William S. Burroughs

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Most of the trouble in the world has been caused by ten to twenty percent of folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus.

William Seward Burroughs II (5 February 19142 August 1997), more commonly known as William S. Burroughs, was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs' work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. He was a central member of the Beat Generation and an avant-garde author who influenced popular culture as well as literature. In 1984 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.


Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.
A paranoid man is a man who knows a little about what's going on.
There is simply no room left for 'freedom from the tyranny of government' since city dwellers depend on it for food, power, water, transportation, protection, and welfare.
If the right to mind one's own business is recognized, the whole shit disposition is untenable and Hell hath no vociferous fury than an endangered parasite.
This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games.
I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness…
I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.
  • The junk merchant doesn't sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client.
    • "Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs", written in 1956, first published in The British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 52, No. 2 (January 1957), p. 1 and later used as footnotes in Naked Lunch
  • Communication must become total and conscious before we can stop it.
    • The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
  • The 'Other Half' is the word. The 'Other Half' is an organism. Word is an organism. The presence of the 'Other Half' is a separate organism attached to your nervous system on an air line of words can now be demonstrated experimentally. One of the most common 'hallucinations' of subject during sense withdrawal is the feeling of another body sprawled through the subject's body at an angle...yes quite an angle it is the 'Other Half' worked quite some years on a symbiotic basis. From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.
    • The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
  • 1. Never give anything away for nothing. 2. Never give more than you have to (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait). 3. Always take back everything if you possibly can.
    • On drug dealing, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (1964)
  • You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and I knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I'm creating an imaginary — it's always imaginary — world in which I would like to live.
    • Quoted in interview, The Paris Review (Fall 1965)
  • The hallucinogens produce visionary states, sort of, but morphine and its derivatives decrease awareness of inner processes, thoughts and feelings. They are pain killers; pure and simple. They are absolutely contraindicated for creative work, and I include in the lot alcohol, morphine, barbiturates, tranquilizers — the whole spectrum of sedative drugs.
    • Quoted in interview, The Paris Review (Fall 1965), in response to "The visions of drugs and the visions of art don't mix?"
  • When a certain stage of responsibility and awareness has been reached by a young banker he is taken to a room lined with family portraits in the middle of which is an ornate gilded toilet. Here he comes every day to defecate surrounded by the family portraits until he realizes that money is shit. And what does the money machine eat to shit it out? It eats youth, spontaneity, life, beauty and above all it eats creativity. It eats quality and shits out quantity. There was a time when the machine ate in moderation from a plentiful larder and what it ate was replaced. Now the machine is eating faster.
  • A paranoid man is a man who knows a little about what's going on.
    • Quoted in Friend magazine (1970)
  • Faced by the actual practice of freedom, the French and American revolutions would be forced to stand by their words.
    • Cities of the Red Night (1981)
  • There is simply no room left for 'freedom from the tyranny of government' since city dwellers depend on it for food, power, water, transportation, protection, and welfare. Your right to live where you want, with companions of your choosing, under laws to which you agree, died in the eighteenth century with Captain Mission. Only a miracle or a disaster could restore it.
    • Cities of the Red Night (1981)
  • You are a Shit Spotter. It's satisfying work. ... We have observed that most of the trouble in the world has been caused by ten to twenty percent of folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus. Now your virus is an obligate cellular parasite and my contention is that evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area which we may term the RIGHT center. The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right. And right here we must make a diagnostic distinction between the hard-core virus-occupied shit and a plain, ordinary, mean no-good son of a bitch. Some of these sons of bitches don't cause any trouble at all, just want to be left alone.
    • The Place Of Dead Roads‎ (1983), p. 155
    • Variant, using much of this passage in a later essay:
    • Most of the trouble in the world has been caused by folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has. Now your virus is an obligate cellular parasite and my contention is that evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area which we may term the RIGHT center. The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right. And right here we must make a distinction between the hard-core virus-occupied shit and a plain, ordinary, mean no-good son of a bitch. Some of these sons of bitches don't cause any trouble at all, just want to be left alone and are only dangerous when molested, like the Brown Recluse.
      • "My Own Business" in ‪The Adding Machine : Selected Essays‬‎ (1985), p. 16
  • Victimless crimes are the lifeline of the RIGHT virus. And there is a growing recognition, even in official quarters, that victimless crimes should be removed from the books or subject to minimal penalties. Those individuals who cannot or will not mind their business cling to the victimless-crime concept, equating drug use and private sexual behavior with robbery and murder. If the right to mind one's own business is recognized, the whole shit disposition is untenable and Hell hath no vociferous fury than an endangered parasite.
    • The Place Of Dead Roads‎ (1983), p. 155
  • Last night I encountered a dream cat with a very long neck and a body like a human fetus, gray and transluscent. I don't know what it needs or how to provide for it. Another dream years ago of a human child with eyes on stalks. It is very small, but can walk and talk "Don't you want me?" Again, I don't know how to care for the child. But I am dedicated to protecting and nurturing him at any cost! It is the function of the Guardian to protect hybrids and mutants in the vulnerable stage of infancy.
  • This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games. All games are basically hostile. Winners and losers. We see them all around us: the winners and the losers. The losers can oftentimes become winners, and the winners can very easily become losers.
  • After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.
    • Grand Street, no. 37 & The War Universe (1992)
  • England has the most sordid literary scene I've ever seen. They all meet in the same pub. This guy's writing a foreword for this person. They all have to give radio programs, they have to do all this just to scrape by. They're all scratching each other's backs.
    • Forbes (2 April 2001), p. 172
  • Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.
    • Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs (2000)
  • Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don't make compromises, don't worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.

