William S. Burroughs, The Art of Fiction No. 36

Firecrackers and whistles sounded the advent of the New Year of 1965 in St. Louis. Stripteasers ran from the bars in Gaslight Square to dance in the street when midnight came. Burroughs, who had watched television alone that night, was asleep in his room at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, St. Louis’s most elegant.

At noon the next day he was ready for the interview. He wore a gray lightweight Brooks Brothers suit with a vest, a blue-striped shirt from Gibraltar cut in the English style, and a deep-blue tie with small white polka dots. His manner was not so much pedagogic as didactic or forensic. He might have been a senior partner in a private bank, charting the course of huge but anonymous fortunes. A friend of the interviewer, spotting Burroughs across the lobby, thought he was a British diplomat. At the age of fifty, he is trim; he performs a complex abdominal exercise daily and walks a good deal. His face carries no excess flesh. His expression is taut, and his features are intense and chiseled. He did not smile during the interview and laughed only once, but he gives the impression of being capable of much dry laughter under other circumstances. His voice is sonorous, its tone reasonable and patient; his accent is mid-Atlantic, the kind of regionless inflection Americans acquire after many years abroad. He speaks elliptically, in short, clear bursts.

On the dresser of his room sat a European transistor radio; several science fiction paperbacks; Romance, by Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford; The Day Lincoln Was Shot, by Jim Bishop; and Ghosts in American Houses, by James Reynolds. A Zeiss Ikon camera in a scuffed leather case lay on one of the twin beds beside a copy of Field & Stream. On the other bed were a pair of long shears, clippings from newspaper society pages, photographs, and a scrapbook. A Facit portable typewriter sat on the desk, and gradually one became aware that the room, although neat, contained a great deal of paper.

Burroughs smoked incessantly, alternating between a box of English Ovals and a box of Benson & Hedges. As the interview progressed, the room filled with smoke. He opened the window. The temperature outside was seventy degrees, the warmest New Year’s Day in St. Louis’s history; a yellow jacket flew in and settled on the pane. The bright afternoon deepened. The faint cries of children rose up from the broad brick alleys in which Burroughs had played as a boy.

INTERVIEWER

You grew up here?

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS

Yes. I went to John Burroughs School and the Taylor School, and was out West for a bit, and then went to Harvard.

INTERVIEWER

Any relation to the adding-machine firm?

BURROUGHS

My grandfather. You see, he didn’t exactly invent the adding machine, but he invented the gimmick that made it work, namely, a cylinder full of oil and a perforated piston that will always move up and down at the same rate of speed. Very simple principle, like most inventions. And it gave me a little money, not much, but a little.

INTERVIEWER

What did you do at Harvard?

BURROUGHS

Studied English lit. John Livingston Lowes. Whiting. I sat in on Kittredge’s course. Those are the main people I recall. I lived in Adams House and then I got fed up with the food and I moved to Claverly Hall, where I lived the last two years. I didn’t do any writing in college.

INTERVIEWER

When and why did you start to write?

BURROUGHS

I started to write in about 1950; I was thirty-five at the time; there didn’t seem to be any strong motivation. I simply was endeavoring to put down in a more or less straightforward journalistic style something about my experiences with addiction and addicts.

INTERVIEWER

Why did you feel compelled to record these experiences?

BURROUGHS

I didn’t feel compelled. I had nothing else to do. Writing gave me something to do every day. I don’t feel the results were at all spectacular. Junky is not much of a book, actually. I knew very little about writing at that time.

INTERVIEWER

Where was this?

BURROUGHS

In Mexico City. I was living near Sears, Roebuck, right around the corner from the University of Mexico. I had been in the army four or five months and I was there on the GI Bill, studying native dialects. I went to Mexico partly because things were becoming so difficult with the drug situation in America. Getting drugs in Mexico was quite easy, so I didn’t have to rush around, and there wasn’t any pressure from the law.

INTERVIEWER

Why did you start taking drugs?

