William S. Burroughs  

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"Language Is a Virus"


"'Nihilism, unrelieved despair and negation, misanthropy, pessimism' - very much the same set of clichés that greeted Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, which to my mind is a very funny book, in a picaresque tradition stretching back to Petronius and to The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe. I have always seen my own work in the light of the picaresque - a series of adventures and misadventures, horrific and comic, encountered by an antihero." --William S. Burroughs, William S. Burroughs At the Front: Critical Reception, 1959 - 1989

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

William Seward Burroughs II (February 5 1914 - August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author. His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of the inventor and founder of the Burroughs Corporation, William Seward Burroughs I, and nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, studied English, and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attended medical school in Vienna. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II, he dropped out and became afflicted with the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life, while working a variety of jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the countercultural movement of the Beat Generation.

Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversy-fraught work that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws. With Brion Gysin, he also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–64). In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1984 was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the "greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift", a reputation he owes to his "lifelong subversion" of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be "the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War", while Norman Mailer declared him "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius".

Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III (1947–1981), with his second wife Joan Vollmer. Vollmer died in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in Vollmer's death, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, after suffering a heart attack in 1997.

Contents

Bibliography

Novels and other long fiction

Non-fiction

Stories and novellas

Collections

Collaborations

Film collaborations

The Final Academy - a 1982 tour in Britain, organized by David Dawson, Roger Ely and Genesis P-Orridge. The project was based on, featuring works of and was inspired by William S Burroughs. A DVD, 'The Final Academy Documents" is a DVD of edited highlights from the tour, including Burroughs' public appearance in 1982 and reading from his work at Manchester's infamous The Haçienda, a performance by John Giorno and includes the experimental film collaborations with Anthony Balch, Brion Gysin, and others - ‘Towers Open Fire' and ‘Ghosts at No. 9'. Further related information on these films mentioned above and other works of Burroughs' can be found here and here and also here on 3 various UbuWeb external links.

This Cherry Red Records DVD is from 2002 here is a link to this DVDs info page

Many of Burroughs' works were later republished with revisions made by the author, and/or censored material restored. Both Junkie/Junky and Naked Lunch were published in "restored" editions following Burroughs's death. An expanded edition of Yage Letters entitled Yage Letters Redux was published in April 2006.

Burroughs also played a cameo part in the motion picture Drugstore Cowboy. He also collaborated on the documentary Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs On the Road released in 2007.

Recordings (partial list)

Band names

Burroughs's work has inspired the name of several musical groups over the years. The most widely known of these is Steely Dan, a group named after a dildo in Naked Lunch. Also from Naked Lunch came the name The Mugwumps. The band Soft Machine took its name from the Burroughs novel of the same name, while alt-country band Clem Snide is named for a Burroughs character. The band The Soft Boys took its name from Burroughs' novels The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. Proto-punk band Dead Fingers Talk from Hull, England, took their name from the novel of the same name, and their only album was titled Storm the Reality Studios, after a quote from Nova Express.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "William S. Burroughs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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