Junkie (1953)[edit]

  • The questions, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in the other direction. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a matter of curiosity.
    • Prologue
  • When you stop growing you start dying.
    • Prologue
  • I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.
    • Prologue
  • Tea heads are not like junkies. A junky hands you the money, takes his junk and cuts. But tea heads don't do things that way. They expect the peddler to light them up and sit around talking for half an hour to sell two dollars' worth of weed. If you come right to the point, they say you are a "bring down." In fact, a peddler should not come right out and say he is a peddler.
  • Tea heads are gregarious, they are sensitive, and they are paranoiac. If you get to be known as a "drag" or a "bring down," you can't do business with them.
  • I can say definitely that weed is an aphrodisiac and that sex is more enjoyable under the influence of weed than without it. Anyone who has used good weed will verify this statement.
  • The American uppermiddle-class citizen is a composite of negatives. He is largely delineated by what he is not.
  • You need a good bedside manner with doctors or you will get nowhere.
  • I lay down and tried to sleep. When I closed my eyes I saw an Oriental face, the lips and nose eaten by disease. The disease spread, melting the face into an amoeboid mass in which the eyes floated, dull crustacean eyes. Slowly, a new face formed around the eyes. A series of faces, hieroglyphs, distorted and leading to the final place where the human road ends, where the human form can no longer contain the crustacean horror that has grown inside it.
  • Coke is pure kick. It lifts you straight up, a mechanical lift that starts leaving you as soon as you feel it
  • A ghost in daylight on a crowded street.
  • A junky runs on junk time. When his junk is cut off, the clock runs down and stops. All he can do is hang on and wait for non-junk time to start. A sick junkie has no escape from external time, no place to go. He can only wait.
  • When people start talking about their bowel movements, they are inexorable as the processes of which they speak.
  • A lot of people made quick easy money during the War and for several years after. Any business was good, just as any stock is good on a rising market. People thought they were sharp operators, when actually they were just riding a lucky streak. Now the Valley is in a losing streak and only the big operators can ride it out. In the Valley economic laws work out like a formula in high school algebra, since there is no human element to interfere. The very rich are getting richer and all the others are going broke. The big holders are not shrewd or ruthless or enterprising. They don't have to say or think anything. All they have to do is sit and the money comes pouring in. You have to get up with the Big Holders or drop out and take any job they hand you. The middle class is getting the squeeze, and only one in a thousand will go up. The Big Holders are the house, and the small farmers are the players. The player goes broke if he keeps on playing, and the farmer has to play or lose to the Government by default.
  • Sodomy is as old as the human species.
  • Why does an addict get a new habit so much quicker than a junk virgin, even after the addict has been clean for years? I do not accept the theory that junk is lurking in the body all that time - the spine is where it supposedly holes up - and I disagree with all psychological answers. I think the use of junk causes permanent cellular alteration. Once a junky, always a junky. You can stop using junk, but you are never off after the first habit.
  • Junk short-circuits sex. The drive to non-sexual sociability comes from the same place sex comes from, so when I have an H or M shooting habit I am non-sociable. If someone wants to talk, O.K. But there is no drive to get acquainted. When I come off the junk, I often run through a period of uncontrolled sociability and talk to anyone who will listen.
  • Junk takes everything and gives nothing but insurance against junk sickness.
  • Junk is an inoculation of death that keeps the body in a condition of emergency
  • You sometimes wake up from a dream and think, "Thank God, I didn't really do that!" Reconstructing a period of blackout you think, "My God, did I really do that?" The line between saying and thinking is blurred. Did you say it or just think it?
  • When you give up junk, you give up a way of life. I have seen junkies kick and hit the lush and wind up dead in a few years. Suicide is frequent among ex-junkies. Why does a junky quit junk of his own will? You never know the answer to that question. No conscious tabulation of the disadvantages and horrors of junk gives you the emotional drive to kick. The decision to quit junk is a cellular decision, and once you have decided to quit you cannot go back to junk permanently any more than you could stay away from it before.
  • Kick is seeing things from a special angle. Kick is momentary freedom from the claims of the aging, cautious, nagging, frightened flesh. Maybe I will find in yage what I was looking for in junk and weed and coke.

