by Davis Schneiderman
In the second decade of the nineteenth century, a now famous progenitor of American letters wrote (in mockery of the naturalist Buffon) that ‘all animals degenerated in America, and man among the number’ (Irving 1819:809). While readers of the time might have been surprised to learn that the author of this statement, one Geoffrey Crayon, was also that famous New York historian Diedrich Knickerbocker, those who know the ‘real’ identity of both writers as Washington Irving recognize Irving’s position in the American canon as that of a literary imitator. Irving’s pseudonymous Crayon completely transformed the original German locations of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ into terrain seemingly indigenous to the new world.
I deliberately use the term ‘real’ to describe this author’s identity— not to question the existence of the man known as Washington Irving, but to dramatize (in conjunction with American ‘degeneration’) that the position of the author is bound inextricably with the transformation of his subject matter, so that the resulting amalgamation might respond to the question: ‘Wouldn’t it be booful if we should juth run together into one gweat big blob’ (Q 100). Such is also the case with the American transient William S. Burroughs, who jigged about the map in his effort to produce a corpus that exists never in only one place and time, but rather, finds itself moving toward what he calls a ‘final ecological jump’ (Zivancevic 1981:525) into space.
‘Space’ has at least two meanings when applied to Burroughs’s work; first, he encourages the evolution of humans into a form best suited for cosmic nether-realms via a spirit body (see Russell 2001:155–87); second, ‘space’ can also signify a postmodern dissolution of Enlightenment-imposed limits in a world no longer bound by the flat logic of hegemonic ‘reason’. This latter value acts as a continual hedge against the more fantastic elements of the Burroughsian cosmology, but also finds connection with the political struggles characterizing the emerging global economic order, where ‘all of nature has become capital, or at least has become subject to capital’ (Hardt and Negri 2000:272).
Accordingly, Burroughs’s entreaties for humans to evolve from ‘time’ into ‘space’ can be productively analyzed in terms of the material vagaries of global politics that are contemporaneous with his movement, not away from writing, but into a creative space (in the second sense of the term) populated with a variety of multimedia projects. As noted by a number of critics (Miles 1992; Sobieszek 1996; Murphy 1997), Burroughs has a long engagement with aesthetics beyond the written form, and this engagement can be traced back to at least the late 1950s in his work with Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville.
Significantly, such supplementary activity quickly assumed a prominent theoretical position in Burroughs’s work, which became increasingly fixated on conceits of media as both resistance and control. This ambivalence is crucial, both deployed and circumscribed by the language of its articulation, so that Burroughs’s work—offering a symbolic language of media production—always searches for opportunities to exploit formal processes as a means of scuttling the forces of commodification: Burroughs not only argued for the efficacy of cut-ups, but also used them as a production tool; he not only wrote about films and recordings, but also made them throughout his career. His reflexive empiricism thus carries the significance of his work beyond that of a simply innovative writer, providing it with a ‘double resonance’—an awareness of its structural limits in terms of both content and production.
Robert A. Sobieszek notes that Burroughs’s film and recorder projects ‘startlingly anticipate MTV rock videos of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the devices of “scratching” and “sampling” in punk, industrial, and rap music of the same decades’ (1996:20–1). Still, it is important not simply to perceive the sound manipulation techniques that we consider contemporary, including ‘inching’— represented on Break Through in Grey Room (a 1986 collection of early Burroughs sound experiments)—as the progenitors of today’s ubiquitous rap and DJ culture; worse yet, to consider this culture from the banal academic perspective that would label those techniques as still effectively ‘resistant’ ignores the mass culture’s ability to absorb innovation. In both cases, such plaudits run the risk of paradoxically diluting the work into the neutralized extensions of Madison Avenue. Rather, we must examine subversive possibilities that remain ever wary of the media, while simultaneously exploiting the field’s incessant desire to cover. Accordingly, media literacy campaigns dedicated to reversing a default one-way information flow (as per the ‘Senders’ of Naked Lunch and their ‘biocontrol apparatus’ [NL 148]) have found some success in recent years. Image-savvy groups such as the indigenous rights-oriented Zapatistas in Mexico, as well as the coalition of activists involved in the ‘Battle of Seattle’ protest at the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization and the similarly motivated 2000 protests against the World Economic Forum’s Asia Pacific meeting in Melbourne, Australia, demonstrate that the anti-globalization movement not only ‘manifests viscerally in local spaces but it also depends upon broad non-geographical media spaces’ (Luckman and Redden 2001:32).
