Magical beliefsBurroughs had a longstanding preoccupation with magic and the occult, dating from his earliest childhood, and was insistent throughout his life that we live in a "magical universe". As he himself explained:
In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen. The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces, and I think that's just ridiculous. It's as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it's for a reason. Among primitive people they say that if someone was bitten by a snake he was murdered. I believe that.Or, speaking in the 1970s:
Since the word "magic" tends to cause confused thinking, I would like to say exactly what I mean by "magic" and the magical interpretation of so-called reality. The underlying assumption of magic is the assertion of "will" as the primary moving force in this universe - the deep conviction that nothing happens unless somebody or some being wills it to happen. To me this has always seemed self evident... From the viewpoint of magic, no death, no illness, no misfortune, accident, war or riot is accidental. There are no accidents in the world of magic.This was no idle passing interest – Burroughs also actively practiced magic in his everyday life: seeking out mystical visions through practices like scrying, taking measures to protect himself from possession, and attempting to lay curses on those who had crossed him. Burroughs spoke openly about his magical practices, and his engagement with the occult is attested from a multitude of interviews, as well as personal accounts from those who knew him.
Biographer Ted Morgan has argued that: "As the single most important thing about Graham Greene was his viewpoint as a lapsed Catholic, the single most important thing about Burroughs was his belief in the magical universe. The same impulse that led him to put out curses was, as he saw it, the source of his writing... To Burroughs behind everyday reality there was the reality of the spirit world, of psychic visitations, of curses, of possession and phantom beings."
Burroughs was unwavering in his insistence that his writing itself had a magical purpose. This was particularly true when it came to his use of the cut-up technique. Burroughs was adamant that the technique had a magical function, stating "the cut ups are not for artistic purposes". Burroughs used his cut-ups for "political warfare, scientific research, personal therapy, magical divination, and conjuration" – the essential idea being that the cut-ups allowed the user to "break down the barriers that surround consciousness". As Burroughs himself stated:
I would say that my most interesting experience with the earlier techniques was the realization that when you make cut-ups you do not get simply random juxtapositions of words, that they do mean something, and often that these meanings refer to some future event. I've made many cut-ups and then later recognized that the cut-up referred to something that I read later in a newspaper or a book, or something that happened... Perhaps events are pre-written and pre-recorded and when you cut word lines the future leaks out.In the final decade of his life, Burroughs became heavily involved in the chaos magic movement. Burrough's magical techniques – the cut-up, playback, etc. – had been incorporated into chaos magic by such practitioners as Phil Hine, Dave Lee and Genesis P-Orridge. P-Orridge in particular had known and studied under Burroughs and Brion Gysin for over a decade. This led to Burroughs contributing material to the book Between Spaces: Selected Rituals & Essays From The Archives Of Templum Nigri Solis, published by Templum Nigri Solis, an "Australasian Chaos Sorcery" group. Through this connection, Burroughs came to personally know many of the leading lights of the chaos magic movement, including Hine, Lee, Peter J. Carroll, Ian Read and Ingrid Fischer, as well as Douglas Grant, head of the North American section of chaos magic group The Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT). Burroughs' involvement with the movement further deepened, as he contributed artwork and other material to chaos magic books, addressed an IOT gathering in Austria, and was eventually fully initiated into The Illuminates of Thanateros. As Burrough's close friend James Grauerholz states: "William was very serious about his studies in, and initiation into the IOT... Our longtime friend, Douglas Grant, was a prime mover."
William S. Burroughs A Man Within (You know you are badass when Iggy Pop and your gun dealer are in a documentary about you)
March 12, 2011
You might write good books, but if you were an interesting cat in the twentieth century with an intriguing personality to match that prose…then you will not only be just the dead guy on the on the book shelf, you will be catapulted to a new echelon of literary hero, the guy people want to know more about. Charles Bukowski is one of these men for sure. People loved his disdain for modern society and how the nine-to-five Joes were nothing more than the living dead to him. He drank, smoked, screwed, and listened to classical records in between and during the production of some of the most essential anti-hero literature. This lifestyle that takes place outside the pen and paper piques the interests of so many literary geeks, and that is why Bukowski has bars named after him (the coaster is taped on my wall), why Ralph Steadman’s portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson speeding down Nevada’s desolate interstate hangs on so many college co-ed walls (the steering wheel is on the wrong side by the way), and that is why I was so excited to so see “A Man Within”, the William S. Burroughs documentary.
“A Man Within” was the outsider looking in, a film that grazed the surface and seemingly covered all the bases and facets of this one man’s life. Rife with commentary from acquaintances, artists, lovers, poets, actors who had known, loved, screwed, drank, read, and just hung out with the man. It was not too much of chronological account, less document and more sentiment, which is good because all the cold facts can be left to biographers and fact-checkers, we want to hear and see all the good stuff.
On the subject of Mr. Burroughs, uncle Bill, the king of the Beats, etc. two things are most heavily associated with him: queer and junkie-not his books, his life. Much of beginning of the film is dedicated to these aspects of Burroughs. At the time of his literary breakout “Naked Lunch”, heroin and homosexuality where not vogue, nor were they taboo, they were Gestapo-in-the-room kept in the closet deals. The film makes it clear, Burroughs was a maverick in that sense, not only with his habits and sexuality, but his sense of rebellion in general. Burroughs might have been gay, but he did not even align himself with queer culture, because that lifestyle, just like the mainstream American lifestyle , would have restricted him with a mere label, he was the renegade of the renegades.
“A Man Wthin” covered other points that contrived the Burroughs persona, such as his affinity for guns, as well as Joan Vollmer, his wife whom he accidentally killed when he tried to shoot a bottle
off her head. His influence on not only early punk rock but on many musicians and films was mentioned in length. Priceless photographs were shown, with the aging author with his three-piece-suit and spectacles alongside Lou Reed, David Bowie, Richard Lloyd, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth and many others. Iggy Pop talked about how one of his songs Gimme Some Skin contained a couple references from one of good ol’ William’s books.
For each aspect or event of Burroughs’s life, somebody or some friend would do his or her best to comprehend his complex psyche and figure out what he was feeling or why he did what he did. They would do their best to speculate things such as why he was so closed off in relationships and unwilling or unable to show great affection, or how his wife’s death weighed on him, and even why he was compelled to carry around a loaded firearm at all times.
Burroughs’s life in no way can be wrapped up in a single documentary that can be withstood in only one sitting. This film focuses more on the man himself, rather than chronicle where and when he did what he did, it puts more thought and energy into what he did and why he did it. To truly understand the man, I would suggest a Burroughs biography as a supplememnt to help get the whole story-external wandering Burroughs, and internal wandering Burroughs.