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A word from William Burroughs about literature and life

Q: In The Ticket That Exploded you write: “There’s nothing real, everybody’s a show.” Have Buddhism, Zen, and Oriental thought in general exerted a strong influence on you?

WB: No. I’m not very familiar with literature, much less with the practice of yoga and Zen. But on one point I totally agree, i.e. everything is illusion.

Q: What films have you liked lately?

WB: I like them when I go, when I see them, but it’s quite difficult to go out and see a film. I haven’t seen many films lately. I saw The Mechanical Orange; I found it competent and fun, well done, although I don’t think I could bear to see it again.

Q: Do you write every day?

WB: I used to. I haven’t done anything lately because I took a course in New York, and that took me all the time; then I moved to a new flat there, so for the last five months, I haven’t been writing much.

Q: When you write, how much time do you spend each day?

WB: Well, I used to write… it depends… up to three, four hours, sometimes more, depending on how it goes.

Q: Parts of Exterminator! look like poems. How do you react to the words poem, poetry, poet?

WB: Well, as soon as you move away from the real poetic forms, rhyme, compass, etc., there is no line between prose and poetry. In my opinion, many poets are simple writers of lazy prose. I can take a page of descriptive prose and divide it into lines, as I have done in Exterminator! and then you have a poem. Call it a poem.

Q: The memory and memories of your youth tend to have an increasingly large place in your recent books.

WB: Yes, yes. That’s right.

Q: How do you explain it?

WB: Well, after all, I think youthful memories are one of the main literary sources. And while in Junky, and to a lesser extent in Naked Lunch, I was confronted with more or less recent experiences, I’ve been returning more and more to childhood and adolescent experiences.

The word as a virus

Q: In The Naked Lunch you wrote: “Evil is waiting out there on earth. Larval entities waiting for a living one,” and in Exterminator, “The white settlers contracted a virus,” and this virus is the word. But who put the word there in the first place?

WB: Well, the whole white race, which has proven to be a perfect curse on the planet, has been conditioned to a great extent by its experience in caves, by its life in caves. And they may have contracted some kind of virus there, which has turned them into what they have been, a real threat to life on the planet.

Q: So evil always comes from outside, from outside?

WB: I don’t think there’s any distinction, inside or outside. A virus comes from the outside, but it can’t harm anyone until it comes in.

Q: Speaking of going in and out, while arriving in London for a visit at the end of 1964, the authorities only allowed you fourteen days, without explanation. Have you had to suffer a lot of harassment from the authorities?

WB: Very little. That was clarified by the Arts Council and, of course, pushed by the U.S. Department of Narcotics. Allen Ginsberg had the same difficulties. The U.S. Department of Narcotics would pass the word to other authorities. Well, I got it immediately through the Arts Council; I haven’t had a problem since.

Q: May I ask why you are moving to New York?

WB: Well, I like it better. New York is much livelier than London, and now it’s cheaper. I think it’s a much more satisfying place to live. New York has changed; New York is better than it used to be; London is worse than it used to be.

About Politicians

Q: You hate politicians, don’t you?

WB: No, I don’t hate politicians at all, I’m not interested in politicians. I find the kind of mind boring, the thought completely extraverted, image-oriented, power-oriented politicians. In other words, I’m bored with politicians; I don’t hate them. He’s not the kind of person I’m interested in.

Q: What are your current writing methods?

WB: Methods? I don’t know. I don’t know, I just sit and write! I write in short sections; in other words, I write a section, maybe a narrative section, and then I get to that, but if it doesn’t go on, I’ll write something else, and then I’ll try to put them together. The Wild Boys was written over a period of time; some of them were written in Marrakech, others in Tangier and many in London. I always write on the typewriter, never by hand.

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