Significantly, the clutch of struggles affiliated with the antiglobalization movement is always locked into a split-level effort: on the one hand, such movements must attempt to prevent the pandemic erosion of public space and public resources (air, water, wilderness, and so on); at the same time they must battle against the co-optation and dissolution of their public voices into the droning mass of the culture industry—any middle-American mall-rat with a pocket full of allowance can purchase a Che Guevara T-shirt. Burroughs’s sound collaborations, while always in danger of becoming just this sort of empty prattle, are nonetheless ideally positioned: not to overthrow the control machine by ‘storming the reality studio’—a goal too idealistic to combat a control machine that routinely deploys the techniques of media-savvy dissent—but to map, onto the material effects of its own delivery systems, strategies of guerilla resistance imbued with enough reflexive potential to hold the grey room after the oft-envisaged ‘break through’.
As Tom Hayden comments (on a poster at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago): ‘[T]hose administering the regressive apparatus […] cannot distinguish “straight” radicals from newspapermen or observers from delegates to the convention. They cannot distinguish rumors about demonstrations from the real thing’ (cited by Walker 1968:36–7). Hayden’s statement seems to imply the opportunity for guerilla intervention, but for Burroughs, there is no such ‘resistance’ that can avoid the possibility of being spun from a reverse angle. Thus, the ‘double resonance’ of his sound production has as much to do with the undesirability of supposedly ‘transformative’ technological identity cast in the illusion of hybridity, as it does with the possibility of producing aesthetic artifacts capable of exploding the limits of conventional discourse.
THE HIPSTER BE-BOP JUNKIE?
Regarding Burroughs’s first official sound release, Call Me Burroughs (1965), Barry Alfonso remarks (on the reissue liner notes) on the ‘antique metallic resonance’ of Burroughs’s voice—linked to the resounding ‘echoes of older America’—which, with its metanarrative pronouncements from texts such as Nova Express, assumes meanings not possible on the page. On the same track, ‘Where You Belong’, the straight-ahead voice tells us: ‘We pull writers of all time in together and record radio programs, movie soundtrack, TV and jukebox songs […] all the words of the world stirring around in a cement mixer, and pour in the resistance message’ (CMB). Still, the Englishlanguage portion of the original 1965 liner notes, written by Emmett Williams, oversimplifies the connection between Burroughs’s voice and the cut-up ‘message’, misattributing interpretative clairvoyance to Burroughs’s already prophetic reputation. For Williams, Burroughs reading Burroughs might be taken as ‘an indispensable key to the arcana of The Naked Lunch and Nova Express’ (CMB liner notes).
Is this the ‘real’ Burroughs then—the producer and interpreter of text through its own articulation? According to Williams’s playful and perhaps hasty summation, we can envision Burroughs feeding himself media on the subliminal level, processing himself through performance, and thus producing a hyperbolic carnival version of his own narrative fête. Such jouissance might point to the ‘real’ Burroughs in the same way that Crayon or Knickerbocker were at various times associated with the early American ‘degenerate’ called Washington Irving. Any correlation beyond simple identification or attribution remains only local, no more emblematic of the essential Burroughs than the $25 T-shirt is representative of the South American revolutionary.
