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

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

17
On The Last Words of Dutch Schultz

Eric Mottram

B urroughs' work frequently transposes cinematic methods into prose and poetic structure, and since the tetralogy much of his writing has been imagined and composed virtually in scenario forms. In this he is, of course, part of that decision to work in the interface of traditionally separated artistic procedures which has become increasingly the common case in this century. As Truffaut and Godard take the story off the plot of fiction in order to move film further from its origins in linear prose narrative, and Eisenstein committed himself to a montage procedure he related to both the ideogrammatic form of Noh drama and to certain epic methods in Paradise Lost, so Burroughs composes through cinematically descriptive prose scenario, image montage, and the treatment of reality as a reel of film or sound tape. The wider contemporary context which shows him by no means isolated in his methods can be found in the French collections of Approches magazine, and in the American Experiments in Prose, whose editor, Eugene Wildman, draws attention to the new methods in his introduction:

The tape-recorder makes potential really new structural ideas. . . . For the first time now the memory is liberated: formulaic structure can become a choice rather than a necessity.

Speech becomes a basis of art in a sense hitherto unused, in the transcription of one or more people talking, in dialogue, separately or simultaneously. Language can be used "in conjunction with other visual material, producing a visual-semantic myth" (the form of Burroughs' The Unspeakable Mr Hart and The Book of Breeething). Categories cease to be binding. In his introduction to Breakthrough Fictioneers, Richard Kostelanetz lists five main ventures in "post-realist, post-symbolist"

____________________
Eric Mottram, WILLIAM BURROUGHS: The Algebra of Need ( London: Marion Boyars, 1977): 238-51. Reprinted by permission of the author and Marion Boyars, Publishers, Ltd.

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