BURROUGHS

Well, I was just bored. I didn’t seem to have much interest in becoming a successful advertising executive or whatever, or living the kind of life Harvard designs for you. After I became addicted in New York in 1944, things began to happen. I got in some trouble with the law, got married, moved to New Orleans, and then went to Mexico.

INTERVIEWER

There seems to be a great deal of middle-class voyeurism in this country concerning addiction, and in the literary world, downright reverence for the addict. You apparently don’t share these points of view.

BURROUGHS

No, most of it is nonsense. I think drugs are interesting principally as chemical means of altering metabolism and thereby altering what we call reality, which I would define as a more or less constant scanning pattern.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think of the hallucinogens and the new psychedelic drugs—LSD-25?

BURROUGHS

I think they’re extremely dangerous, much more dangerous than heroin. They can produce overwhelming anxiety states. I’ve seen people try to throw themselves out of windows; whereas the heroin addict is mainly interested in staring at his own toe. Other than deprivation of the drug, the main threat to him is an overdose. I’ve tried most of the hallucinogens without an anxiety reaction, fortunately. LSD-25 produced results for me similar to mescaline. Like all hallucinogens, LSD gave me an increased awareness, more a hallucinated viewpoint than any actual hallucination. You might look at a doorknob and it will appear to revolve, although you are conscious that this is the result of the drug. Also, van Goghish colors, with all those swirls, and the crackle of the universe.

INTERVIEWER

Have you read Henri Michaux’s book on mescaline?

BURROUGHS

His idea was to go into his room and close the door and hold in the experiences. I had my most interesting experiences with mescaline when I got outdoors and walked around—colors, sunsets, gardens. It produces a terrible hangover, though, nasty stuff. It makes one ill and interferes with coordination. I’ve had all the interesting effects I need, and I don’t want any repetition of those extremely unpleasant physical reactions.

INTERVIEWER

The visions of drugs and the visions of art don’t mix?

BURROUGHS

Never. The hallucinogens produce visionary states, sort of, but morphine and its derivatives decrease awareness of inner processes, thoughts, and feelings. They are painkillers, 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. As for visions and heroin, I had a hallucinatory period at the very beginning of addiction, for instance, a sense of moving at high speed through space. But as soon as addiction was established, I had no visions—vision—at all and very few dreams.

INTERVIEWER

Why did you stop taking drugs?

BURROUGHS

I was living in Tangier in 1957, and I had spent a month in a tiny room in the Casbah staring at the toe of my foot. The room had filled up with empty Eukodol cartons; I suddenly realized I was not doing anything. I was dying. I was just apt to be finished. So I flew to London and turned myself over to Dr. John Yerbury Dent for treatment. I’d heard of his success with the apomorphine treatment. Apomorphine is simply morphine boiled in hydrochloric acid; it’s nonaddictive. What the apomorphine did was to regulate my metabolism. It’s a metabolic regulator. It cured me physiologically. I’d already taken the cure once at Lexington, and although I was off drugs when I got out, there was a physiological residue. Apomorphine eliminated that. I’ve been trying to get people in this country interested in it, but without much luck. The vast majority—social workers, doctors—have the cop’s mentality toward addiction. A probation officer in California wrote me recently to inquire about the apomorphine treatment. I’ll answer him at length. I always answer letters like that.

INTERVIEWER

Have you had any relapses?

BURROUGHS

Yes, a couple. Short. Both were straightened out with apomorphine, and now heroin is no temptation for me. I’m just not interested. I’ve seen a lot of it around. I know people who are addicts. I don’t have to use any willpower. Dr. Dent always said there is no such thing as willpower. You’ve got to reach a state of mind in which you don’t want it or need it.

INTERVIEWER

You regard addiction as an illness but also a central human fact, a drama?