Despite Williams’s desire to ‘discover’ in Burroughs’s voice some vital essence, what may be most significant about Burroughs’s early forays into visual and sound culture is that the work itself never surrendered to the ‘countercultural myth’ that characterized much avant-garde output of the time—as Thomas Frank calls the myth that resistance operated in binary opposition to the ‘muted, uniform gray’ of the business world (1997:6). Frank, for instance, notes PepsiCola’s early 1960s invention of a completely commodified populace who could be set against the apparently rigid mores of old America (in this case represented by Coca-Cola) for mercantile purposes: ‘[I]n 1961 [Pepsi] invented a fictional youth movement, a more wholesome version of Mailer’s hipsters but still in rebellion against the oppressive demands of mass society’ (1997:170). Such easy binaries are not to be found in Burroughs’s arsenal; marked by the ‘double resonance’ of his content and production, the ambivalence of addiction along with its complete hold on the subject assures Burroughs’s readers that they would be wise to remain continually suspicious of the standard counterculture line: ‘The prolonged use of LSD may give rise in some cases to a crazed unwholesome benevolence—the old tripster smiling into your face sees all your thoughts loving and accepting you inside out’ (Job 137).
Accordingly, we might investigate Burroughs’s later sound production as a project evolving from his early tape recorder and film pieces, because once the mass media entered its current period of rampant self-reflective narcissism, Burroughs’s rise as a pop-culture figure was on one level assured by the fact that he was still alive and producing. Popular constructions of Burroughs as junkie-murdererScientologist-Nike shill-painter-homosexual-et al. might be read as reminders of the control machine’s adaptability; no doubt, these ‘ports of entry’ will each remain enticing gateways for the Burroughs mythology, but Burroughs’s continued suspicion of language’s ‘ability’ to offer a clear message can also countermand the accreted meaning and interpretation of his popular persona: ‘If they write an article attacking the Olympia Press as sexualizing congruent accessibility to its heart of pulp fecundate with orifices perspectives in the name of human privacy they have placed their thesis beyond the realm of fact […] The words used refer to nothing’ (Job 107). Language betrays any attempt to hang Burroughs onto a particular commercial hook, but also compromises—‘informs’—on his retorts.
Even so, Burroughs’s multimedia collaborations might still be interpreted as ‘lines of flight’ from the structures of advanced capital. The ‘double resonance’ of Burroughs’s work and cultural appropriation attempts to perform key reversals, what Saul Alinsky calls ‘mass political jujitsu’ (cited by Klein 2002:281), so that while the forces of commodification try to assimilate the viral seed of Burroughs’s language, they remain unable to force the words into their desired meaning.
INVERSION I: WORKING WITH THE POPULAR FORCES
In his classic treatise Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Attali articulates our first inversion—that recorded music and sound have become representative of a fundamental shift in the relationship between performance and recording. Whereas the original purpose of recording was to preserve the live concert experience, Attali argues that the evolution of mass reproducibility and the concomitant rise of the ‘recording star’ changed the live performance into a repetition of the recorded situation. The authority of original production and that of the recording industry are both called into question (1985:85–6), guaranteeing that even in its popular manifestation of apparent countercultural forms (for example, the Beatles), the recording industry ‘assured that young people were very effectively socialized, in a world of pettiness constructed by adults’ (110).
Burroughs and Gysin, aware of the deep structural ambivalence of the linguistic medium, argued that ‘[t]he word was and is flesh […] The word was and is sound and image’ (3M 159), and thus focused their recording energies on pieces that would somehow cultivate a reproduction of ‘aura’ that could grow throughreplication, while at the same time questioning the efficacy of their own involvement in the control mechanisms of the pre-recordings. In the liner notes for Apocalypse Across the Sky by the Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar (produced by Bill Laswell), Burroughs and Gysin position the special caste of musicians (‘the 4000-year-old rock ‘n’ roll band’) in an era pre-dating the traps of language and technological recording: ‘Musicians are magicians in Morocco […] They are evokers of djenoun forces, spirits of the hills and the flocks and above all the spirits of music’ (Apocalypse liner notes). Yet, Burroughs and Gysin also admonish the consumers of the music to ‘let the music penetrate you and move you, and you will connect with the oldest music on earth’ (Apocalypse liner notes). In order to account not only for the apparent contradiction of discovering such ‘auratic’ magic in the technological medium, but also for Attali’s sense that recording sound and music becomes subordinate to the replicated long-player of capital, we must determine how Burroughs uses such an inversion to his advantage.
