100 Point William Burroughs Riff

1. William Seward Burroughs, born February 5th, 1914, St. Louis, Missouri. Died August 2, 1997, Lawrence, Kansas.

2. Danger.


3. William S. Burroughs, a writer no one reads and everyone references.

4. Point three is not fair: I’m sure you, dearest reader, have read Burroughs, continue to read Burroughs, will read Burroughs, etc.

5. But, points three and four, it’s the idea of Burroughs, Burroughs-as-luminary, Burroughs-as-symbol, that our culture persists in keeping.

6. Re: Points three, four, five: Burroughs the poser who posed for so many photographs, who couldn’t say no to a spoken word CD or a collaboration or a fucking Nike ad.

7. And always with the guns.


8. And the knives.

william burroughs wielding a knife

9. And the guns.


10. If you want to know what licenses Picasso to break the human form (and other forms) into cubes and lines and colors and figured abstractions, go gander at Aunt Pepa or First Communion.

11. If you want to know what licenses Duchamp to call a urinal a work of art, go gander at Portrait of the Artist’s Father.

12. If you want to know what licenses Burroughs to call Naked Lunch a novel, go read Junkie or Queer.

13. Junkie, the first Burroughs novel I read, is a high modernist classic.

14. Typewriter.


15. Shoes.


16. The reader is invited, most cordially, to print this riff and cut it into little bits and rearrange it.

17. The reader is invited, most cordially, to cut and paste this riff into a new digital document and rearrange it.

18. William Burroughs, curator.

19. William Burroughs, collaborator.

20. Friends.


21. So many friends.


22. Naked Lunch, Burroughs’s most famous novel, is perhaps not the best introduction to the mans’ work. Readers perhaps may find early novels Junkie or Queer more accessible.

23. Naked Lunch, Burroughs’s most famous novel, is perhaps not the best introduction to the man’s work. Readers perhaps may find later novels, The Red Night Trilogy, more accessible.

24. Cities of the Red Night is my favorite Burroughs novel.

25. The Soft Machine is my favorite Burroughs novel.

26. Junkie is my favorite Burroughs novel.

27. I don’t have a favorite William Burroughs novel.

28. A charmer.

William Burroughs in his flat, London, 1971. Photo by Baron Wolman

29. Is J.G. Ballard possible without William Burroughs?

30. Is David Cronenberg possible without William Burroughs?

31. Is Kathy Acker possible without William Burroughs?

32. Is William Gibson possible without William Burroughs?

33. Is Robert Anton Wilson possible without William Burroughs?

34. Is Charles Burns possible without William Burroughs?

35. Is punk rock possible without William Burroughs?

36. Maybe.

37. But almost certainly in some other, less vibrant form.

38. And the swords.


39. William Burroughs, nexus.

40. William Burroughs, who killed his second wife Joan Vollmer in 1951, drunkenly shooting her in the head, playing William Tell.

41. William Tell Burroughs.

42. Central to William Burroughs’s work: A negotiation of spirit and flesh, autonomy and ventriloquization, virus and host.

43. “Too icky,” my own wife declared.

44. But he was known to love cats.


45. Burroughs, who basically invented the riff-as-novel, the novel-in-riffs.

46. “The Mayan Caper.”

47. “Dr. Benway Operates.”

48. “The Talking Asshole Routine.”

49. “Crab Nebula.”

50. An explorer, no doubt.


51. Ways of seeing.


52. A modernist lumped with the Beats (he their Old Bull Lee), that slim buffer of drinkers and druggers wedged between the modernists and the postmodernists.

53. A big em Modernist.

54. Burroughs saw his writing as part of the picaresque tradition, which he traced all the way back to the Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter. The picaresque novel, just one damn thing happening after another.

55. The outlaw, the outlaw novel, the outlaw novelist.

56. The novelist as pistolier.


57. The idea of William Burroughs as a displacement for actually reading the writing of William Burroughs. (“So icky”).

57. The romance of William Burroughs. The violent, awful romance of William Burroughs.

58. “Deposition: A Testimony Considering Sickness.”

59. Burroughs’s writing: A synthesis of boy’s adventure stories, sci-fi, beat poetry, all the mystic organs that litter history, and crime, crime, crime.

60. That Burroughs did not merely describe the apocalyptic but also find a form and language to represent it.

61. And apocalyptic in the etymological sense, in the sense of revelation, of seeing, of ways of seeing, of organizing information, data, but also spirit.

62. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin.

63. William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.

64. William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

65. And Paul Bowles. And J.G. Ballard. And Francis Bacon. And Andy Warhol. And Timothy Leary.

66. And The Rolling Stones and David Bowie and Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin and Lou Reed and Patti Smith and Blondie and Sonic Youth and Nick Cave and Tom Waits and R.E.M. and Kurt Cobain and all the rest of them.

67. You do not look good in a fedora even though William Burroughs did.


68. The man could wear a hat.


69. Never once having encountered William S. Burroughs on a syllabus in a class I was taking.

70. Never once daring to put William S. Burroughs on the syllabus of a class I was teaching.

71. Friends in high school, discounting all of Burroughs after a brief icky dip into Naked Lunch.

72. Friends in college, discounting all of Burroughs with a cynical hand wave.

73. Another weapon, the blow dart.


74. The electric moral violence of Naked Lunch.

75. Of The Nova Trilogy.

76. Of The Red Night Trilogy.

77. The Burroughsverse: Hermetic, mystical, arcane, but also somehow simultaneously open, its portals in New York, Kansas, Tangiers, but also maybe anywhere else, through his books, etc.

78. The Burroughsverse: Let’s call it what it is: Interzone.

79. A fascinating place to visit but you wouldn’t wanna call it home.

80. The Bunker.

burroughs desk writing room

81. My best friend in middle school introduced me to William Burroughs. So I can blame/thank him.

82. This friend of mine, I recall he had a Burroughs shirt, and the way I recall it was that the shirt pictured Burroughs with a pistol, I mean, Burroughs was posing with a pistol, as we know he liked to, and I recall that this friend of mine got in trouble for the shirt in school. I’m not sure if I recall all of this right.

83. Reading Naked Lunch in high school, not understanding a word of it.

84. Reading Naked Lunch in high school, trying to be subversive.

85. Rereading Naked Lunch a few years later, realizing that it opened a new way of reading: Discontinuous, amorphous, cut-up reading, riff reading.

86. “I can feel the heat closing in.”

87. The drugs: Do we need to talk about the drugs? Have I failed to riff on the drugs? Are the drugs that interesting?

88. Injection.


89. Do we take the drugs as a metaphor—drugs as the Ugly Spirit, drugs as the ventriloquist inspiriting the meat puppet, coursing through the soft machine?

90. But the drugs were so literal.

91. And the drugs were so bad.

92. But could there be a Burroughs without the drugs? And what would that look like, sound like, read like?

93. An effective way to dodge a difficult or perplexing question: A cat picture.


94. Imagine: William S. Burroughs, the baby.

95. Imagine: William S. Burroughs, taking over the family business, running the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.

96. Imagine: William S. Burroughs, alive today, his animated corpse leering wildly, jerky limbs gripping guns, knives, blow dart guns, swords, needles.

97. William S. Burroughs, alive at 100.

98. William S. Burroughs and a brother sphinx.


99. William S. Burroughs, who lives on, a spirit-virus in our culture.

100. Exit.


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