Naked Lunch (1959)[edit]

America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.
Grove Press, 2003, ISBN 0-802-11639-6, 289 pages
  • The face of "evil" is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: "Wouldn't you?" Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of total sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way. Dope fiends are sick people who cannot act other than they do. A rabid dog cannot choose but bite.
    • Introduction
  • The junk merchant doesn't sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client
    • Introduction
  • If you wish to alter or annihilate a pyramid of numbers in a serial relation, you alter or remove the bottom number. If we wish to annihilate the junk pyramid, we must start with the bottom of the pyramid: the Addict in the Street, and stop tilting quixotically for the "higher ups" so called, all of whom are immediately replaceable. The addict in the street who must have junk to live is the one irreplaceable factor in the junk equation. When there are no more addicts to buy junk there will be no junk traffic. As long as junk need exists, someone will service it.
    • Introduction
  • I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train...
    • Opening Chapter
  • Junk is surrounded by magic and taboos, curses and amulets.
    • Opening Chapter
  • Shooting PG is a terrible hassle, you have to burn out the alcohol first, then freeze out the camphor and draw this brown liquid off with a dropper—have to shoot it in the vein or you get an abscess, and usually end up with an abscess no matter where you shoot it. Best deal is to drink it with goof balls ... So we pour it in a Pernod bottle and start for New Orleans past iridescent lakes and orange gas flares, and swamps and garbage heaps, alligators crawling around in broken bottles and tin cans, neon arabesques of motels, marooned pimps scream obscenities at passing cars from islands of rubbish ... New Orleans is a dead museum. We walk around Exchange Place breathing PG and find The Man right away. It's a small place and the fuzz always knows who is pushing so he figures what the hell does it matter and sells to anybody. We stock up on H and backtrack for Mexico. Back through Lake Charles and the dead slot-machine country, south end of Texas, nigger-killing sheriffs look us over and check the car papers. Something falls off you when you cross the border into Mexico, and suddenly the landscape hits you straight with nothing between you and it, desert and mountains and vultures; little wheeling specks and others so close you can hear wings cut the air (a dry husking sound), and when they spot something they pour out of the blue sky, that shattering bloody blue sky of Mexico, down in a black funnel ... Drove all night, came at dawn to a warm misty place, barking dogs and the sound of running water.
    • Opening Chapter
  • "I was standing outside myself trying to stop those hangings with ghost fingers. . . . I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants—a body—after the Long Time moving through odorless alleys of space where no life is only the colorless no smell of death. . . . Nobody can breathe and smell it through pink convulsions of gristle laced with crystal snot, time shit and black blood filters of flesh"
    • Opening Chapter
  • Ever see a hot shot hit, kid? I saw the Gimp catch one in Philly. We rigged his room with a one-way whorehouse mirror and charged a sawski to watch it. He never got the needle out of his arm. They don't if the shot is right. That's the way they find them, dropper full of clotted blood hanging out of a blue arm. The look in his eyes when it hit --- Kid, it was tasty.
    • Opening Chapter
  • America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.
    • Opening Chapter
  • Well as, one judge said to the other, 'Be just and if you can't be just be arbitrary.' Regret cannot observe customary obscenities.
    • From the chapter entitled "And Start West," p. 5
    • From the chapter entitled "Lazarus Go Home," p. 62
  • Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside.
    • From the chapter entitled "Rube", p. 11
  • A functioning police state needs no police.
    • From the chapter entitled "Benway", p. 31
  • The study of thinking machines teaches us more about the brain than we can learn by introspective methods. Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets.
    • Benway
  • “Squatting on old bones and excrement and rusty iron, in a white blaze of heat, a panorama of naked idiots stretches to the horizon. Complete silence - their speech centres are destroyed - except for the crackle of sparks and the popping of singed flesh as they apply electrodes up and down the spine. White smoke of burning flesh hangs in the motionless air. A group of children have tied an idiot to a post with barbed wire and built a fire between his legs and stand watching with bestial curiosity as the flames lick his thighs. His flesh jerks in the fire with insect agony.