BURROUGHS

Both, absolutely. It’s as simple as the way in which anyone happens to become an alcoholic. They start drinking, that’s all. They like it, and they drink, and then they become alcoholic. I was exposed to heroin in New York—that is, I was going around with people who were using it; I took it; the effects were pleasant. I went on using it and became addicted. Remember that if it can be readily obtained, you will have any number of addicts. The idea that addiction is somehow a psychological illness is, I think, totally ridiculous. It’s as psychological as malaria. It’s a matter of exposure. People, generally speaking, will take any intoxicant or any drug that gives them a pleasant effect if it is available to them. In Iran, for instance, opium was sold in shops until quite recently, and they had three million addicts in a population of twenty million. There are also all forms of spiritual addiction. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, that is, if we have sufficient knowledge of the processes involved. Many policemen and narcotics agents are precisely addicted to power, to exercising a certain nasty kind of power over people who are helpless. The nasty sort of power: white junk, I call it—rightness; they’re right, right, right—and if they lost that power, they would suffer excruciating withdrawal symptoms. The picture we get of the whole Russian bureaucracy, people who are exclusively preoccupied with power and advantage, this must be an addiction. Suppose they lose it? Well, it’s been their whole life.

INTERVIEWER

Can you amplify your idea of junk as image?

BURROUGHS

It’s only a theory and, I feel, an inadequate one. I don’t think anyone really understands what a narcotic is or how it works, how it kills pain. My idea is sort of a stab in the dark. As I see it, what has been damaged in pain is, of course, the image, and morphine must in some sense replace this. We know it blankets the cells and that addicts are practically immune to certain viruses, to influenza and respiratory complaints. This is simple because the influenza virus has to make a hole in the cell receptors. When those are covered, as they are in morphine addiction, the virus can’t get in. As soon as morphine is withdrawn, addicts will immediately come down with colds and often with influenza.

INTERVIEWER

Certain schizophrenics also resist respiratory disease.

BURROUGHS

A long time ago I suggested there were similarities in terminal addiction and terminal schizophrenia. That was why I made the suggestion that they addict these people to heroin, then withdraw it and see if they could be motivated; in other words, find out whether they’d walk across the room and pick up a syringe. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far, but I think it would be interesting.

INTERVIEWER

Narcotics, then, disturb normal perception—

BURROUGHS

And set up instead a random craving for images. If drugs weren’t forbidden in America, they would be the perfect middle-class vice. Addicts would do their work and come home to consume the huge dose of images awaiting them in the mass media. Junkies love to look at television. Billie Holiday said she knew she was going off drugs when she didn’t like to watch TV. Or they’ll sit and read a newspaper or magazine, and by God, read it all. I knew this old junkie in New York, and he’d go out and get a lot of newspapers and magazines and some candy bars and several packages of cigarettes and then he’d sit in his room and he’d read those newspapers and magazines right straight through. Indiscriminately. Every word.

INTERVIEWER

You seem primarily interested in bypassing the conscious rational apparatus to which most writers direct their efforts.

BURROUGHS

I don’t know about where fiction ordinarily directs itself, but I am quite deliberately addressing myself to the whole area of what we call dreams. Precisely what is a dream? A certain juxtaposition of word and image. I’ve recently done a lot of experiments with scrapbooks. I’ll read in the newspaper something that reminds me of or has relation to something I’ve written. I’ll cut out the picture or article and paste it in a scrapbook beside the words from my book. Or, I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll suddenly see a scene from my book and I’ll photograph it and put it in a scrapbook. I’ll show you some of those. I’ve found that when preparing a page, I’ll almost invariably dream that night something relating to this juxtaposition of word and image. In other words, I’ve been interested in precisely how word and image get around on very, very complex association lines. I do a lot of exercises in what I call time travel, in taking coordinates, such as what I photographed on the train, what I was thinking about at the time, what I was reading, and what I wrote; all of this to see how completely I can project myself back to that one point in time.

INTERVIEWER

In Nova Express, you indicate that silence is a desirable state.

BURROUGHS

The most desirable state. In one sense a special use of words and pictures can conduce silence. The scrapbooks and time travel are exercises to expand consciousness, to teach me to think in association blocks rather than words. I’ve recently spent a little time studying hieroglyph systems, both the Egyptian and the Mayan. A whole block of associations—boonf!—like that! Words, at least the way we use them, can stand in the way of what I call nonbody experience. It’s time we thought about leaving the body behind.

