Blending biography, cultural history, and literary criticism, The Bop Apocalypse explores the religious concerns, metaphysical realities, and spiritual pursuits that undergirded the early friendship and literary collaborations of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
Presenting a religious biography of the Beats from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s, John Lardas shows that in rejecting many of the cultural tenets of postwar America, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs created new visions of both self and country, visions they articulated through distinctive literary forms. Lardas examines how the Beat writers distilled a theology of experience--a religious vision that animated their everyday existence as well as their art--from a flurry of disparate influences that included the saxophone wails of Charlie Parker and Lester Young, the psychology of Wilhelm Reich, the linguistic theories of Alfred Korzybski, the hipster dialects of New York City, and especially the prophecies of Oswald Spengler. Revisiting the major works the Beats produced in the 1950s in terms of critical content, Lardas considers how their lived religion was incorporated into the way they wrote.
The first sustained treatment of Beat religiosity, The Bop Apocalypse takes a sophisticated look beyond the cartoonish reductions of the Beat counterculture. The Bop Apocalypse takes the Beats at face value, interpreting their sexual openness, drug use, criminality, compulsion to travel, and madness as the logical, physical enactments of a religious representation of the world. Far from dallying irrelevantly on the fringes of society, Lardas asserts, the Beats engaged America on moral grounds through the discourse of public religion.
The Death of Mr. Baltisberger
Bohumil Hrabal Northwestern University Press, 2010 Library of Congress PG5039.18.R2A8813 2010 | Dewey Decimal 891.8635
Originally published as The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, the fourteen stories in Romance showcase the breadth of Bohumil Hrabal’s considerable gifts: his humor of the grotesque, his often surprising warmth, and his hard-edged, fast-paced style. In the story "Romance," a plumber’s apprentice and a gypsy girl reach toward a tentative connection across the chasm that separates their worlds. Another unlikely love story, "World Cafeteria," features a romance between a young man whose girlfriend has just committed suicide and a bride whose husband lands in jail on their wedding night.
The tone turns to the absurd in "The Death of Mr. Baltisberger," where a crippled ex-motorcyclist and three people he meets at the track exchange wildly improbably reminiscences, while a fatal Grand Prix motorcycle race rages around them. Hrabal’s psychological insight into quotidian interactions saturates stories such as "A Dull Afternoon," where a mysterious, self-absorbed stranger disrupts the psychic calm of a neighborhood tavern and becomes the silent catalyst for an unwanted truth.
Throughout the collection, noted translator Michael Henry Heim captures the quirky speech patterns and idiosyncratic takes on life that have made Hrabal’s characters an indispensable part of world literature.
In late summer 1953, as he returned to Mexico City after a seven-month expedition through the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, William Burroughs began a notebook of final reflections on his four years in Latin America. His first novel, Junkie, had just been published and he would soon be back in New York to meet Allen Ginsberg and together complete the manuscripts of what became The Yage Letters and Queer. Yet this notebook, the sole survivor from that period, reveals Burroughs not as a writer on the verge of success, but as a man staring down personal catastrophe and visions of looming cultural disaster.
Losses that will not let go of him haunt Burroughs throughout the notebook: “Bits of it keep floating back to me like memories of a daytime nightmare.” However, out of these dark reflections we see emerge vivid fragments of Burroughs’ fiction and, even more tellingly, unique, primary evidence for the remarkable ways in which his early manuscripts evolved. Assembled in facsimile and transcribed by Geoffrey D. Smith, John M. Bennett, and Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris, the notebook forces us to change the way we see both Burroughs and his writing at a turning point in his literary biography.
Until now, much scholarly work on Burroughs has focused on the sensational aspects of his life and on his innovative writing. The Green Ghost, by Chad Weidner, uncovers the ecological context of literary texts by William Burroughs. By rereading canonical and ignored texts while pushing the boundaries of ecocritical theory and practice, Weidner provides a fresh perspective on Burroughs and suggests new theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding the work of other Beat writers.
Using an ecocritical lens, Weidner explores the toxicity in Naked Lunch while at the same time teasing out latent ecological questions embedded in Burroughs’ later works. The author’s analysis of unknown and miniature “cut-ups,” texts that have been disassembled and rearranged to create new passages, provides a novel understanding of these cryptic forms. Weidner also examines in detail books by Burroughs that have been virtually ignored by critics, exposing the deep ecology of the Beat writer’s vision.
In calling attention to Burroughs’s narrative strategies that link him to an environmental political position, The Green Ghost demonstrates that the work of the Beat writer is a ripe source for ecocritical dialogue.