‘Burroughs Break’, the first track from the Burroughs and Gus Van Sant collaboration The Elvis of Letters (1985), offers the line, ‘Whatever you feed into the machine on a subliminal level, the machine will process’, and this sample is seemingly copied straight from the Call Me Burroughs record (as are other portions of Elvis). Van Sant’s twangy guitar backs up the majority of Elvis, most effectively perhaps on the second track, ‘Word is Virus’, which repeats the ideological mantra of Nova Express: ‘Word begets image and image is virus’ (48). While such exercises, which mix Burroughs’s spoken word recording with musical accompaniment, are notable advances from the deadpan delivery on Call Me Burroughs, the potential of Van Sant’s project to overcome the limiting interplay of sound and text, while always relying more heavily on spoken word material, remains in question.
The privileging of the Burroughs text on this record is evident in the resonance of such sound recordings to the events of global theater. Stash Luczkiw, writing in Italy Weekly of the beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, attributes a connection between Burroughs’s line, ‘Word begets image, and image is virus’ (Luczkiw 2003), and the co-opting power of image politics to the Italian media elite. Luczkiw cites a rumor concerning the outlawed Masonic Lodge, Propaganda 2 (P2), and a supposed 1976 document, the ‘Plan for Democratic Renewal’, detailing an objective ‘to gain influence and, ultimately, control over the mass media by infiltrating various newspapers, publishing houses and TV stations’. Significantly, Luczkiw names Berlusconi as a ‘former member of P2’ (2003), but his essay represents more than the political application of Burroughs’s paranoiac cosmic-opera ideas.
Applying Burroughs’s work to theoretical materials that attempt to explain the metaphorical implications of his prose is certainly a viable critical tactic, yet even casually drawing such conclusions (as Luczkiw does) from a text used in The Elvis of Letters does not specifically address the recorded nature of the disk. For it is the material of the recording, to return to Attali, that puts a unique spin on the replicating inversion of the original/recording relationship within the space of global capital. In order to circumnavigate the trap of ‘double resonant’ production applied only along its single written dimension, we must more precisely trace the relationship between recording and original.
INVERSION II: BURROUGHS CALLED THE LAW CALLED BURROUGHS
Expanding on Roland Barthes’s ‘death of the author’ in the lateStructuralist moment, Michel Foucault offers a salient conception of the ‘author function’ that characterizes our second inversion. Foucault traces the history of the ‘author function’ as born from an alteration of the common cultural notion of the ‘author’ preceding the text that she constructs from the genius of her creative faculty. After demonstrating how the author has indeed become subject to the legal vagaries of advanced capital, including ‘ownership’ necessitated by the rise of copyright law, Foucault shows how this ‘author function’ does not precede the text in the same way as the humanist notion of ‘Author’, but how it assumes a limiting function for the text(s) that it accompanies. The ‘author function’ becomes a projection of the ‘operations that we force texts to undergo’ (1969:551)— a chimera made real by its own culturally sanctioned image and its ability to reinforce epistemological discursive limits.
As one embodiment of this ‘author function’ that is complicit with control, Burroughs, the author-cum-counterculture-icon, must somehow intervene directly into the milieu of control in order to alter the discursive practices that are ‘natural’ to the capitalist environment of his production as an ‘Author’. This task is not unlike his oft-used comparison for the limits of the space program (‘Yes sir, the fish said, I’m just going to shove a little aquarium up onto land there, got everything I need in it’ [PDR 41]); language, understood as a virus, precipitates its own dissemination in a way that forces a certain limited meaning at every juncture. If the solution to this poststructural quandary, as offered in such texts as the ‘Academy 23’ section of The Job, is recourse to pictorial associative systems, how can we reconcile Burroughs’s work with image/sound as being any more successful than his already circumscribed-by-capital textual production?
