Seven Questions From the 1965 Paris Review Interview of William S. Burroughs, Posed to Our Newsletter Subscribers

Identity Theory Newsletter Subscribers Respond to Seven Questions Once Asked to William S. Burroughs

The 1965 Paris Review interview (available online) of William S. Burroughs was a classic. We thought it would be fun to take a few of the more general questions from the interview and ask them to our newsletter subscribers. Here are the results. Think you can do better? Send us your responses.

CANDACE CROSSLEY

1. Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?
Yeah, you can actually do it using sort of a guided self-hypnosis meditation, although that said, it was one suggested to me, not one I made up myself. Still there are no thoughts – narrative that go with it. My latest trick has been to not think at all – to wait for a thought to enter the head and by waiting for one, everything stops and no thoughts appear. Doesn’t work for long but the fact that I could turn off the monkey mind for even seconds was pretty amazing.

2. Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
Most abstract artists are painting with intention. Even those slapping paint recklessly on a canvas are still doing it with intention. I’m thinking monkeys are free of the human concept of artistic meaning, as it were. Or weren’t.

3. Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
I do think of the artist more in terms of expression, whether it’s
conceptual or political or artistic perception/interpretation. On the other hand, advertising art is a con.

4. You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?
If Burroughs was bored with Tangiers and Paris, he probably wouldn’t last long in the Ozarks without being able to order room service. The Ozarks are beautiful. I don’t know if I could live there or not. Am definitely getting sick of Portland but that’s because I’m getting tired of chosen hipsters. Still, it would be hard to give up the cuisine. But the rain sucks.

5. Then do you believe in the existence of God?
There’s a life force, a will….there is consciousness. Is God an artist, a scientist or a con man?

6. Are you irreconcilably hostile toward the 20th century?
Not irreconcilably, but it’s getting harder to take. The more things
change, the more they remain the same in terms of human behavior. Art hasn’t changed us much, perhaps ultimately science will.

7. Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that accurate?
I’m a logical positivist.

 

RICHARD GRAYSON

1. Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?
No, I think only in words, or so I imagine.

2. Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
No, because that would account for the analysis of painting attributed to Pollack which have been found to be the work of someone else. I suspect J. Fred Muggs, may he rest in peace. If that chimp could so entertain me on NBC television in the mornings, surely dashing off an abstract painting would have been child’s play for him.

3. Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
Who doesn’t? The first thing that came to mind is McLuhan’s "Art is anything you can get away with," which comes from one of those wonderful books he did for Bantam Books with Quentin Fiore — probably The Medium is the Massage — which I treasured as a teenager. I wish I hadn’t sold them in 1980. I sold them to a con man.

4. You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?
I’ve spent several months in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and in some ways I found peace there — except in the mornings. Someone told me then, "People come to the Ozarks for two reasons: to hide or to heal." I was doing both, I think. It was a very strange place to be in during 9/11. The country radio music morning DJ said, "Well, they may be Yankees — but they’re our Yankees." I would settle for Eureka Springs although my friend Crescent Dragonwagon, author of The Passionate Vegetarian, has left town.

5. Then do you believe in the existence of God?
No. I have a job now where I have to go to minyan (Jewish prayer) every weekday morning. I have always been atheist but I’ve never been around prayer so much. I read the English translations in the prayer book and am amazed at how God seems to need constant adoration. In that way he is like a network anchor. I am more atheist than ever, if that is possible. My atheist grandfather and great-grandfather would be proud of me.

6. Are you irreconcilably hostile toward the 20th century?
I think we are reconciled now. But it took a few years to get there.

7. Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian.
Is that accurate?
She was a very smart woman on the subjects of the Catholic church, breast-feeding, the Vietnam War and Lillian Hellman, but she didn’t know shit about me. Still, she managed to be correct when she characterized me as a soured utopian. I think it was just a lucky guess.

 

MARGARET LEMAY

1. Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?
I think a stream of sensory and emotive associations underlies the writing of even the most literal poetry. Maybe not a silencing, the inner voice speaks in images. And possibly in Utopian Sours. See #6.

2. Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
No, that doesn’t bother me. Lack of self-awareness bothers me, especially in myself. I was waiting for my bus the other morning in my residential neighborhood. It was early, cold, and quite windy. A garbage truck inched down the street, stopping in front of each yard. When the truck stopped across the street from me, I watched a man jump down and lift a bulging bag of trash. The bag broke and bottles, cheese wrappers, some meat Styrofoam packing, some used food storage bags one of which was leaking something yellow, and newspaper went all over the street. The man looked at the torn bag and the mess. He looked at me. Then he knelt and cleaned it all up. I felt sad and a little mad. I wondered whether the man would have picked up the trash if not for the self-awareness in being observed, and over all at that moment I wasn’t sure what I’d have done.

3. Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
Of course. One only needs to know artists to know this. We are all better in art.

4. You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?
There are lovely lakes in the pictures on the internet, and perhaps the clime would be notably temperate.

5. Then do you believe in the existence of God?
I believe in a higher existence. I do not believe in any group of people who turn the idea of God into a social construction, into a form of capital to be held over others.

6. Are you irreconcilably hostile toward the 20th century?
Trying this exercise has been hilarious. I just finished skimming my answers and thinking, I sound grumpy. I do not hold hostility toward the 20th century, and I hope that little within the realm of human experience is truly irreconcilable.

7. Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that accurate?
We are all soured utopians. That’s not true. I just thought of a utopian who is not soured. That’s not true, either. I was thinking that I could imagine an unsoured utopian. In closing, if it is not already, Utopian Sour would be a good name for a nice drink.

 

OLIVIA G

1. Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?
Hm, probably when I was about to fall asleep. For example, I was lying in my bed two nights ago with my eyes closed, sleepless despite exhaustion, and I swear I saw a floating, ominous paper appear with a bit of newspaper clipping. Silent thoughts, just the image. Now that may sound drug induced, but it was just my brain’s way of telling me I’d forgotten to do this important assignment due the next day. One of my friends says he thinks less in words but in "auras." He’s probably delusional, but it’s ok…

2. Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
I think probably anyone/ anything with some prehensility in hands or trunk or whatever could do an abstract painting. Upset? Never. I say give him the paint and brush and see what he does, it’s probably better than you could do [gestures to interviewer harshly]. There was this Elephant that used to paint that I read about. She was a bit of a loner. Real artistic type; used to sit and brood all day.

3. Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
I’d say it’s more the record company or whoever’s in charge of publicity that are conning people. They spend so much time and money to convince you that whoever they’re plugging isn’t actually terrible… but in reality, they often are. However, the artist does become this other "character" who possesses traits people identify that differ from those they have when they aren’t being the "artist" people expect.

4. You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?
As serious as I’ll ever be!

5. Then do you believe in the existence of God?
Tortoises pose a problem, but yes. If you think of it like Terry Pratchett’s Disc World and the great God Om, it all makes sense. That’s where the tortoises come in… oh, you didn’t read that one?

6. Are you irreconcilably hostile toward the 20th century?
You have no idea.

7. Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that baccurate?
I do eat a lot of limes. Maybe if I ate more lemons I’d be a "bitter utopian" which is essentially a resigned dystopian. But I prefer limes.

 

JANN BURNER

1. Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?
I think almost entirely in visual images. Holographic images and then I step in with my personal intent and as soon as I " touch" the visual image it begins to stream off visual metaphors which further distill down into words and from there to the drip of dark ink on the clean white page. The mechanism seems to be the switch, a pivot point with intent on one side and no intent on the other. When the switch is initially snapped on, then holographic visual imagery "happens". Mind Happens! My "brain" is not "me", it is more a sort of laser device and all I do is point it. If I point it over there…it illuminates whatever is there. How deep do I want to look, to perceive? Words are used to describe only a very narrow stratification of consciousness. They represent only a very narrow frequency of mind.

2. Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
No.

3. Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
Many providers of content for media are, of course, con men. Most media is, by definition, a hungry beast and it has a ravenous appetite and must be fed constantly. Hell, most people are con men (and con-women). When you live in and for the herd, then one must, feed off the herd and thus one is, by definition, a "Con Man".

But then these people aren’t really the "Artists". The Artist is one who has managed to depart the herd at an early age and has gone off on his (or her) own. They are attempting to enlarge the size of the room they reside in. If they are lucky they have amazing life experiences in consciousness and are able to manifest these sensual/spiritual insights successfully in some form of media. If they are extremely lucky they will be able to relocate the herd at some point and they will be welcomed back and there will be a form of celebration where they both recognize one another. At this point the specific works of art become like magical artifacts illustrating the artist’s travels and intent. Unfortunately though, the meeting and recognition is rarely mutual and should not ever be viewed by the Artist as anything other than a happy accident.

