William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

13
He's just wild about writing

Alfred Kazin

[Review of The Wild Boys ]

W illiam S. Burroughs is a great autoeroticist--of writing, not sex. He gets astral kicks by composing in blocks, scenes, repetitive and identical memories galvanizing themselves into violent fantasies, the wild mixing of pictures, words, the echoes of popular speech. It is impossible to suspect him of any base erotic motives in his innumerable scenes of one adolescent boy servicing another like a piece of plumbing; nor should one expect a book from him different from his others. Burroughs is the purest writer in Barney Rosset's grove, and not just because in this book he more than ever turns his obsession with cold, callous homosexual coupling into a piece of American science fiction.

The fact is, he is mad about anything that he can get down on paper. He loves, literally, being engaged in the act of writing, filling up paper from the scene immediately present to him. Composition by field, as the Black Mountain poets used to say; plus composition by frenzy and delight, and in any direction. Words, horrid isolate words, those symbols of our enslavement, are replaced by the a-b-c of man's perception of simultaneous factors--the ability to drink up the "scanning pattern." Get it down when it is still hot, vibrant, and wild to your consciousness! The literary impulse is more demonic to Burroughs than sex was to Sade, but can be just as nonconductive to onlookers.

The Wild Boys is Burroughs' fifth or sixth or seventh book. The gang of totally sadistic homosexual young Snopeses who come into the book in the last third are not important except as a culmination of the continual fantasy of boys in rainbow- colored jockstraps coldly doffing them; nor are they important to the book. Nothing here is any more important than anything else, except possibly Burroughs' unusually tender memories of adolescent sex around the golf course and locker rooms in his native St. Louis in the 1920s. But the wild boys are apaches of freedom, and so are

____________________
Alfred Kazin, "He's just wild about writing" [review of The Wild Boys ], New York Times Book Review ( 12 Dec. 1971): 4, 22. Copyright (c) 1971 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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