Posts Tagged ‘William S. Burroughs’

The Shakes

November 13, 2011

“I’m addicted to something that doesn’t exist, and I think I’m going into withdrawal.” – William S. Burroughs

Living for Prying Yourself Loose

September 26, 2011

Here are some scans of, to be succinct, old Burroughs junk. The kind of junk I live for:

Via Jason Louv’s Twitter.

Then Anger Left Me When I Was Done

April 24, 2010

I am angry today. I tried to watch Michael Specter’s “The Danger of Science Denial” at This post comes in two sections. I wrote the first section after I cooled down enough to analyse the video in its entirety and reflects what I consider to be several reasonable issues with Specter’s presentation. The second I spent most of the day writing as I watched the video. I do not think it reflects a reasonable analysis of his presentation in that it is more of an ideological tirade against a way of looking at the world that I find pernicious and annoying.

Section 1:
The central problem is he pulls the switcheroo several times. He leads in with a supposed case of people doing something relatively harmless that he alleges goes against scientific evidence, then relates that relatively harmless behavior to an horrific extreme example that no compassionate human being could condone. If you have a problem with GMOs you are directly responsibly for denying African villagers a cassava plant that has vitamins and proteins that would stop them from going blind. This seems like a fake chain of causation considering that most of the anger over GMOs is targeted against one or two kind of evil companies (Monsanto and Novartis), and that neither of those companies is likely to be involved in such a project, but that doesn’t stop him from drawing that conclusion. It’s a somewhat confusing talk because he seems to recognize and acknowledge the flaws in his own arguments, then repeatedly tramples over them to make his point anyway. He recognizes some of the valid reasons why a person should distrust authority based on recent experiences, but in saying that public concerns are law and policy issues relating to corporations and governments and not science, he is ignoring the symbiotic and often consciously complicit relationship between scientific institutions, corporations and governments. The capper is his inflammatory language. He invokes shame and value judgments in a way that makes argument with his more dubious points seem morally wrong, not on their own merits, but by the associations he draws.

Ironically Favorite Line: “You don’t get to have your own facts.”

Section 2:
All I can hear when I listen is the mythology of progress, a creation myth of our society with science and industry as its culture heroes, a myth that is ignorant of the real forces which have shaped our societies and dismisses the rampant destruction of our life support systems on planet Earth. There is no recognition that this myth of progress is a large component of what has pushed us to our present extremity and that when our environmental factors of favorable climate and cheap, abundant energy come to and end so will our progress ( Likewise, a passing nod is made to the damage caused by our society’s sociopathic use of scientific knowledge and power, but there is seemingly no awareness that further developments of this power will be misused by the same forces that caused us to misuse it in the first place.

He aims to lampoon the fear of vaccines, GMO bans and herbal medicines as distortions and denials of science, while he lampoons his own absurdity. What are these petty trifles at the feat of our strange gods of war, industry, famine and disease, Haliburton, Exxon Mobile, Monsanto, Glaxosmithkline. Have we not reason to be afraid of vaccines when it seems the World Health Organization is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies ( Have we not reason to be afraid when we have no ability to control genetic contamination of crops ( and when agribusinesses can lie and distort the truth about their crops with impunity, to devastating affect ( , Have we not reason to be afraid when pharmaceutical companies can pick and choose what studies they release about their products and maintain unwholesome relationships with the doctors who prescribe their drugs(

This is not so much a plea of innocence for his targets as an indictment of his myopia.

In the face of these affronts how is paranoia an irrational response.

I love this picture. To me it represents the promise of science, to understand the universe from the smallest to the largest and back to the smallest, to see its beauty and complexity while saying something profound and powerful in the face of it all. Science, or more accurately, the institution that we have constructed around that word, the universities, the foundations, the labs, the R&D departments, the very system of acknowledgement and recognition upon which they stand, does not fulfill this promise today, not in more than the smallest measure. This is because (forgive me, please forgive me) our institution of science is prostituted to the least among us, those who have given their lives in the pursuit of power and wealth. The CEO, the general, the career political appointee and those who have found power through religious institutions or special interest groups.