4. You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?
Serious as death. I used to live on a sailboat in Sausalito, which is on San Francisco Bay. Was born there, grew up there. Third generation. It is a truly beautiful place but being born there I felt I was missing something. I never got the opportunity to journey there. I simply opened my eyes and there I was. I think life should be a series of journeys. So I moved to the Ozarks. Specifically I live in a small log house way out in the woods on the Ozark Plateau of S.W. Missouri. I have twenty acres and a four acre fishing lake with a small boat and a dock. And every twelve weeks, the weather changes. It costs about the same as the down payment on a small tract house in the Bay Area. I’ve written a lot about the City/Suburban man-child born in San Francisco and raised in Silicon Valley, moving to America! That’s what it’s like. Living on the coast, especially in the SF Bay Area, is like living in the pages of a very well produced, but very superficial magazine. It hit me one day that in another generation everywhere in this country will be like that. This is the time to make the move, to discover the Real America. It has been very rewarding.

5. Then do you believe in the existence of God?
It’s not a matter of belief. It simply is. When one chooses to incarnate upon this planet, within this frequency of mind, one agrees to a voluntary dumbing down. A voluntary forgetfulness. I suspect there are at least two major levels of forgetfulness. The first is a general forgetting. Sort of like going on a European vacation accept that when you show up on the distant shore with your backpack in hand you have no memory of having come from anyplace. It seems as if you were just created there on the beach or in the train station. One reason for this is that in order to GROW a soul, one must have a sort of spiritual gravity to push against. Very much like, developing big muscles on earth, one must have gravity to push against. Can’t develop muscles in zero gravity. So, in order to grow from within this three dimensional experience we volunteer to forget that we are anything other than a random assemblage of molecules. But, and this is very interesting, we still resonate with things which are very unearthly. Like music, good writing, Soulful moments. These all resonate within us and cause a spiritual vibration and when this is really very good…we call it "ART". So when within the first forgetfulness, one can still entertain the "idea" of spirituality and things soulful. But they are not felt as reality, they are felt as a belief one subscribes to. One forgets that we are here simply in order to further grow our Soul.

The second forgetfulness is more serious. When within this spiritual stealth mode, one is unable to even entertain the idea of Spirit. Nothing is real unless it is immediately reproducible in a laboratory. Everything has to fit within a specific metaphor and everything has to be bagged and tagged.. This zone of the second forgetting is the realm of Lawyers and Scientists and people with initials after their names…

6. Are you irreconcilably hostile toward the 20th century?
I LOVE the 20th Century. I can’t describe the effort involved in creating a life to live in this specific period, this specific frequency of Mind. Just showing up here is an incredibly creative act of pure Intention! We are all heroes for simply showing up. Ha.

7. Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that accurate?
Absolutely not. A soured utopian would be an ungrateful dreamer. I am profoundly grateful.

 

BETHANY J. HIITOLA

1. Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?
No. [uncensored version: That bitch wouldn’t shut up if I shoved a
sock in her mouth] Without the voice, I’d be anything but creative.
And hell, likely 200 times happier.


2. Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?
Hey, if they want to get their fingers and toes (sans the *real* thumbs) all goey and greasy and feel the need to smear them on some canvas–more power to the animal kingdom. Only makes my task that much more challenging–making it look less monkey.


3. Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
Isn’t everyone? I mean, hell if I haven’t seen a corporate hack work his way to the top by lying, cheating, and conning every one of his superiors that he’s a high-performer–than artists must work three times as hard to even get noticed. Being only deranged or psychotic won’t get you noticed these days.


4. You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?
Um Arkansas? No desire… which begs the answer No to the follow-up question. You must be thinking of my twin sister (or not, since I
don’t have one that you can see).


5. Then do you believe in the existence of God?
Who else could be responsible for a Vice President shooting an attorney? I mean, is it just too good for fate.


6. Are you irreconcilably hostile toward the 20th century?
Hell no… it brought us the Interwebs. How could I be hostile?


7. Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that accurate?
What does she know? Then again, years in corporate America and a child who didn’t sleep for the first 2 years of his life can make anyone sour on utopia. Though, I can say the child has made marked improvements in the sleep department so I guess utopia could be achieved. Sans the work in gray cubicles and organizational charts.

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