Bohumil Hrabal Northwestern University Press, 2007 Library of Congress PG5039.18.R2S8513 2007 | Dewey Decimal 891.8635
Inspired by “Mrs. Tolstoy and Mrs. Dostoevsky, whose biographies about their husbands have now been published in Prague,” Bohumil Hrabal decided to produce his own autobiographical work, ostensibly fiction, from his wife’s point of view. He would write, he said, “not a putdown about myself, but a little bit of how it all was, that marriage of ours, with myself as a jewel and adornment of our life together.”
The task, taken up by such a rogue comic talent, could be nothing other than strangely delightful; and in In-House Weddings, the first of the trilogy that Hrabal produced, we meet the author through the eyes of his wife Eliska. She narrates his life from his upbringing in Nymburk through his work as a dispatcher in a train station and then in a scrap paper plant, his first publication, his trouble with the authorities, and his association with notable artists and authors such as Jiri Kolar, Vladimir Boudnik, and Arnost Lustig. Hrabal’s bohemian life was itself a source of great interest to the Czech public; transmuted here, it is even more compelling, a wry portrait of artistic life in postwar Eastern Europe and a telling reflection on how such a life might be recast in the light of literary brilliance.
Naked Lunch @ 50: Anniversary Essays
Edited by Oliver Harris and Ian MacFadyen Southern Illinois University Press, 2009 Library of Congress PS3552.U75N336 2009 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Naked Lunch was banned, castigated, and recognized as a work of genius on its first publication in 1959, and fifty years later it has lost nothing of its power to astonish, shock, and inspire. A lacerating satire, an exorcism of demons, a grotesque cabinet of horrors, it is the Black Book of the Beat Generation, the forerunner of the psychedelic counterculture, and a progenitor of postmodernism and the digital age. A work of excoriating laughter, linguistic derangement, and transcendent beauty, it remains both influential and inimitable.
This is the first book devoted in its entirety to William Burroughs’ masterpiece, bringing together an international array of scholars, artists, musicians, and academics from many fields to explore the origins, writing, reception, and complex meanings of Naked Lunch. Tracking the legendary book from Texas and Mexico to New York, Tangier, and Paris, Naked Lunch@50 significantly advances our understanding and appreciation of this most elusive and uncanny of texts.
Novelist Bohumil Hrabal (1914–97) was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia and spent decades working at a variety of laboring jobs before turning to writing in his late forties. From that point, he quickly made his mark on the Czech literary scene; by his death he was ranked with Jaroslav Hašek, Karel Capek, and Milan Kundera as among the nation’s greatest twentieth-century writers. Known for writing about political questions with humor and vivid expressiveness, Hrabal also was given to experimentation—his early novel Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, for example, consists of a single extended sentence. Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp carried Hrabal’s experimentation to the field of autobiography. On its surface a verbatim record of an oral interview conducted by Hungarian journalist László Szigeti, the book confuses and confounds with false starts, digressions, and philosophical asides. Yet despite all the games and distractions, Hrabal’s personality shines through, compelling and unforgettable, making Pirouette on a Postage Stamp an unexpected treat for any lover of Czech literature.
William S. Burroughs arrived in Mexico City in 1949, having slipped out of New Orleans while awaiting trial on drug and weapons charges that would almost certainly have resulted in a lengthy prison sentence. Still uncertain about being a writer, he had left behind a series of failed business ventures—including a scheme to grow marijuana in Texas and sell it in New York—and an already long history of drug use and arrests. He would remain in Mexico for three years, a period that culminated in the defining incident of his life: Burroughs shot his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer, while playing William Tell with a loaded pistol. (He would be tried and convicted of murder in absentia after fleeing Mexico.)
First published in 1995 in Mexico, where it received the Malcolm Lowry literary essay award, The Stray Bullet is an imaginative and riveting account of Burroughs’s formative experiences in Mexico, his fascination with Mexico City’s demimonde, his acquaintances and friendships there, and his contradictory attitudes toward the country and its culture. Mexico, Jorge García-Robles makes clear, was the place in which Burroughs embarked on his “fatal vocation as a writer.”
Through meticulous research and interviews with those who knew Burroughs and his circle in Mexico City, García-Robles brilliantly portrays a time in Burroughs’s life that has been overshadowed by the tragedy of Joan Vollmer’s death. He re-creates the bohemian Roma neighborhood where Burroughs resided with Joan and their children, the streets of postwar Mexico City that Burroughs explored, and such infamous figures as Lola la Chata, queen of the city’s drug trade. This compelling book also offers a contribution by Burroughs himself—an evocative sketch of his shady Mexican attorney, Bernabé Jurado.