The development of the corporation, its structure and function, has been far more the creative force behind the evolving form of our society than science ever has. Science has merely been the tool, wielded by masters unconcerned by the scope and wonder of the cosmos, but by the mastery and control of that which they could own and profit from. This is what determines the course of scientific endeavor, not high minded ideals, but where funding is allocated. If the scientists should arrive at the “wrong” answer then the funding will move else where.

The institution of science, despite all that it could be, all that it might be, is today a weapon of control and oppression, used by those with power against those without. No different than any church that twists its teachings, the internal meanings of its sacred words, for the sake of power and political expediency. What of the power that science has give you, your car, your laptop, camera phone and the internet in all its glory? what of them? They are toys compared to the powers we have invested into a handful of human beings around the world. We have gone from free bacteria, inefficiently processing anaerobic nutrients to eukaryotic cells in the organism, furiously processing from the oxygenated blood stream of the world fossil-fuel-subsidized transport system and communicating over its fiber optic neurons. We have power within the system, but there is a master of whom we are only dimly aware. A master who moves the whole.

The very system of monetization that these corporations have engendered in their role as centralized banks necessitates the form and course of our society, its endless exponential growth and transformation of the natural world into products and services (

None of what I have written denies the power of the scientific method If you seek to understand or control the physical world, but science is not free.

“Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold.” – Peter Watts

Watt’s quote exemplifies an ideal that even under the most adverse conditions the scientific method will, through its hard attrition of peer review and defense of academic territory, somehow manage to edge toward the truth. I think in someways he is right, but he also left academia in part because his work was being distorted, both by those who funded it and by the activist NGOs that misrepresented it to the public. For the record, I doubt he would agree with the point I am trying to make, or enjoy that I am making it.


Newton was one of the first great scientists, he was also one of the last great mystics. He wanted to know God through understanding the calculus. There is a false division between those who think that everything in the universe may be understood and controlled and those who think that the universe is inherently beyond our understanding and control. As William S. Burroughs said “the road to the Western Lands is the most dangerous in the world” and the Western Lands are not a pleasant afterlife, they are a metaphor for achieving awareness of the ultimate immortality of the spirit/consciousness, beyond form, and are thus completely indivisible from an ultimate perception and understanding of reality as it is. They are part of the one and the same that is beyond the power of my words to express or to reach. There is a point on the road beyond which neither your analysis of reality nor your fundamental beliefs will carry you. This is the unknown, the mystery. Eventually our fear and self entrapment will dissolve in the winds of time, but how and when is up to us. Will you fall into it or will you fly.

Forgive me for this act of polemics that I have committed. This attempt to colonize the minds of others. I am, to paraphrase what Alan Watts once said, like a bird whose nature it is to sing. This is the song that comes out.

Ah Pook Is Here

February 24, 2010

William S. Burroughs

July 5, 2009

Burroughs as a person is important to me for two reasons. Make that, three actually.

The first reason is that he is one of the very few writers on magickal or energetic reality, or whatever you want to call it, who genuinely understood darkness. He wasn’t a healer or a prophet trying to tell you how to live your life. He was a writer and essayist, artist in words, explorer in the landscape of the mind and in the energetic sense I think he was a warrior.

“It was a hectic, portentous time in Paris, in 1959, at the Beat Hotel, No. 9, rue Git-le-Coeur. We all thought we were interplanetary agents involved in a deadly struggle… battles… codes… ambushes. it seemed real at the time, from here, who knows? We were promised transport out of the area, out of Time and into Space. We were getting messages, making contacts. Everything had meaning.The danger and the fear were real enough. When someone is trying to kill you, you know it. Better get up off your tail and fight.”

The second reason is that he wrote about what happens when you lose.

“Remember when I threw a blast of energy and all the light in the Earl’s Court area of London went out, all the down the North End Road? There in my five-quid-a-week room in the the Empress Hotel, torn down long ago. And the wind I called up, like Conrad Viedt in one of those sword-and-sorcery movies, up on top of a tower raising his arms: ‘Wind!Wind!Wind!‘ Ripped the shutters off the stalls along Worlds End and set up tidal waves killed several hundred people in Holland or Belgium or someplace.

It all reads like sci-fi from here. Not very good sci-fi, but real enough at the time. There were casualties… quite a number.

