A new biography reveals a William S. Burroughs both ghastlier and more impressive than many previously thought.
How do you write a masterpiece? It’s inside you, you know it’s inside you: How do you get it out? Well, if you’re William S. Burroughs, malingering and malefacting through the mid-20th century, you follow a procedure that resembles something from the nonsense kitchen of the poet Edward Lear, one of his recipes for Gosky Patties or Crumbobblious Cutlets. The instructions, roughly speaking, are these: flit around disreputably between Tangier, Copenhagen, Paris, and London, with coat-hanger shoulders and a love-starved face; irradiate yourself with drugs; consort with boy prostitutes and petty thieves; when you write, spew, expelling without stint the untreated matter, comical and terrible, of your low-life dream life (plot, character, structure—the hell with all that); enlist a couple of your loopiest friends to help you organize the resulting mess; do this for years, drifting chemical years, an endless process, until a publisher of erotica and the avant-garde tells you he wants a viable manuscript in two weeks, at which point you and your friends go into furious sleepless sweatshop mode.
Click here to read the rest of this story