Uglier Spirits: William Burroughs’s Countercultural Deception
I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realisation of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and manoeuvred me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.
The introduction to William Burroughs’s Queer is frequently quoted for both its brutal honesty and its utter horror. Many of the Beats carried a curse of some form. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were haunted by the claustrophobic swaddling of their mothers, whereas Burroughs was paralysed by the realisation of his homosexuality and the fallout from his tumultuous relationship with Joan Vollmer. Burroughs wore his burden like a Hallowe’en mask. His severe features were sculpted with a sick sense of humour and his lips rarely succumbed to the act of smiling, let alone parting to allow a dry laugh to escape.
Far from the facile cool of a Kerouac, Burroughs’s scrawny, angular figure resembled an amalgamation of Slender Man and Gordon Gekko. Such was the power of his parasitic Ugly Spirit, Burroughs, even in youth, carried an air of old age and dereliction. Rarely pictured in anything but crisp, British-inspired tailoring, there’s little in Burroughs’s appearance to suggest that he rages against the ubiquitous machine.
In the New York apartment they shared, Joan Vollmer and Edie Parker can be attributed to tying Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs together. There was a great warmth in Vollmer that wore away at the calluses of Burroughs’s