Well there isn’t any transport out. There isn’t any important assignment. It’s every man for himself. Like the old bum in the dream said: Maybe we lost. And this is what happens when you lose.”

The third reason is that from everything I’ve read and seen he seemed to be, if not what would classically be called kind, then in possession of an unusual brand of integrity which filled its place.

Edit: Quotes are taken from The Western Lands, by William S. Burroughs.

The Subject of Langauge

May 17, 2009

Another filler post. This is Stephen J. Fry and Hugh Laurie doing a comedy sketch on language.

I’m reluctant to weigh this down with commentary on my part, but despite supposedly being a comedy sketch, this video elegantly and lovingly lampoons its subject. Language is our mansion and our prison. The dearest counterpoint to the immediate and unfiltered experience of this moment, a la zazen. Compare Fry’s “unique child” to the quote from William S. Burroughs in my first post.

Zazen is the allowing of being and the observation of that being, whatever it is. It can be likened to sight. Language is the creation or construction of thought forms, and by them an experience of reality. It is an action, even when it has a clarifying effect.

If Stephen’s assertion were true that humans only use a small portion of the total language, only very repetitively, then what kind of reality could we create if our minds were freed to create with the whole diversity of language?

In Media Res

March 27, 2009

“White bears graze in lush green meadows. A shrieking black boy dances around in civilian bones … emerald whirlwinds. “It’s always her toes to be left alone.”

These magical visions are totally devoid of ordinary human emotion and experience. There is no friendship, love, hostility, fear or hate. There are no rules, no series of steps by which one can be in a position to see. Consequently such visions are the enemy of any dogmatic system. Any dogma must postulate the way, certain steps that will lead to the salvation which the dogma promises. The Christian heaven of pearly gates and singing angels, the Moslem paradise of eternal whores and plenty of water, the Communists’ heaven of the worker state. Otherwise there is no place for a hierarchical structure that mediates between dogma and man, that dictates the way.

To endure in time, any structure must present predictable recurrences. The visions, the glimpses of the Western Lands exist in space, not time, a different medium and a different light, with no temporal coordinates or recurrences. The medium bears some relation to holograms. 

I remember seeing an exhibit of early holograms, mostly chess pieces in little glass cases. There is something strangely oppressive about these objects, a feeling of something that doesn’t belong there. The vision medium can be faked. A hologram can fake it. But when faked, it becomes quite disorienting and unpleasant. A hologram is the illusion of magic without magic.”  W. S. Burroughs – The Westernlands

These “magical visions” are textualized,  direct, unfiltered experience. In this way, they are the raw medium of experience, or information. This information takes on a common kind of meaning only when it is “bent,” or conformed into structures that are recognizable to the viewer.

If the premise is true that all information is existent as a binary code, whether it be in the form of 1s and 0s in a computer system or peaks and troughs of waves (The angle and frequency of Fullerian geometry and synergetics), then the kind of information conformation discussed above would be an abstract, or high-level, form of programming because it contains whole words, usually in grammatically valid sentences.  High-level programming means rearranging large sections or continua of the basic computational language involved to create form, instead of individually placing each 1 and 0. These large sections or continua are analgous to functions in computer programming, but more immediate to the human condition they are signs or symbols in the semiotic sense. See Terrence McKenna’s lecture “Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines” for a comparison of semiotic languages and computer languages.  The majority of modern society functions on the communication of these signs and symbols in the form of the spoken word, text, facial expressions, icons and money.

The shamanic experience is a shift to a lower-level semiotic programming language of the mind. The reality of the symbols upon which your previous lived experiences were predicated come into question because you can see them as constructed and made out of smaller parts that can be rearranged, or they simple appear incoherent. Far more complicated and sublte symbols manifest as your perception is refined in the lower-level languages. Soon you begin to redefine your personal identity and the set of experiences that you are willing to admit into the realm of the “real.”  Which brings us to me.

My definition for a shaman, outside of the cultural role, is “anyone who both perceives and interacts with informational, energetic, etheric or spiritual states of existence and has guides or helpers within those states. I am a shaman.

I’m blogging as an experiment in documenting and relating my experiences. The title is from Robert A. Monroe’s Far Journeys. A rote is a bundle of thought and experience, so you can imagine what a wild rote is.