    • Benway
  • Rock and Roll adolescent hoodlums storm the streets of all nations. They rush into the Louvre and throw acid in the Mona Lisa’s face.
    • Benway
  • The relation between an O.A. (Oblique Addict) and his R.C. (Recharge Connection) is so intense that they can only endure each other’s company for brief and infrequent intervals—I mean aside from recharge meets, when all personal contact is eclipsed by recharge process.
    • Habit Notes continued
  • Last night I woke up with someone squeezing my hand. It was my other hand.
    • Habit Notes continued
  • I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness... When I speak of drug addiction I do not refer to keif, marijuana or any preparation of hashish, mescaline, Banisteriopsis caapi, LSD6, Sacred Mushrooms or any other drugs of the hallucinogen group... There is no evidence that the use of any hallucinogen results in physical dependence.
    • From "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness," the introduction to the 1960 edition, pp. 199-201
  • Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.
    • From "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness", p. 201
  • The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principles of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action to the complete parasitism of a virus. (It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life-form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.) Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapse. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existence as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.
    • Ordinary Men and Women
  • Benway: Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard. This ass talk had sort of a gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell. This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriliquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called “The Better ‘Ole” that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, “Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?” “Nah I had to go relieve myself.” After a while the ass start talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time. Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy in-curving hooks and started eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: “It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don't need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.” After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole's tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have have amputated spontaneous — (did you know there is a condition occurs in parts of Africa and only among Negroes where the little toe amputates spontaneously?) — except for the eyes you dig. That's one thing the asshole couldn’t do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn't give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab's eyes on the end of a stalk.
    • Ordinary Men and Women
  • You see control can never be a means to any practical end. ... Control can never be a means to anything but more control ... like Junk.
    • Islam Incorporated and the Parties of Interzone
  • The broken image of Man moves in minute by minute and cell by cell.... Poverty, hatred, war, police-criminals, bureaucracy, insanity, all symptoms of The Human Virus. 'The Human Virus can now be isolated and treated.'
    • Islam Incorporated and the Parties of Interzone
  • Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out.
    • Hauser and O'Brien
  • At all levels the drug trade operates without without schedule. Nobody delivers on time except by accident. The addict runs on junk time. His body is his clock, and junk runs through it like an hour-glass. Time has meaning for him only with reference to his need. Then he make his abrupt intrusion into the time of others, and, like all Outsiders, all Petitioners, he must wait, unless he happens to mesh with non-junk time.
    • Hauser and O'Brien
  • There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing... I am a recording instrument... I do not presume to impose "story "plot" "continuity"... Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function... I am not an entertainer.
    • Atrophied Preface
  • Senators leap up and bray for the Death Penalty with inflexible authority of virus yen... Death for dope fiends, death for sex queens (I mean friends) death for the psychopath who offends the cowed and graceless flesh with broken animal innocence of lithe movements. The black wind of death undulates over the land, feeling, smelling for the crime of separate life, movers of the fear-frozen flesh shivering under a vast probability curve... Populations blocks disappear in a checker game of genocide... Any number can play...
    • Atrophied Preface
  • You were not there for the beginning. You will not be there for the end. Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative
    • Atrophied Preface