The key to this ‘solution’ lies in the second reversal mixed with the first: if recording has become a means to replicate the live act that is now constructed as a facsimile of the recording (Attali), and if the ‘author function’ is in part an illusory product of copyright-inspired capital transactions of ownership (Foucault), then any disruption must occur in a way that scuttles the efficacy of the signifying chain separating ‘original’ from ‘copy’ while at the same time destroying the relational mechanisms that authorize such compartmentalization through the function of the ‘genius’ author or intellect.
EL HOMBRE INVISIBLE
Jesse Bernstein: How do you see the relationship between your public image—there’s a William S. Burroughs archetype—your body of work, and yourself, the actual man?
William Burroughs: There is no actual man.
—Jesse Bernstein, ‘Criminal Mind’
One of the more interesting sound works of Burroughs’s later period is the 1997 remix release version of the classic Material album Seven Souls (1989), a sort of unofficial soundtrack to Burroughs’s last major novel, The Western Lands (1987). Significant to this discussion is the way that the music, along with Burroughs’s readings, creates an interplay that moves beyond the reliance on written text; as Murphy notes about the track ‘The Western Lands’, excerpts from different sections of Burroughs’s novel have come together in the song (1997:225), creating an orchestrated cut-up at the altar of the mixing table. The final track of both the original and the remix record, ‘The End of Words’, returns the listener to that assumed connection between the text and its performance, which features ‘Middle Eastern scales and overdubbed chants’ (Murphy 1997:225), before Burroughs drones through the final passages of The Western Lands, including, significantly: ‘The old writer couldn’t write anymore because he had reached the end of words, the end of what can be done with words. And then?’ (WL 258)
Expressed as both text and sound versions, this passage is ostensibly the ‘same’ in each instance, yet the difference between the ‘original’ written iteration of this passage and its re-articulation on the remix record becomes more than just a refraction of the ‘real’ world of the text into a sound medium. Such movement between mediums is not simply, as the Critical Art Ensemble laments, ‘trying to eat soup with soup’ (1994:86). Rather, the context has been altered to locate this new articulation, as a new expression of the ‘double resonance’ that exploits Attali’s retroversion.
In Attali’s conception, the artist originally recorded her work as a way of preserving the live performance. In this case, at first analysis, the live performance of Burroughs’s reading would comport, in the straight-ahead style of Call Me Burroughs, to the reverse structure that Attali attributes to the pattern of replication typified by advanced capital: Burroughs reads and records the text during a live performance, in order to preserve (as per the reversal), through voice, the ‘original’ written text and any ‘original’ live performances that presumably preceded its recorded articulation. Significantly, this live performance is recorded.
Yet, with Laswell’s band not so much performing a cut-up on the text as radically recontextualizing it, the situation undergoes a subsequent and crucial re-inversion: the recording of the spoken word reading, which Laswell uses on his 1989 record, becomes the original performance of the aural material (or the articulation that serves as such within the new regime), and the Laswell-produced track ‘The End of Words’—a new recording—works in Attali’s formula as a way of not merely limiting the new original by reproducing it again, but changing the new original—which is not, of course, the ‘real’ original—through the détournement of its first and only temporary position in a tenuous chain of signification (as an aural copy of the written text, which has been elided from the sound process completely).
For Burroughs’s work, the context has now shifted, and his ‘end of words’ proclamation becomes a prophecy that plays itself out in the inability of that language to fix the ‘meaning’ of its articulation. Just as Magritte’s picture of a pipe is no longer a pipe itself, Burroughs’s text about the ‘end of words’ is no longer a fixed written text that attempts to signify an insoluble concept through appreciable limits, because its recording and subsequent re-situation plays upon Burroughs’s own narrative critiques of the insolubility of originality. The recording and mixing process redirects the specter of repetition, so that any relation to the ‘original’ is not one of only preservation and repetition (as per Attali’s reversal), but, potentially, one of evolution.