INTERVIEWER

Marshall McLuhan said that you believed heroin was needed to turn the human body into an environment that includes the universe. But from what you’ve told me, you’re not at all interested in turning the body into an environment.

BURROUGHS

No, junk narrows consciousness. The only benefit to me as a writer (aside from putting me into contact with the whole carny world) came to me after I went off it. What I want to do is to learn to see more of what’s out there, to look outside, to achieve as far as possible a complete awareness of surroundings. Beckett wants to go inward. First he was in a bottle and now he is in the mud. I am aimed in the other direction—outward.

INTERVIEWER

Have you been able to think for any length of time in images, with the inner voice silent?

BURROUGHS

I’m becoming more proficient at it, partly through my work with scrapbooks and translating the connections between words and images. Try this. Carefully memorize the meaning of a passage, then read it; you’ll find you can actually read it without the words making any sound whatever in the mind’s ear. Extraordinary experience, and one that will carry over into dreams. When you start thinking in images, without words, you’re well on the way.

INTERVIEWER

Why is the wordless state so desirable?

BURROUGHS

I think it’s the evolutionary trend. I think that words are an around-the-world, oxcart way of doing things, awkward instruments, and they will be laid aside eventually, probably sooner than we think. This is something that will happen in the space age. Most serious writers refuse to make themselves available to the things that technology is doing. I’ve never been able to understand this sort of fear. Many of them are afraid of tape recorders and the idea of using any mechanical means for literary purposes seems to them some sort of a sacrilege. This is one objection to the cut-ups. There’s been a lot of that, a sort of a superstitious reverence for the word. My God, they say, you can’t cut up these words. Why can’t I? I find it much easier to get interest in the cut-ups from people who are not writers—doctors, lawyers, or engineers, any open-minded, fairly intelligent person—than from those who are.

INTERVIEWER

How did you become interested in the cut-up technique?

BURROUGHS

A friend, Brion Gysin, an American poet and painter, who has lived in Europe for thirty years, was, as far as I know, the first to create cut-ups. His cut-up poem, “Minutes to Go,” was broadcast by the BBC and later published in a pamphlet. I was in Paris in the summer of 1960; this was after the publication there of Naked Lunch. I became interested in the possibilities of this technique, and I began experimenting myself. Of course, when you think of it, The Waste Land was the first great cut-up collage, and Tristan Tzara had done a bit along the same lines. Dos Passos used the same idea in “The Camera Eye” sequences in U.S.A. I felt I had been working toward the same goal; thus it was a major revelation to me when I actually saw it being done.

INTERVIEWER

What do cut-ups offer the reader that conventional narrative doesn’t?

BURROUGHS

Any narrative passage or any passage, say, of poetic images is subject to any number of variations, all of which may be interesting and valid in their own right. A page of Rimbaud cut up and rearranged will give you quite new images. Rimbaud images—real Rimbaud images—but new ones.

INTERVIEWER

You deplore the accumulation of images and at the same time you seem to be looking for new ones.

BURROUGHS

Yes, it’s part of the paradox of anyone who is working with word and image, and after all, that is what a writer is still doing. Painter too. Cut-ups establish new connections between images, and one’s range of vision consequently expands.

INTERVIEWER

Instead of going to the trouble of working with scissors and all those pieces of paper, couldn’t you obtain the same effect by simply free-associating at the typewriter?

BURROUGHS

One’s mind can’t cover it that way. Now, for example, if I wanted to make a cut-up of this [picking up a copy of The Nation], there are many ways I could do it. I could read cross-column; I could say, “Today’s men’s nerves surround us. Each technological extension gone outside is electrical involves an act of collective environment. The human nervous environment system itself can be reprogrammed with all its private and social values because it is content. He programs logically as readily as any radio net is swallowed by the new environment. The sensory order.” You find it often makes quite as much sense as the original. You learn to leave out words and to make connections. [Gesturing] Suppose I should cut this down the middle here, and put this up here. Your mind simply could not manage it. It’s like trying to keep so many chess moves in mind, you just couldn’t do it. The mental mechanisms of repression and selection are also operating against you.

