Off the Shelf


By Marcus Pan

InterzoneWilliam S. Burroughs is considered by many. Precisely what he is considered will however depend upon the person - addict or artist? Deviant or brilliant? It depends on who you're speaking to. Burroughs' literary style varies widely across his span of writing years, from journal-like letters and diary entries and then short stories - usually hyperbolic inflations of things he's come across in his life ("Spare Assed Annie"). Sometimes lines can even be drawn to representations of himself ("Junky Christmas"). Then there is another period in his life - his later years at Tangiere. In the mid-50's, William created a convoluted piece of meandering streams of consciousness style rantings. "Word" is considered his greatest - and filthiest - achievement. For the most hardcore WSB fan, Interzone will be picked up for this latter piece.

Penguin has put out a fine representation of Burroughs' work, giving the beginning WSBer a nice opening to his style - "Word" alone makes even the surreal "Naked Lunch" masterpiece of his seem tamer than Disney in comparison. James Grauerholz explains the nuances of Burroughs' writing in the preface, finely opening the book and giving one a crash course in the influences of the writer's life and travels around the world, to in depth explanations of each of the works found herein.

Then the body of Williams' work opens with the line, "PLEASE IMAGINE AN EXPLOSION ON A SHIP." William, you see, is a very blunt author. He gets right to the point. The first part of Interzone, his short stories, include a number of his interesting prose. The reader is thrust into each story immediately. You many times find yourself entering the story in the middle of it almost, having to pick out pieces and make sense of everything that occurred previous to where you entered by bits and pieces from the text. Usually you can find enough so that the sudden ending doesn't leave you completely clueless. Sometimes it's more difficult and the story becomes more of a convoluted thought than a story at all.

The second portion was my favorite. "Lee's Journals" are complete segue-laden stream of conscious style and quite riveting. It flows easily, you following along at the speed of the thoughts as William put them down to paper. You can tell near-immediately that these were the thoughts of the high - whatever junk William pumped into his body to open himself up to the old typewriter is in effect and he's just letting go with it. Some imagery of disturbing, some questioning and even moreso confusing. Rolling into one subject after another as segues flair out like sunspots burning a path behind themselves quickly so you can't go back.

Now we come to the third part. If "Lee's Journals" were junk-laden, then "Word" is Burroughs at his most raw. The imagery is nothing less than traumatizing. His writing is grammatically scarred and written in a very twisted way, sentences left incomplete and hanging like you turned off a switch and turned on a new one for a new thought. A look inside the mind of a lunatic. On the back cover of this book, there is a quote that says "…the statement of a man writing for his life, a venting, a bloodletting." A barrage of filth to damage the senses and barrage the brain with enough frightening imagery so that just once you can shrug off the programming of society. Or at least so I'm told by Wilde - unfortunately I couldn't find this much merit in it. The imagery was horrifying, indeed. But while I enjoy surreal, this was more towards nonsensical.

I prefer his journals very much. But I can do without "Word." However, this is an essential collection for harder core fans of William S. Burroughs. I seem to be a more passive fan.

"Interzone" by William S. Burroughs
Published by the Penguin Group
Copyright © 1989 William S. Burroughs
ISBN 0 14 00.94512
Introduction by James Grauerholz

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