The Soft Machine (1961)[edit]

  • So he imports this special breed of scorpions and feeds them on metal meal and the scorpions turned a phosphorescent blue color and sort of hummed. “Now we must find a worthy vessel,” he said. So we flush out this old goof ball artist and put the scorpion to him and he turned sort of blue and you could see he was fixed right to metal. These scorpions could travel on a radar beam and service the clients after Doc copped for the bread. It was a good thing while it lasted and the heat couldn't touch us. However all these scorpion junkies began to glow in the dark and if they didn't score on the hour metamorphosed into scorpions straight away. So there was a spot of bother and we had to move on disguised as young junkies on the way to Lexington. Bill and Johnny we sorted out the names but they keep changing like one day I would wake up as Bill the next day as Johnny. So there we are in the train compartment shivering junk sick our eyes watering and burning.
    • Chapter One: "Dead on Arrival"
  • Cut word lines — Cut music lines — Smash the control images — Smash the control machine — Burn the books — Kill the priests — Kill! Kill! Kill!
    • The Soft Machine (1961)

Nova Express (1968)[edit]

  • Listen to my last words anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you board syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth deals consumated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn forever-
    • Chapter One
  • I will tell you: "'the word.'" Alien Word 'the.' "'The word'" of Alien Enemy imprisons "'thee'" in Time. In Body. In Shit. Prisoner, come out. The great skies are open. I Hassan i Sabbah 'rub out the word forever' If you I cancel all your words forever. And the of Hassan i Sabbah as also cancel. Cross all your skies see the silent writing of Brion Gysin Hassan i Sabbah: drew September 16, 1899 over New York.
  • 'Peoples of the earth, you have all been poisoned.' Convert all available stocks of morphine to apomorphine. Chemists, work round the clock on variation and synthesis of the apomorphine formulae.
  • The purpose of my writing is to expose and arrest Nova Criminals. In 'Naked Lunch', 'Soft Machine' and 'Nova Express' I show who they are and what they are doing and what they will do if they are not arrested. Minutes to go. Souls rotten from their orgasm drugs, flesh shuddering from their nova ovens, prisoners of the earth to 'come out'. With your help we can occupy The Reality Studio and retake their universe of Fear Death and Monopoly-
    • Chapter One, Prisoners, Come Out


The Wild Boys (1971)[edit]

  • I am not a person and I am not an animal. There is something I am here for something I must do before I can go.
  • Home is where your ass is and if you want to move you move your ass the first step is learning to change homes with someone else and have someone else's ass.

His magic exists from a hypnotic, inadvertant demand of attention as he interrupts the Parade of Death and takes the stage, to unashamedly seize the higher pleasures they fear to reach. Dead and unborn onlookers wallow in their weakness, as the shame they emit fails to penetrate him and rebounds with force as he shoves it down their throats and they choke, vomiting up a jealous mess of many made up morals purely to justify their cowardliness and they sink back down to worthlessness. Rats of submission gnaw on his ankles but they fail to make him buckle and bow to necessity.

