While watching the BBC World News this morning, I caught a report about a new documentary: William Burroughs: A Man Within. The report was built around an interview with the filmmaker, Yony Leyser. What struck me about this interview is how the interviewer from the BBC kept coming back to an assertion that Burroughs was “disturbed,” and he repeated several times the fact he’d “killed his wife.” The interviewer also dwelled on Burroughs’s drug use and homosexuality. He said nothing about his writing. Sadly, Leyser, rather than meeting this assertion head on, tried to stake a defense on the old saw that “many geniuses are disturbed.”
The level of the exchange was disappointing, yet predictably so in an age in which even presumably erudite outlets like NPR discuss the latest detective novel as if a great leap forward in the world of letters. It touched not a wit on the specifics of Burroughs’s literary output nor on its impact. They didn’t even mention Burroughs acceptance in literary, scholarly, and writerly circles (for instance, no mention of his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters).
Perhaps most disturbingly, the interview also pointed out how, even these many years after his death, the powers that be (in this case, newsmaker BBC) remain intent on discrediting one of the most perceptive and prescient voices of 20th century literature. They’re still scared of Big Bad Bill Burroughs and the ability he had to pull back the veil “until the bare lies shine through.” This little BBC puppet show called to mind a passage from Nova Express:
LISTEN TO MY LAST WORDS anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever—
“Don’t let them see us. Don’t tell them what we are doing—”
Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the earth?
“For God’s sake don’t let that Coca-Cola thing out—”
“Not The Cancer Deal with The Venusians—”
“Not The Green Deal—Don’t show them that—”
“Not The Orgasm Death—”
“Not the ovens—”
Listen: I call you all. Show your cards all players. Pay it all pay it all pay it all back. Play it all pay it all play it all back. For all to see. In Times Square. In Piccadilly.
“Premature. Premature. Give us a little more time.”
Time for what? More lies? Premature? Premature for who? I say to all these words are not premature. These words may be too late. Minutes to go.
–William Burroughs, Nova Express