Listening to William S. Burroughs

An article from The White Review
William S. Burroughs
Charlie Fox (The White Review) on the spectral sounds of William S. Burroughs' voice recordings: 'The first time I heard William Burroughs’ voice (inside my head) came during my childhood, which was sadly symmetrical with Burroughs’ own, shaken by feelings of otherness and isolation and often bored into a kind of catatonia. It was Christmas Day 2004 and somebody had given me Naked Lunch as a gift. I read it and felt sick, a winter fever slowly heating up page by page. I reached the hospital where Doctor Benway’s disembodied voice sounded like ‘music down a windy street’. Here a man has his reflexes tested by the good doctor and soon begins to froth at the mouth uncontrollably despite, Benway tells us, ‘a complete absence of brain activity’. Then ‘the man drops to his knees, throws back his head and barks’. The imagined sound of this human bark shot through me. I threw the book down and ran to the bathroom to be sick. But I was hooked. Language was a virus. I heard the voice itself much later, through the illicit network that soon infected my computer and gobbled up its insides. It was a voice with icicles in its veins, strangely untethered from the earth. The same feeling comes over me each time I hear it, a sensation that I’m listening to a voice which is, in a secret way, closer to a ghost than anything else. Junky concludes with Burroughs looking for the ‘final fix’ of yage, heading towards the Amazon jungle. He and his work return transformed: an entire unmapped terrain is described with the visionary intensity of an incantation, coming through a voice and body bewitched by evil spirits. His early work as a pure recording medium (let the spectral suggestion of that word flicker for a moment) is abandoned. Now ‘the whole room is exploding out into space’.' [Read More]

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