INTERVIEWER

You believe that an audience can be eventually trained to respond to cut-ups?

BURROUGHS

Of course, because cut-ups make explicit a psychosensory process that is going on all the time anyway. Somebody is reading a newspaper, and his eye follows the column in the proper Aristotelian manner, one idea and sentence at a time. But subliminally he is reading the columns on either side and is aware of the person sitting next to him. That’s a cut-up. I was sitting in a lunchroom in New York having my doughnuts and coffee. I was thinking that one does feel a little boxed in New York, like living in a series of boxes. I looked out the window and there was a great big Yale truck. That’s cut-up—a juxtaposition of what’s happening outside and what you’re thinking of. I make this a practice when I walk down the street. I’ll say, when I got to here I saw that sign; I was thinking this, and when I return to the house I’ll type these up. Some of this material I use and some I don’t. I have literally thousands of pages of notes here, raw, and I keep a diary as well. In a sense it’s traveling in time.

Most people don’t see what’s going on around them. That’s my principal message to writers: for God’s sake, keep your eyes open. Notice what’s going on around you. I mean, I walk down the street with friends. I ask, “Did you see him, that person who just walked by?” No, they didn’t notice him. I had a very pleasant time on the train coming out here. I haven’t traveled on trains in years. I found there were no drawing rooms. I got a bedroom so I could set up my typewriter and look out the window. I was taking photos, too. I also noticed all the signs and what I was thinking at the time, you see. And I got some extraordinary juxtapositions. For example, a friend of mine has a loft apartment in New York. He said, “Every time we go out of the house and come back, if we leave the bathroom door open, there’s a rat in the house.” I look out the window, there’s Able Pest Control.

INTERVIEWER

The one flaw in the cut-up argument seems to lie in the linguistic base on which we operate, the straight declarative sentence. It’s going to take a great deal to change that.

BURROUGHS

Yes, it is unfortunately one of the great errors of Western thought, the whole either/or proposition. You remember Korzybski and his idea of non-Aristotelian logic. Either/or thinking just is not accurate thinking. That’s not the way things occur, and I feel the Aristotelian construct is one of the great shackles of Western civilization. Cut-ups are a movement toward breaking this down. I should imagine it would be much easier to find acceptance of the cut-ups from, possibly, the Chinese, because you see already there are many ways that they can read any given ideograph. It’s already cut up.

INTERVIEWER

What will happen to the straight plot in fiction?

BURROUGHS

Plot has always had the definite function of stage direction, of getting the characters from here to there, and that will continue, but the new techniques such as cut-up will involve much more of the total capacity of the observer. It enriches the whole aesthetic experience, extends it.

INTERVIEWER

Nova Express is a cut-up of many writers?

BURROUGHS

Joyce is in there. Shakespeare, Rimbaud, some writers that people haven’t heard about, someone named Jack Stern. There’s Kerouac. I don’t know, when you start making these fold-ins (instead of cutting, you fold) and cut-ups you lose track. Genet, of course, is someone I admire very much. But what he’s doing is classical French prose. He’s not a verbal innovator. Also Kafka, Eliot, and one of my favorites is Joseph Conrad. My story, “They Just Fade Away,” is a fold-in from Lord Jim. In fact, it’s almost a retelling of the Lord Jim story. My Stein is the same Stein as in Lord Jim. Richard Hughes is another favorite of mine. And Graham Greene. For exercise, when I make a trip, such as from Tangier to Gibraltar, I will record this in three columns in a notebook I always take with me. One column will contain simply an account of the trip, what happened. I arrived at the air terminal, what was said by the clerks, what I overheard on the plane, what hotel I checked into. The next column presents my memories; that is, what I was thinking of at the time, the memories that were activated by my encounters; and the third column, which I call my reading column, gives quotations from any book that I take with me. I have practically a whole novel alone on my trips to Gibraltar. Besides Graham Greene, I’ve used other books. I used The Wonderful Country by Tom Lea on one trip. Let’s see, and Eliot’s The Cocktail Party; In Hazard by Richard Hughes. For example, I’m reading The Wonderful Country and the hero is just crossing the frontier into Mexico. Well, just at this point I come to the Spanish frontier, so I note that down in the margin. Or I’m on a boat or a train, and I’m reading The Quiet American. I look around and see if there’s a quiet American aboard. Sure enough, there’s a quiet sort of young American with a crew cut drinking a bottle of beer. It’s extraordinary, if you really keep your eyes open. I was reading Raymond Chandler, and one of his characters was an albino gunman. My God, if there wasn’t an albino in the room. He wasn’t a gunman.

