Uglier Spir­its: Wil­liam Bur­roughs’s Coun­ter­cul­tural De­cep­tion

The London Magazine - - JORDAN OSBORNE - Jor­dan Os­borne

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

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