  • ‘In the fields workers are planting maize seeds under the direction of an overseer with staff and headdress. Close-up of a worker’s face. Whatever it is that makes a man a man, all feeling and all soul has gone out in that face. Nothing is left but body needs and body pleasures. I have seen faces like that in the back wards of state hospitals for the insane. Faces that live to eat, shit and masturbate.’
  • Before my father started using morphine again he sent me to a Japanese person to learn something called Karate. I learn these things fast because I am blank inside, and I have no special way of moving or doing things so one way is the same to me as another. ‘
  • I saw the Colonel empty his revolver and go down under ten wild boys. A moment later they tossed his bleeding head into the air and started a ball game. Just at dusk the wild boys got up and padded away. They left the bodies stripped to the skin many with genitals cut off. The wild boys make little testicles in which they carry their hasish and khat.

Queer: A Novel (1985)[edit]

  • The rudeness of many Americans depressed him, a rudeness based on a solid ignorance of the whole concept of manners, and on the proposition that for social purposes, all people are more or less equal and interchangeable.
    • Chapter One
  • Lola's was not exactly a bar. It was a small beer-and-soda joint. There was a Coca-Cola box full of beer and soda and ice at the left of the door as you came in. A counter with tube-metal stools covered in yellow glazed leather ran down one side of the room as far as the jukebox. Tables were lined along the wall opposite the counter. The stools had long since lost the rubber caps for the legs and made horrible screeching noises when the maid pushed them around to sweep. There was a kitchen in back, where a slovenly cook fried everything in rancid fat. There was neither a past nor future in Lola's. The place was a waiting room, where certain people checked in a certain times.
    • Chapter Two
  • Lee watched the thin hands, the beautiful violet eyes, the flush of excitement on the boy's face. An imaginary hand projected with such force it seemed Allerton must feel the touch of ectoplasmic fingers caressing his ear, phantom thumbs smoothing his eyebrows, pushing the hair back from his face. Now Lee's hands were running down his ribs, the stomach. Lee felt the aching pain of desire in his lungs.
    • Chapter Two
  • "A curse," said Lee. "Been in our family for generations. The Lees have always been perverts. I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands when the baneful word seared my reeling brain: 'homosexual'. I was a homosexual. I thought of the painted simpering female impersonators I'd seen in a Baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things? I walked the streets in a daze like a man with a light concussion- just a minute, Doctore Kildare, this isn't your script. I might as well have destroyed myself, ending an existence which seemed to offer nothing but grotesque misery and humiliation. Nobler, I thought to die a man than life on, a sex monster. It was a wise old queen - Bob, we called her- who taught me that I had a duty to live and to bear my burden proudly for all to see, to conquer prejudice and ignorance and hate with knowledge and sincerity and love. Whenever you are threatened by a hostile presence, you emit a thick cloud of love like an octopus squirts out ink."
    • Chapter Three
  • He forced himself to look at the facts. Allerton was not queer enough to make a reciprocal relation possible. Lee's affection irritated him. Like many people who have nothing to do, he was very resentful of any claims on his time. He had no close friends. He disliked definite appointments. He did not like to feel that anybody expected anything from him. He wanted, so far as possible, to live without external pressure.
    • Chapter Five
  • He felt a killing hate for the stupid, ordinary, disapproving people who kept him from doing what he wanted to do. "Someday I am going to have things just like I want," he said to himself. "And if any moralizing son of a bitch gives me any static, they will fish him out of the river.
    • Chapter Nine
  • Every time I hit Panama, the place is exactly one month, two months, six months more nowhere, like the progress of a degenerative illness. A shift from arithmetic to geometric progressive seems to have occurred. Something ugly and ignoble and subhuman is cooking in this mongrel town of pimps and whores and recessive genes, this degraded leech on the Canal.
    • Two Years Later: Mexico City Return
  • Stupid people can learn a language quiet and easy because there is nothing going on in there to keep it out.
    • Two Years Later: Mexico City Return
  • Many so called primitives are afraid of cameras. They think it can capture their soul and take it away. There is in fact something obscene and sinister about photography, a desire to imprison, to incorporate, sexual intensity, a sexual intensity of pursuit.
    • Two Years Later: Mexico City Return
  • Mexico city is a terminal of space-time travel, a waiting room where you grab a quick drink while you wait for your train. That is why I can stand to be in Mexico City for your train. That is why I can stand to be in Mexico City or New York. You are not struck; by the fact of being there at all, you are traveling. But in Panama, crossroads of the world, you are exactly so much aging tissue. You have to make arrangements with Pan Am or the Dutch Line for removal of your body. Otherwise, it would stay there and rot in muggy heat, under a galvanized iron roof.
    • Two Years Later: Mexico City Return
  • In deep sadness there is no place for sentimentality. It is as final as the mountains: a fact. There it is. When you realize it you cannot complain.
  • "Sit down on your ass, or what's left of it after four years in the navy."