Still, it may be clear from such an example that Laswell’s work, while certainly innovative, is little more than a clever crossapplication of the cut-up method to a sound medium, and thus, the new articulation quickly exhausts its apparent insight into the system of replicated reproduction. While manipulations of spoken word texts are by no means legion in the popular arena, enough of this type of activity has been performed that the reader might see the re-signification of Attali’s reversal (complicated by Burroughs’s own production techniques, discussed earlier) as subject to Frank’s cogent analysis of the countercultural myth, or Foucault’s notions of the complete penetration of the power apparatus in a society of control. Without discounting these critiques, let us lay down the ‘second reversal’, that of the ‘author function’, onto this track.
EL HOMBRE DI-VISIBLE
Recall that Foucault expresses that the ‘author function’ is born contemporaneously with the text, and is, in fact, the limiting agent to which the text is attributed, a sort of phenomenological enforcer of Burroughs’s ‘Board Books’. Burroughs’s solution, offered throughout his career, might be cited as: ‘Equipped now with sound and image track of the control machine […] I had only to mix the order of recordings and the order of images’ (SM 92). This possibility is developed in works such as the CD Break Through in Grey Room (due to the fact that a text that has as its subject ‘recording’ is then manipulated as a recording itself), but let us consider the remix of Seven Souls for a later iteration of this methodology as a musical concept once removed from the ‘originating’ consciousness of the idea as already developed by Burroughs.
The original 1989 ‘Soul Killer’ track, also a collection of passages from The Western Lands, expands upon ‘Total Death. Soul Death’, the consolidation of energy that occurs in that mummycontrolled ‘space’ of the Western hegemonic afterlife. From the track: ‘Governments fall from sheer indifference. Authority figures, deprived of the vampiric energy they suck off their constituents are seen for what they are: dead, empty masks manipulated by computers. And what is behind the computers? Remote control of course’ (WL 116). On the most provocative remix from the 1997 record, DJ Terre Thaemlitz’s ‘Remote Control Mix’ of ‘Soul Killer’, Burroughs’s famous dictum that there is ‘nothing here now but the recordings’ (which also ends the 1989 Laswell version) closes with the same warning about the ‘recordings’: ‘[T]hey are as radioactive as an old joke’ (WL 116). The familiar metallic timbre of Burroughs’s voice gives way to the distorted soundscape that one reviewer notes ‘evok[es] imagery of Morocco or somewhere equally as exotic’ (Stoeve 2002). The sonic wasteland is ethereal enough to situate the few remaining and audible Burroughs sounds, no more than quick glitches in time, in a way that implies that the ‘author’—the absent Burroughs—has been drowned by the same ‘remote control technology’ that he conducted an excursus upon in the 1989 recording. From the time of 6:30 to 7:00 on the remix, we hear almost inaudible and certainly defamiliarized fragments of what sounds like Burroughs’s voice buried beneath the sands of the engineer’s table: ‘originally’ words in the pages of The Western Lands (assuming erroneously but deliberately that typing/scripting is the origination point of language), these words are no longer ‘words’ at all.
Here we enter the realm that lies submersed beneath the ambient waves of the postmodern musical era, served under the imprimatur of direct noise that one might find on the records Greg Hainge cites in his essay, ‘Come on Feel the Noise: Technology and its Dysfunctions in the Music of Sensation’, including Reynol’s Blank Tapes or Francis Lopez’s Paris Hiss (2002:42–58). In the postindustrial wilderness that closes Thaemlitz’s mix, the warning about the ‘radioactivity’ of the pre-recordings becomes the last completely audible (although manipulated) portion of the track, so that this final desert of the red night not only plays upon the radioactive nature of the ‘old jokes’—the old America that contributes to the degeneration of its inhabitants—but also continues the ‘double resonance’ that infuses the best of Burroughs’s spoken word material: remixed almost beyond aural recognition, the spoken word ‘text’, a mélange of the textual and sonic, a distorted re-recording of a previously manipulated recording of a live performance of a written ‘original’ (with multiple variations across a history of Burroughs’s work) hopelessly spins the Attali equation on its head, but also pushes toward Foucault’s vision of the text as no longer constrained by the author function (although Foucault always envisions some form of constraint). We need no longer lament the replication of a recorded text or performance in its live iteration, because all of these categories are problematized by the conflation of the original and the recording. The identity of the ‘real’ originator Burroughs (while still ‘present’ on the remix) finds his flickering persona fed into the recording machine in so many iterations, both through his own instrumentation and that of other like-minded collaborators, that it is cut backward and chopped apart until the computer sample of ‘his’ voice, the recording of a recording, implodes.
