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

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

15
Listening to Burroughs' Voice Neal Oxenhandler

The artist's privilege is to liberate himself from his personal obsessions by incorporating them into the fabric of life, by blending them so thoroughly with other objects that we too are forced to become aware of them, so that he is no longer alone, shut up with his anguish in a horrible tête-à-tête.

-- Claude-Edmonde Magny

The "grumus merdae" (heap of feces) left behind by criminals upon the scene of their misdeeds seems to have both these meanings: contumely, and a regressive expression of making amends.

-- Sigmund Freud

W illiam Burroughs' five major novels 1 overwhelm us with a chaos of metamorphosing shapes and forms which constantly destroy themselves and rise anew. The novels pulse and glow weirdly with hallucinating lights, they emit strange electronic hums and shrieks. The first impression is of a chaos in eruption, but slowly a sense of design emerges. Burroughs is a poet who knows something about language he can never forget, something about form that he can never eradicate. And he tries. He tries to wipe out order which appears in the chaos, tries to strangle his own voice. But there is something in the work itself which resists and defeats him. He cannot destroy the integrity of his work, even though he tries with maniac frenzy. He tries by disguising it as science fiction, as vaudeville, as travelogue; he forces us to wade through endless pages of gibberish where random accumulations of speech blend with dreams and fantasies that have the ring of

____________________
Neal Oxenhandler, "Listening to Burroughs' Voice," Surfiction: Fiction Now . . . and Tomorrow, ed. Raymond Federman ( Chicago: Swallow Press, 1975): 181-201. Copyright © 1981 by Ohio University Press/ Swallow Press. Reprinted by permission.

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