105. Dispersion (II)
I have been fascinated by William S. Burroughs since I was a teenager, but it was only recently that I admitted to myself that I do not like his novels. What I like about Burroughs is his life: I find his biographies and interviews more absorbing than anything he produced in the way of literature. Burroughs belongs to a clutch of similar figures—the French gangster, Jacques Mesrine; the American National Socialist, Francis Parker Yockey; the Russian poet-ideologist, Eduard Limonov; and the Baader-Meinhof Gang—whose lives are, for me, more powerful than anything they actually achieved. These people managed, consciously or not, to live, as Nietzsche suggested, a life that was art; they are mysterious and beautiful.
Burroughs, by any reasonable description, was Satanic. He lived almost his entire life parasitically, sponging off his parents, became hooked on heroin, shot his wife dead, and abandoned his son—the boy eventually drank himself to death. He lived a life of sexual excess in the armpit of North Africa, Tangier, a place plentifully supplied with—his biographers demure—very young boys. Burroughs’s literature is studded with attacks on everything that is decent; often through the use of magic he picked up from his sometime lover, the painter Brion Gysin.
Yet Burroughs was in many ways a conventional American of the Old Republic. He adored firearms and identified bureaucracies with cancer; he wanted to be left alone with his guns and gold. But he also knew his Spengler: Burroughs made occasional pessimistic pronouncements about the fate of the white race, and his racial politics were far from progressive—though he was as likely to excoriate Jews as Southern sheriffs. He was outlaw, beholden to none—a cat; even his writings about homosexuality do not lend themselves to the rhetoric of “gay liberation”: he pictures bands of piratical homosexual youths robbing and raping their way across the landscape.
In a materialist age, Burroughs held out for spirituality; from a young age he claimed to see fairies in the garden, perhaps encouraged by his Welsh nanny—Celtic blood is close to the true mysteries. And so it turns out, perhaps, that the last people to have any sense of spirituality at all are those who align themselves with dark forces: when Burroughs killed his wife he maintained he had been possessed by “the ugly spirit”—no cod psychological explanations from him.
Between Tangier and Paris, Burroughs developed all manner of occult practices, including mirror meditation, synchronistic numerology, and his cut-up technique. Probably via Nietzsche, Burroughs adopted the dictum of Hassan-i Sabbah, the assassin: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” The path of the assassin is the left-hand path of esoteric initiation, contrasted to the “path of milk”, the right-hand path, found in the poet Rumi (a man much abused by wets of the “live, laugh, love” variety). The left-hand path involves exposing the initiate to profane activities in order to achieve a the sublime indifference of spiritual liberation. The path of milk, by contrast, renounces all normal activity and demands extreme kindness. In Christian terms, this could be likened to the biblical observation that “God spits out the lukewarm”: God would prefer a sincere Satanist or a sincere Christian, but he does not want people who turn up to church just to look respectable.
Burroughs also established contact with the Lemurs of ancient lore, as did Ernst Jünger during his Parisian period. The Lemurs and their intentions for mankind are, indeed, of pressing interest to all alert people. As many have learned since 2012, the point where the weird arrived, time is falling apart—being cut up—and strange intrusions and histories emerge by the minute; not a few of these channeled by Burroughs.
Burroughs, as with many old devils, lived to a ripe old age, surrounded by his cats—a cat is a portal; her fractal eyes splinter into countless other worlds. So Burroughs was an old sorcerer, but at least he was not lukewarm—God save us from that!