Exterminator! A Novel (1971)[edit]

  • Youth rebellion is a world wide phenomenon that has not been seen before in history. I don't believe they will calm down and be ad execs at thirty as the establishment would like to believe. Millions of young people all over the world are fed up with shallow unworthy authority running on a platform of bullshit.
    • "The Coming of the Purple Better One"
  • As a young child Audrey Carsons wanted to be writers because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.
    • "The Lemon Kid"
  • According to legend the white race results from a nuclear explosion in what is now the Gobi desert some 30,000 years ago. The civilization and techniques which made the explosion possible were wiped out. The only survivors were slaves marginal to the area who had no knowledge of its science or techniques. They became albinos as a result of radiation and scattered in different directions. Some of them went into Persia northern India Greece and Turkey. Others moved westward and settled in the caves of Europe. The descendants of the cave-dwelling albinos are the present inhabitants of America and western Europe. In these caves the white settlers contracted a virus passed down along their cursed generations that was to make them what they are today a hideous threat to life on the planet. This virus this ancient parasite is what Freud calls the unconscious spawned in the caves of Europe on flesh already diseased from radiation. Anyone descended from this line is basically different from those who have not had the cave experience and contracted this deadly sickness that lives in your blood and bones and nerves that lives where you used to live before your ancestors crawled into their filthy caves. When they came out of the caves they couldn't mind their own business. They had no business of their own to mind because they didn't belong to themselves any more. They belonged to the virus. They had to kill torture conquer enslave degrade as a mad dog has to bite. At Hiroshima all was lost.
    • "Astronaut's Return"

The Western Lands (1987)[edit]

Viking Press, 1987, ISBN 0-670-81352-4, 258 pages
  • Remember the Italian steward who put on women's clothes and so filched a seat in a lifeboat? "A cur in human shape, certainly he was born and saved to set a new standard by which to judge infamy and shame.
    • p. 6
  • No job too dirty for a fucking scientist.
    • p. 8
  • Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.
    • ch. 2
  • Consider the impasse of a one-God universe. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He can't go anywhere, since He is already everywhere. He can't do anything, since the act of doing presupposes opposition. His universe is irrevocably thermodynamic, having no friction by definition. So, He has to create friction: War, Fear, Sickness, Death, to keep his dying show on the road.
    • lyric from spoken-word recording "A One God Universe," featured on Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, paraphrased by Burroughs from The Western Lands, p. 113
  • Now what sort of man or woman or monster would stroke a centipede I have ever seen? "And here is my good big centipede!" If such a man exists, I say kill him without more ado. He is a traitor to the human race.
    • ch. 4
  • Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.
    • ch. 5, as cited in The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993), pg. 234

The Adding Machine: Collected Essays (1985)[edit]

