Cross the Wounded Galaxies: Implications and Influences of Burroughs' Narrative Experiments

By Bolton, Micheal Sean | Postmodern Studies, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Cross the Wounded Galaxies: Implications and Influences of Burroughs' Narrative Experiments


Bolton, Micheal Sean, Postmodern Studies


Where's that line over which lies inhumanity? The technology is us, man. White magic or black, it doesn't make a difference. Natural and artificial? Obsolete distinctions.

-David Porush1

It's not easy to see things in the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from right to left: try it, you'll see that everything changes.

-Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari2

Couldn't reach flesh in his switch-and zero time to the sick tracks-A long time between suns I held the stale overcoat-sliding between light and shadow-muttering in the dogs of unfamiliar score-cross the wounded galaxies we intersect, poison of dead sun in your brain slowly fading.

-William S. Burroughs3

Jacques Derrida explicitly poses the question implicit throughout William S. Burroughs' experimental works, asking: "Why would one mourn for the center? Is not the center, the absence of play and difference, another name for death? The death which reassures and appeases, but also, with its hole, creates anguish and puts at stake?".4 As Derrida indicates, the loss of the center actually amounts to the loss of the absolutist or fundamentalist thought that drives acts of ideological violence and oppression. For Burroughs, then, the loss of the center should not only be embraced rather than mourned, but the center and the absence of difference that it entails should be actively opposed and subverted. His revolutionary themes and stylistic experiments represent strategies for such opposition and subversion, exposing the potential dangers of conventional narrative forms even while disintegrating his own narratives. The novels serve as training exercises for Burroughs' insurrection against the center. The various techniques and devices he develops toward the disruption of conventional narrative radically alter the way in which his readers engage narratives.

As has been demonstrated in the preceding chapters, the narrative effects of Burroughs' mosaic of juxtaposition method are extensive, challenging the stability of language and meaning, the fixity of material context, and the integrity of the subject. But perhaps the most significant implication of his method lies in its refiguring of the narrative's relation to the reader. The decentralization of the narrative subjectivity allows it to disperse not only throughout the intratext comprised by the novels, but also to extend beyond these texts to intermingle with and to include the subjectivities of readers. Derrida notes that, confronted with such an inclusive narrative strategy:

There is at any rate no tenable place for [the reader] opposite the text, outside the text, no spot where he might get away with not writing what, in reading, would seem to him to be given, past; no spot, in other words, where he would stand before an already written text.5

The binary opposition of reader and text can no longer be maintained as "the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever".6 The relationship between the reader and the text profoundly alters, as readers must engage Burroughs' novels in the role of collaborators rather than interpreters.

For Roland Barthes, these sorts of inclusive texts, which he names "writerly texts", require more of readers than immersion in the world of the text or the interpretation of that world from outside. Barthes insists that readers must interact with the text, imagining and re-imagining the world of the text at each reading. As a reader, he writes, "I am not hidden within the text, I am simply irrecoverable from it: my task is to move, to shift systems whose perspective ends neither at the text nor at the T'".7 Burroughs places the same responsibility on his readers, calling on them to "Cut word lines- Shift linguals", 8 and elsewhere, to "take the board books and rewrite all message".9 Such reader interactivity requires a reassessment of the interprettation of texts. …

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