Didion on Burroughs

TheSoftMachine

1966 is calling.

At a site called The Beat Patrol, I found a good review by Joan Didion, an author I really like, on William S. Burroughs, another author I really like. Originally published in 1966 in Bookweek, NOT the modern Book Week for children’s books), it begins:

There sometimes seems a peculiar irrelevance about what is claimed for William S. Burroughs, both by those who admire him and those who do not; the insistent amorphousness of his books encourages the reader to take from them pretty much exactly what he brought to them. Burroughs has been read as a pamphleteer for narcotics reform. He has been read as a parabolist of the highest order. He has been read as a pornographer and he has been read as a prophet of the apocalypse. The Naked Lunch I read first on a beach in the Caribbean and the Naked Lunch I reread a few weeks ago in a hospital in Santa Monica, the book I read once when I was unhappy and again when I was not, did not seem in any sense the same book; to anyone who finds Burroughs readable at all, he is remarkably rereadable, if only because he is remarkably unmemorable. There are no “stories” to wear thin, no “characters” of whom one might tire. We are presented only with the fragmented record of certain fantasies, and our response to that record depends a good deal upon our own fantasies at the moment; in itself, a book by William Burroughs has about as much intrinsic “meaning” as the actual inkblot in a Rorschach test.

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Awe-Inspired Paralysis

Clockwise from top left: Henry James, Joan Didion, Proust, Virginia Woolf, and a photo by Zan McQuade of Maud Newton interviewing Rupert Thomson

From Maud Newton:

Joan Didion suffered from an extreme case of awe-inspired paralysis. She told The Paris Review that, while Henry James was as formative as influence on her writing as Hemingway, she could no longer read him at all.

He wrote perfect sentences, too, but very indirect, very complicated. Sentences with sinkholes. You could drown in them. I wouldn’t dare to write one. I’m not even sure I’d dare to read James again. I loved those novels so much that I was paralyzed by them for a long time. All those possibilities. All that perfectly reconciled style. It made me afraid to put words down.

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The photo of Maud and Rupert is by Zan McQuade, whose blog is called a cup of tea & a wheat penny