  • After teaching a class in Creative Writing a few years back, my own creative powers fell to an all-time low. I really had a case of writer's block, and my idealistic young assistant complained that I simply sat around the loft doing absolutely nothing; which was absolutely true. This gave me time to think (as the French say): Can creative writing be taught?
    • "A Word to the Wise Guy"
  • My advice is to get a good agent and a good tax accountant if you ever make any money, and remember, you can't eat fame. And you can't write unless you want to write, and you can't want to unless you feel like it.
    • "A Word to the Wise Guy"
  • Brainwashing, psychotropic drugs, lobotomy, and other more subtle form of psychosurgery; the technocratic control apparatus of the United States has at its fingertips new techniques if which fully exploited could make Orwell's 1984 seem like a benevolent utopia.
    • "The Limits of Control"
  • All modern systems are riddled with contradictions.
    • "The Limits of Control"
  • Concession is another control bind. History shows that once a government starts to make concessions it is on a one-way street.
    • "The Limits of Control"
  • Any imposition of government censorship on the media is a step in the direction of State control, a step which big money is most reluctant to take.
    • "The Limits of Control"
  • A government is never more dangerous than when embarking on a self-defeating or downright suicidal course.
    • "The Limits of Control"

Quotes about Burroughs[edit]

  • William S. Burroughs is one of the most pathetic figures in modern literature, his sadness made more poignant because it has been drawn out for so long. His cadaverous presence gave a hollow echo to a key scene in “Drugstore Cowboy,” in which he was a junkie ex-priest who has long decades of pain in his eyes. It didn't seem like acting. And in a recent documentary about his life, Burroughs came across as a man who walks around with something wounded inside, something that hurts so much that his spirit simply shut down.
  • It would take me all night to tell about Old Bull Lee; let's just say now, he was a teacher, and it may be said that he had every right to teach because he spent all his time learning; and the things he learned were what he considered to be and called "the facts of life," which he learned, not only out of necessity but because he wanted to. He dragged his long, thin body around the entire United States and most of Europe and North Africa in his time, only to see what was going on.... there are pictures of him with the international cocaine set of the thirties — gangs with wild hair, leaning on one another, there are other pictures of him in a Panama hat, surveying the streets of Algiers.... He was an exterminator in Chicago, a bartender in New York, a summons-server in Newark. In Paris he sat at cafe tables, watching the sullen French faces go by. In Athens he looked up from his ouzo at what he called the ugliest people in the world. In Istanbul he threaded his way through crowds of opium addicts and rug-sellers, looking for the facts. In Chicago he planned to hold up a Turkish bath, hesitated just for two minutes too long for a drink, and, wound up with two dollars and had to make a run for it. He did all these things merely for the experience....
  • Of the Beat triumvirate, Kerouac was probably both the most pathetic and least noxious. Psychologically, he was a mess—as indeed were Ginsberg and Burroughs. But, unlike them, Kerouac lacked the knack of sanctifying his pathologies and inducing others to bow down in obeisance.
    • Roger Kimball, "A gospel of emancipation", The New Criterion, October 1997
  • William Burroughs also believed in taking Vitamin/C.
  • (“Did you ever look for women writers, in particular, or look to find your own experience in your reading?”) No, not when I was very young. It's not so much that I looked for women writers, but I had sense enough to know that, like Henry Miller, he wasn't writing for me. That's as far as I went. I knew that these guys, even the Beats-I thought they were nice, nice to see all those boys, and nice to see all the sexual feelings, but I knew it really wasn't written for me at all. It's not so much that I looked for women writers, as that I understood certain much admired writers, like Burroughs, weren't talking to me. There was nothing to get from them. Though at the same time I did get stuff from Proust. That talked to me, but all those ballsy American heroes had nothing to say to me, though my friends thought they were just hot shit, excuse me.
    • 1981 interview in Conversations with Grace Paley (1997)
  • Burroughs doesn't interest me at all as a novelist; his experimental, psychedelic stories have always bored me, so much that I don't think I've ever been able to read one. But Junky, the first book he wrote, a factual and autobiographical account of how he became a drug addict and how his addiction to drugs -- free choice augmenting what was already doubtless a certain proclivity -- made him a willing slave, furnishes an accurate description of what I believe to be the literary vocation, of the utter interdependence of the writer and his work and the way the latter feeds on the former, on all he is and all he does or does not do.
    • Mario Vargas Llosa, Letters to A Young Novelist (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux), transl. Natasha Wimmer (1997, translation 2002)

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