Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Burroughs File

William S. Burroughs The Burroughs File (1984)
I realise Burroughs isn't everyone's cup of tea, although he's generally mine which is why I'm surprised to have found so little satisfaction in this collection of his one-off bits and pieces culled from obscure magazines or other similarly esoteric sources. I suspect the problem is that I'm accustomed to reading cut-up text in the context of either novels or collections put together by the man himself, the man who understands best how they work, and whether or not it's just a load of words. Exterminator!, for example, might be described as thirty unrelated pieces including cut-ups, certainly nothing the author seems to have intended to work as a novel, and yet the balance is just right. The cut-ups alternate with more traditional forms of prose with a rhythm which seems to take account of the likelihood of readers' losing patience or growing bored, and so somehow it holds together as a single coherent piece, even if not as a novel as such.

Here we mostly have material which was written to be read either in isolation, or in isolation by virtue of nothing else of the same author appearing amongst the original adjacent pages; but I'm nevertheless reading them as a collection of thematically similar pieces all crammed together in one place; which for the most part just serves to highlight how repetitive Bill could be at times, and how cut-ups really shouldn't read as though they are just random assemblages of words and phrases, which I deduce from the fact that I usually get a bit more from them.

That said, there are a few pieces which more or less justify having this thing on one's shelf, mostly provocative prose essays serving to remind us why we might choose to read Burroughs in the first place. Also there's a section reproducing pages from Bill's cut-up scrapbooks which are visually fascinating; but otherwise, The Burroughs File is one of those books you tend to feel you should have rather than something you're going to be dipping into for years to come, unless you're just too weird for your own good.

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