Academic journal article Postmodern Studies

Get off the Point: Deconstructing Context

Academic journal article Postmodern Studies

Get off the Point: Deconstructing Context

Article excerpt

Space travel involves time travel, seeing the dimension of time from outside time, as a landscape spread out before the observer, where a number of things are going on simultaneously.

-William S. Burroughs1

Ideology only corresponds to a corruption of reality by signs; simulation corresponds to a short circuit of reality and to its duplication through signs.

-Jean Baudrillard2

...the world is its own rejection, the rejection of the world is the world.

-Jean-Luc Nancy3

One of the MOST UNIQUE features OF William S. Burroughs' experimental novels is the absence of any stable setting, any consistent geographical location or time period, through which to read these experimental texts. The material contexts of time and place shift, transmute, and turn back on themselves in much the same way as the prose of the word virus discussed in the previous chapter. Readers cannot find objective points of reference as the narrative perspective moves through time and space with no causal logic and no fully recognizable points of departure or arrival. What Burroughs offers instead amounts to a simulacrum of material context, fabricated settings that not only simulate recognizable physical and temporal locations but ultimately replace them entirely. According to Jean Baudrillard, this movement from representation to simulacrum marks the conflation of the real and the imaginary as the fiction supersedes its real referent and reveals both as "neither real nor unreal: hyperrear.4 The emergence of the hyperreal produces a world of "total simulation, without origin, immanent, without a past, without a future, a diffusion of all coordinates".5 In like manner, the locations depicted in Burroughs' novels destabilize and diffuse any correspondence to real world locations, both temporal and physical, creating a simulation that abnegates its original. He thus achieves a hyperreal rather than a fictional or representational world, a world that emphasizes its own artifice in order to liberate readers from imprisonment within the institutions - both physical and ideological - of the real world.

Though many critics attempt to draw parallels between Burroughs' world and our own, the instability of his hyperreal world creates incessant complications for those who wish to read the novels as satires, manifestos, or societal prognostications. While Timothy Murphy asserts that to read Burroughs' novels "we must first establish a context, both historical and theoretical, for his creative activities", 6 he concedes that "Burroughs's narrative is disconnected and de-chronologized, cutting across the lines that constitute the power network of the transcendent script".7 Despite the strong temptation to stabilize and to familiarize Burroughs' world using familiar contexts drawn from history or ideology, the novels always resist rigid connections to particular contexts. Even if "it would be possible to read the Nova conspiracy as a historical analysis disguised as prophetic fiction, to see in the Biologic Courts a version of the United Nations, in the Nova Mob an Imperial America, and in Hassan i Sabbah an avatar of Osama bin Laden",8 ultimately "Burroughs accomplishes with words what the Dadaists did with objects; he cuts them out of the context that defines their use and that consequently binds us to the real world". 9 The contexts provided in the novels are always in flux, transforming, merging, and disintegrating beyond recognition. Burroughs' project of disconnecting his narratives from stable contextual anchor points may be best exemplified by his careful dismantling of the material contexts of time and geography, both as points of orientation for readers and as foundations for ideological interpretations of the novels.

Often in poststructuralist theory, as notions of truth and subjectivity are exposed as artificial and interested, theorists argue that the meaning of a discourse arises from its social-historical context, which is in turn determined by the material context - the temporal and physical location - in which the discourse occurs. …

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