Saturday, July 3, 2010
William S. Burroughs (Reaktion Books-Critical Lives)
Well, first of all, you can't go wrong with the Reaktion Books' "Critical Lives" series. They are biographies on 'difficult 19th and 20th century thinkers/artists/writers, but told lightly in the manner of not going over someone's head with too much critical theory speak. And they don't preach, and for sure doesn't talk down the subject matter. In other words they're great. I actually like these small biographies then the big one's that are out there on the same subject.
So what we have here that is new is the William S. Burroughs biography. One who follows the old titan of paranoia won't get anything new, but what Phil Baker does is put the whole picture in a frame that is pretty much essential to anyone who wants to dip his or her toes into the world of Burroughs.
In my youth Burroughs was a favorite of mine. I liked the pictures of him (always cool lookin'), and the deadpan delivery of his words and voice. Also the fact that he took the high in art/history with the lowest of the low (heroin culture, his love of trash Sci-fi novels, scandal sheets, and the stuff that American culture threw away in the trash).
But also a lot of the stuff that he threw out there had some great truth as well as pure crap. I also love the fact that he was pretty much of a failure till his late 40's. I admire that in a man! What troubles me about him is the shooting of his wife, the way he treated his son, and his love of guns. However you look at it, its pretty idiotic to play William Tell with a living person. An ugly incident, which through his guilt made him the writer that he became - or is that true?
In the end he became an icon for an era that no longer existed, which is understandable - but sad as well. So like everything else in the 20th Century you have to take the sugar as well as the bitters, and Burroughs was a major player as a writer. Good bio!