Unraveling the mysteries of Naked Lunch, exploring the allure of fascination
William Burroughs is both an object of widespread cultural fascination and one of America’s great writers. In this study, Oliver Harris elucidates the complex play of secrecy and revelation that defines the allure of fascination. Unraveling the mystifications of Burroughs the writer, Harris discovers what it means to be fascinated by a figure of major cultural influence and unearths a secret history behind the received story of one of America’s great original writers.
In William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination, Harris examines the major works Burroughs produced in the 1950s—Junky, Queer, The Yage Letters, and Naked Lunch—to piece together an accurate, material record of his creative history during his germinal decade as a writer. Refuting the “junk paradigm” of addiction that has been used to categorize and characterize much of Burroughs’ oeuvre, Harris instead focuses on the significance of Burroughs’ letter writing and his remarkable and unsuspected use of the epistolary for his fiction. As Burroughs said to Allen Ginsberg about Naked Lunch, “the real novel is letters to you.” Drawing on rare access to manuscripts, the book suggests new ways of comprehending Burroughs’s unique politics and aesthetics and offers the first accurate account of the writing of Naked Lunch.
William S. Burroughs
Phil Baker Reaktion Books, 2010 Library of Congress PS3552.U75Z57 2010 | Dewey Decimal 813.54092
Along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs (1914––97) is an iconic figure of the Beat generation. In William S. Burroughs, Phil Baker investigates this cult writer’s life and work—from small-town Kansas to New York in the ’40s, Mexico and the South American jungle, to Tangier and the writing of Naked Lunch, to Paris and the Beat Hotel, and ’60s London—alongside Burrough’s self-portrayal as an explorer of inner space, reporting back from the frontiers of experience.
After accidentally shooting his wife in 1951, Burroughs felt his destiny as a writer was bound up with a struggle to come to terms with the “Ugly Spirit” that had possessed him. In this fascinating biography, Baker explores how Burroughs’s early absorption in psychoanalysis shifted through Scientology, demonology, and Native American mysticism, eventually leading Burroughs to believe that he lived in an increasingly magical universe, where he sent curses and operated a “wishing machine.” His lifelong preoccupation with freedom and its opposites—forms of control or addiction—coupled with the globally paranoid vision of his work can be seen to evolve into a larger ecological concern, exemplified in his idea of a divide between decent people or “Johnsons” and those who impose themselves upon others, wrecking the planet in the process.
Drawing on newly available material, and rooted in Burroughs’s vulnerable emotional life and seminal friendships, this insightful and revealing study provides a powerful and lucid account of his career and significance.
Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg have selected twenty-five critical essays on Burroughs that reflect the historical reception of his work, both positive and negative, decade by decade, and that represent the best essays written about him.
The essays cover Burroughs’ major novels—including the cut-up and new trilogies—the censorship issue, and his work in film and painting. The chronological organization brings into critical focus the shift from moral questions raised by the novels’ content, through examinations of Burroughs’ relationship to humanism and modernism, and finally to more focused literary and linguistic issues. In their introduction, the editors survey the progress of Burroughs’ critical reception and examine the reasons for the varied and intense responses to the work and the theoretical assumptions behind those responses.
The reviewers include prominent figures such as Mary McCarthy and Marshall McLuhan as well as major academic critics such as Cary Nelson, Tony Tanner, and Ihab Hassan.
Before the era of fake news and anti-fascists, William S. Burroughs wrote about preparing for revolution and confronting institutionalized power. In this work, Burroughs’ parody becomes a set of rationales and instructions for destabilizing the state and overthrowing an oppressive and corrupt government. As with much of Burroughs’ work, it is hard to say if it is serious or purely satire. The work is funny, horrifying, and eerily prescient, especially concerning the use of language and social media to undermine institutions.
The Revised Boy Scout Manual was a work Burroughs revisited many times, but which has never before been published in its complete form. Based primarily on recordings of a performance of the complete piece found in the archives at the OSU libraries, as well as various incomplete versions of the typescript found at Arizona State University and the New York Public Library archives, this lost masterpiece of satiric subversion is finally available in its entirety.
In this pioneering study, Robin
Lydenberg focuses upon the stylistic accomplishments of this controversial and
experimental writer. In doing so, she skillfully demonstrates that the ideas
we now recognize as characteristic of post-structuralism and deconstruction
were being developed independently by Burroughs long ago.