB: Yes

AG: As soon as you become conscious of being angry – like (Jack) Kerouac said [in Mexico City Blues, 113th Chorus], “Anger/ Doesn’t like to be reminded of fits”  – As soon as you’re aware of the fit, that sort of empties it out (about.. most of it). So that the writer, in actually observing, consciously, the situation, or being..  spying, in itself, is, already, emptying the solidity out of things (a bit).

WSB: That is certainly true. Then there’s the whole thing. See, (Paul) Klee said, “Artists do not render nature, they render the visible” [editorial note – the exact quote, from 1920, in Creative Confession“Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible”] – “Art, in other words, the artist sees something that’s invisible to other people. By seeing it and putting it on paper, he makes it visible. It’s like recognition physics, nothing exists until it’s observed. So the writer is also… But I’m meaning a sensitive observer. It wouldn’t make any difference if it was observed by a cat, you see?. It has to be observed by a meaning-sensitive observer – although what you mean by “meaning-sensitive”, well that’s a hard one to pin down

AG: What is “recognition physics”?   Is that a phrase?

WSB; No! It’s something.. something that John Wheeler has.. “recognition physics” and that’s (that) nothing exists until it is observed. So I think the same is true there with the painter and the writer – that they observe something, it isn’t available for others, and by writing it and painting it then they make it available. So that that then becomes a part of general awareness.

Well, I’ve traced that many times. For example, the fact that (Paul) Cezanne was looking at a pear from here, from there, from there, from there. At first people didn’t.. couldn’t see it as a pear, but that’s the normal way of looking at a pear. You don’t stand… at one point, looking at the pear and, from a certain point, you. You walk around it, pick it up, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So, in other words, this vision then becomes…  is closer to the facts of human perception.

 

[Paul Cezanne –  Still Life With Apples and Pears c.1891 – in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York]

Life is a cut-up. As soon as you look out the window, walk down the street, your consciousness is being cut by random factors  Seemingly random. Then you realize how random is random, and you begin to see how appropriately you intersect with so-called reality, how, what you’re thinking of, you look up and see on a sign or something  (I’ve had that happen so many times).. In other words, what you see is there for you to see. It’s special for you because you see it.   It’s just as simple as that.. And people…and people say, “Oh, everything’s.. everything’s talking to me, everything means something”. They’re going to get paranoid.  That’s..  Well, of course it means something to you, because you see it, you’re aware of it.

I thought of.. five people who walk down the street, that you could have a camera in their eye, and so on.

AG: Yeah

WSB: They’d be attracted, of course, to different things, and they wouldn’t look at the same street.

AG: Right. That’d be really interesting to be able to see. Well, of course, you could supply five people with a camera..

WSB: You could easily do that.

AG: …and have them walk down the street.

WSB:  Yeah, but much more than a camera, it has to be camera that.. Well, that’s no great technical thing..

AG: Yeah. But even a camera would do it, because whatever they focused on..

WSB: Naturally.

AG:.. would be.. I mean.. It might be a little much to get everything that’s in the eyeball, for so long a time, ten minutes, you know, (ten times five people, that’s fifty minutes!). You might..  whereas you could reduce it all to a five minute shot by each.

WSB: True.

AG: ..or.. well, edit it (since it’s already edited, pre-edited, if you give them a camera, and consciously edited too, according to their magnetisms, you know, what they’re magnetized to)

 

[Yves Klein – Untitled green monochrome (M 5), c.1954]

WSB: Well that was an old exercise I had like – (a) color walk – Yeah, you’d walk on green…

AG: Yeah

WSB: …and then you shift to red, and you suddenly find that your shift..  there’s… I’m running out of green and I shift to red, and suddenly there, a red car would come around the corner and you would see it.

AG: Yeah – Well, a red car is just coming now!

WSB: Well, yeah, that’s it. You see that there’s a..

AG: ..and there’s of course a red Stop! sign

WSB: Something,..

AG: You know what was funny? I was saying.. (or I was writing a few phrases down, because I thought it was too much trouble), and I looked up and saw the Stop! sign. I stopped! – looked up –  just as you were talking about..

WSB: (Right)

AG ..reading.. remember, reading signs, you’d say.. you’d look up and see a sign (and)…

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately eleven-and-a-half minutes in

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