Burroughs’s ‘double resonance’ provides a limit, a glass ceiling for him to vibrate toward in an attempt to ‘rub out the word’, so that it is only with a soul death, a total death effectuated—through the use of the recording process that seeks to eliminate his voice from his own descriptive passages—that we can see our way forward to Foucault’s vision of a future without the ‘author function’. Foucault’s future is founded not upon a reversal that allows the ‘author’ to again precede the ‘text’, but with an acknowledgement of the signifying limits of the author that accelerate the evolutionary changes, suggesting, like Burroughs’s buried and distorted clicks at the end of the ‘Soul Killer’ remix, that: ‘All discourses, whatever their status, form, value, and whatever the treatment to which they will be subjected, would then develop in the anonymity of a murmur’ (Foucault 1969:558). Listen as closely as you like to the Thaemlitz track’s final minutes, between 6:30 and 6:50; rewind and replay as often as you can; wear noisecanceling headphones to better preserve the snippets of deconstructed Burroughs that pass through your ears—and you will still hear only the murmur of standard narrative intelligibility.
This murmur is an apt metaphor in its ethereality—in its ambivalence between presence and absence—to bring us toward closure. N. Katherine Hayles, upon listening to Nothing Here Now But the Recordings, expresses the disjunction between the ‘explanatory’ prose segments on sound manipulation and the practical application of the method: ‘I found the recording less forceful as a demonstration of Burroughs’s theories than his writing. For me, the aurality of his prose elicits a greater response than the machine productions it describes and instantiates’ (Hayles 1999:216). Significantly, Hayles’s analysis also identifies the danger of Burroughs’s sound experiments to ‘constitute a parasitic monologue’ if not ‘self-disrupted’ (215) by manipulations that might counteract the trap of language—so that sound can be expanded to not only echo the sounds of the body (an internal engine), but in its self-deconstruction, become an external mechanism that produces ‘a new kind of subjectivity that strikes at the deepest levels of awareness’ (220). Elsewhere is this collection, Anthony Enns attends to Hayles’s critique through the primacy of Burroughs’s use of the typewriter, yet we must also consider her hesitancy to embrace Burroughs’s sound recordings as a reminder of the difficulty in escaping the parasitism of the control machine that feeds on the iconic image.
This brief reading of Burroughs’s sound-related projects cannot possibly approach an exhaustive study, nor can it imply that such current sound production will actually produce Hayles’s new subjectivity, because in many ways the works of contemporary musicians/ sound performers, no matter how seemingly ‘revolutionary’, exist in a different cultural location than once-‘obscene’ texts such as Naked Lunch. Great gains have been made for provocative aesthetics; while I never read Burroughs as a student, his work routinely finds a place on my syllabus as a professor, representing a local manifestation of Kathy Acker’s statement that ‘we are living in the world of Burroughs’s novels’ (1997:3). Even though we might now simply view a picture of Burroughs holding court with Kim Gordon and Michael Stipe, or hear socially conscious rock band Radiohead sample lead singer Thom Yorke’s live voice for immediate playback during performances of ‘Everything in the Right Place’ (an application of ‘Burroughsian’ principles), we must still force ourselves to reconcile the overwhelming persona of the speaker against the cult of the image that dilutes its message, while simultaneously applying the same concerns to the medium. Perhaps, as both Attali and Hainge suggest, the solution can be found in the productive power of noise, because ‘in its limited appeal […] the Noise genre subverts the relationship between product and demand in the age or repetition and mass consumerism’ (Hainge 2002:56).
