Burroughs and Ginsberg Q & A Berlin 1976 – 2

William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg’s 1976 discussion with German journalist students continues from here 

Student:  One of the things that you said is.. how difficult it is to put into words the sense of this.. the  consciousness, that isn’t in fact, that doesn’t in fact, have anything to do with words. However you did.. and you tried to.. to bring this other consciousness..

AG: I don’t think I used the word “difficult”.

Student: You said it would.. ok.. you said it would come out crudely.

AG: No, I said one would have to be aware in advance that it is an abstract, that words are not identical with the things they represent, that this not “a bed”  and “bed”  is a three-letter word and you can use that label but the  word “bed” and the actual bed are two different objects. The word “bed” is an object and this (pointing to the bed) is an object and they’re two different objects. They’re related but they’re different separate objects. Most people think word is identical to the object and that’s why they can get into an argument about what is truth.

WSB  That is.. for an example.. They have a word therefore they assume that there is something that that word refers to. Now it’s not necessarily true at all. I mean, you’ve got a word like “Communism”, or Fascism”, so you assume that there is something that that actually refers to. and, in point of fact, there isn’t. There is a whole gamut of political phenomena loosely covered or indicated by the word.

AG: Like the word “Beat”  that you asked. You might assume that there was some intrinsic meaning and that the meaning would be defined by a series of philosophical principles or practices that we would wish to announce. But from another point of view, the wordmight also mean.. well, this was a general word used by media journalists to cover various contradictory and completely differing activities of many different people. So that, actually, in other words, to go back to answer you your original question, it may be then that the best definition of “Beat” was that we began to realize language needed to become more conscious, that we had to become more conscious of the limitation of language or escape from imprisonment, the imprisonment of conceptual language thinking and allow a larger amplitude of awareness to take a…  to become respectable in our own behaviour.

Student: And did you also want to influence other people in terms of..

AG: No

WSB: No I’m interested in..

AG: No no no no no, – but you see, if you.. It’s like saying.. The influence on other people is a by-product of changing onself, or.. I mean it’s, like, a chicken and an egg. It’s, like, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? It’s one universe, it’s one world. If you discover that the world is round and not flat then could you ask the question, “Well, would you like to influence other people to think that it’s round?”  Well naturally you tell them it’s round, but  it’s not a question of wanting to influence them, it’s a question of just being in one world.

Student: So, ok, the reason I asked is that (there are) lots of artists, especially now in Germany, who go out from the point of “I have something to say and I want to influence people” (this comes out in terms of political novels, and also socialist realist writing, etc)   so I just wanted to ask you the question, it’s not that I agree or disagree with you..

AG:  I think that there is some very basic.. I think that there is, when it’s put in these terms, there is something basically schizophrenic about it, split(s) about it. Naturally, there’s a.. when you discover something basic you communicate it without even trying, just by gesture, by the way you live. And I think that probably that was what was interesting about the phenomena (that it was more by gesture) – it was language but it was also tone (we had language of poetry, but we also had vocalized poetry, maybe with gesture, and different tones of voice). It was some different sense of hair maybe? some different sense of dress?, some different sense of the planet, a sense of being on a planet, rather than being in Berlin, (or awareness of being on a planet, rather than United States). So.. but then you wouldn’t necessarily want to influence people – “You’re on a planet, you’re not in New York”.  You take it for granted you’re on a planet and behave as if you are on a planet, while other people are behaving as if they’re only in New York.

WSB:  ...but, early on, this may have a profound effect on people but that, I don’t think, is necessarily its primary object, like (with) Cézanne and the early montage artists. They had a very basic effect on human consciousness. They didn’t set out to do that. They did something, they saw something, which was much closer to the facts of human perception, actually. As I said, people can sit there and see that the earth is round and say that it’s flat (the same way that they were very much upset by the early Impressionists, although what they were putting on canvas was much closer to the actual facts of human perception than so-called representational painting).  But they weren’t, primarily, intending to reform people’s consciousness, but merely to express their own vision – (and this, incidentally, did change consciousness greatly).

Student: What you analyze in your work is indeed mainly the close connection between words and power and you sometimes state some institutions of power without naming them precisely so that one is.. one has to suppose that power is represented in the word itself and that you are developing some strategies to get rid of this mental power

WSB: Well words, as I say, have always been an instrument of power. You can run a government by sheer force. It’s very dangerous to do so (for the people that are running it). This still imposes one of the impasses of power, namely protection from the protectors. Had Hitler lived long enough he would have had neat protection from the SS and then protection from the people who were protecting him from the SS, etc.  So power must at some point, force must at some point, be supplanted by deception, namely words.

Student: You mean some sort of ideology?

WSB: Whatever it is.

AG: Imagery not ideology. Why do you use the term “ideology?”  That”s what I’m trying to figure out. Is it just the custom here that every time you have an unanswered question..

Student: Probably it is

AG: ..you just push a button and say “ideology”? Maybe it’s imagery? Maybe it’s a sensation in the penis or something.  It doesn’t have to be ideology that Hitler was…

Student: Well the very connection…

AG: Hitler was not peddling  ideology, he was peddling charisma

Student: That is something Herman (sic) and I discussed for some time. I think one could pick it up with imagery. One could take the image of the state of the Mayas and the priest-class that rules them (and you’ve used it many times) and then it’s just a dead film, running and running and there are no priests anymore, and so, what’s ruling? –  a set of images and nobody behind it?

WSB: Er..  no..  they were skilled priests . Now they may have even have forgotten the original knowledge, but they still have the machine. But the whole thing was falling apart by the time the Spanish got there. In fact, there were revolutions, a number of revolutions in fact.

Student: So you see this as a parallel to our situation?

WSB: Not a precise parallel at all. Remember that they had.. I should say perhaps two percent of the people were the ruling class there. It was one of the few societies that  have been able to exist without police… Of course you had a few societies like hunting societies that require no apparatus of worship – but this did, and it was predicated on illiteracy, the illiteracy of the workers, whereas our systems…that operate through the mass media, are predicated on literacy.

Student: When you state that there must be a kind of system behind these forces, I wonder how you can write a scene like you did in ..Wild Boys, when there is a Colonel just forgetting, just forgetting, the institutions of power out of existence, as you put it, I think. So there is no fight, nothing, he just forgot about it in his consciousness probably so he’s overcoming a threatening situation by just forgetting it, by just developing a new consciousness on his own. That seems to me a bit problematic.

WSB Well.. the..

AG: The principle there seems to be very often that by feeding their own fear and hatred and aggression and anxiety back on the threatener that you aggrandize or make him larger and larger and larger so that in some ways, in certain situations, one can liquidate the aggressor by not reacting, especially if the aggressor is trying to provoke a reaction and gain power by making you think about him all the time.  For instance, if everybody forgot about television and just stopped looking at television, television would be powerless but the television requires attention to become the monster of power and brainwash that it is, and even for an individual, for a single individual who occupies himself fighting television by looking at it all day long, obsessed with television, he feeds television, writing essays agaist television..

WSB: Of course!

AG: …paying attention to television. So in that sense, it’s in that sense that he means…

WSB :  Yes . And also this has happened repeatedly in history that institutions were never overthrown by revolution, they were simply finally ignored out of existence, as happened to the old.. the whole (Spanish) Inquisition. It became less important as people were doing other things, they weren’t concerned with it and it lost its power altogether. No institution where the people are not concerned can maintain power over a period of time.

Audio for the above may be listened to – here

 transcript continuing and concluding tomorrow

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