The inherent problem of such pronouncements is that the control machine also listens to its own noises—and it never hesitates to engage in playback. During the ‘psyops’ (psychological operations) phase of the 2003 Iraq war, the US military followed Burroughs’s admonition in ‘Electronic Revolution’ to use sound as ‘a front line weapon to produce and escalate riots’ (now in Job 175): ‘The military also uses the recordings during tank assaults as “force multipliers”, sound effects to make the enemy think the forces are larger than they actually are’ (Leinwand 2003).
Burroughs would advocate fighting fire with a recording of fire, and while even the recent rise of file sharing protocols might create conditions (in the separation of recording from corporate ownership) to cut the association lines of the mass media, the fact that we cannot eat soup with soup also argues for constant vigilance against the corporate and commercial forces. If the cop not only needs the criminal, but also is the criminal, we must also see the dominant culture’s ability to absorb the ideologically ‘resistant’ as the key to the ‘double resonance’ of Burroughs’s sound projects. Senator Orrin Hatch, himself a musician of the patriotic/religious variety, recently advocated integrating viruses into Internet downloads to damage file sharing culprits, which, in Hatch’s words, ‘may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights’ (Bridis 2003:2B).
If the corporate body can literally consume everything it tastes, there is no sense in hiding the food. Instead, Burroughs’s position must be fed into the machine in so many ways, from so many coordinate points, that not only will that position overwhelm the machine on the subliminal level, but the machine will be fundamentally changed so that it no longer recognizes a source for the recordings at all. The best way to put Burroughs’s concepts to use may be to get rid of ‘Burroughs’ altogether.
And at the same time, we must make of ourselves a meal.
Retaking the Universe (William S.Burroughs in the Age of Globalization)
Part2: Writing, Sign, Instrument: Language and Technology/Nothing Hear Now but the Recordings : Burroughs’s ‘Double Resonance’/Edited by Davis Schneiderman and Philip Walsh
First published 2004 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166–2012, USA
Speculating Freedom: Addiction, Control and Rescriptive Subjectivity in the Work of William S. Burroughs
Jose Rosales - ON THE END OF HISTORY & THE DEATH OF DESIRE (NOTES ON TIME AND NEGATIVITY IN BATAILLE’S ‘LETTRE Á X.’)
Jose Rosales - BERGSONIAN SCIENCE-FICTION: KODWO ESHUN, GILLES DELEUZE, & THINKING THE REALITY OF TIME
Obsolete Capitalism - THE STRONG OF THE FUTURE. NIETZSCHE’S ACCELERATIONIST FRAGMENT IN DELEUZE AND GUATTARI’S ANTI-OEDIPUS
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 1)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 2)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 3)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 4)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 5)
Steven Craig Hickman - David Roden and the Posthuman Dilemma: Anti-Essentialism and the Question of Humanity
Steven Craig Hickman - The Carnival of Globalisation: Hyperstition, Surveillance, and the Empire of Reason
Steven Craig Hickman - Shaviro On The Neoliberal Strategy: Transgression and Accelerationist Aesthetics
Steven Craig Hickman - Hyperstition: Technorevisionism – Influencing, Modifying and Updating Reality
Terence Blake - CONCEPTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (2)
Terence Blake - GUATTARI’S LINES OF FLIGHT (2): transversal vs transferential approaches to the reading contract
Himanshu Damle - Games and Virtual Environments: Playing in the Dark. Could These be Havens for Criminal Networks?
Himanshu Damle - Hegelian Marxism of Lukács: Philosophy as Systematization of Ideology and Politics as Manipulation of Ideology.
Nick Land - The unconscious is not an aspirational unity but an operative swarm, a population of 'preindividual and prepersonal singularities'