Who else? Wait a minute, I’ll just check my coordinate books to see if there’s anyone I’ve forgotten—Conrad, Richard Hughes, science fiction, quite a bit of science fiction. Eric Frank Russell has written some very, very interesting books. Here’s one, The Star Virus; I doubt if you’ve heard of it. He develops a concept here of what he calls “Deadliners,” who have this strange sort of seedy look. I read this when I was in Gibraltar, and I began to find Deadliners all over the place. The story has a fishpond in it, and quite a flower garden. My father was always very interested in gardening.

INTERVIEWER

 In view of all this, what will happen to fiction in the next twenty-five years?

BURROUGHS

In the first place, I think there’s going to be more and more merging of art and science. Scientists are already studying the creative process, and I think the whole line between art and science will break down and that scientists, I hope, will become more creative and writers more scientific. And I see no reason why the artistic world can’t absolutely merge with Madison Avenue. Pop art is a move in that direction. Why can’t we have advertisements with beautiful words and beautiful images? Already some of the very beautiful color photography appears in whiskey ads, I notice. Science will also discover for us how association blocks actually form.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think this will destroy the magic?

BURROUGHS

Not at all. I would say it would enhance it.

INTERVIEWER

Have you done anything with computers?

BURROUGHS

I’ve not done anything, but I’ve seen some of the computer poetry. I can take one of those computer poems and then try to find correlatives of it, that is, pictures to go with it. It’s quite possible.

INTERVIEWER

Does the fact that it comes from a machine diminish its value to you?

BURROUGHS

I think that any artistic product must stand or fall on what’s there.

INTERVIEWER

Therefore, you’re not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?

BURROUGHS

If he does a good one, no. People say to me, “Oh, this is all very good, but you got it by cutting up.” I say that has nothing to do with it, how I got it. What is any writing but a cut-up? Somebody has to program the machine; somebody has to do the cutting up. Remember that I first made selections. Out of hundreds of possible sentences that I might have used, I chose one.

INTERVIEWER

Incidentally, one image in Nova Express keeps coming back to me and I don’t quite understand it: the gray room, “breaking through to the gray room.”

BURROUGHS

I see that as very much like the photographic darkroom where the reality photographs are actually produced. Implicit in Nova Express is a theory that what we call reality is actually a movie. It’s a film, what I call a biologic film. What has happened is that the underground and also the nova police have made a breakthrough past the guards and gotten into the darkroom where the films are processed, where they’re in a position to expose negatives and prevent events from occurring. They’re like police anywhere. All right, you’ve got a bad situation here in which the nova mob is about to blow up the planet. So The Heavy Metal Kid calls in the nova police. Once you get them in there, by God, they begin acting like any police. They’re always an ambivalent agency. I recall once in South America that I complained to the police that a camera had been stolen and they ended up arresting me. I hadn’t registered or something. In other words, once you get them on the scene they really start nosing around. Once the law starts asking questions, there’s no end to it. For nova police, read technology, if you wish.

INTERVIEWER

Mary McCarthy has commented on the carnival origins of your characters in Naked Lunch. What are their other derivations?

BURROUGHS

The carny world was the one I exactly intended to create—a kind of midwestern, small-town, cracker-barrel, pratfall type of folklore, very much my own background. That world was an integral part of America and existed nowhere else, at least not in the same form. My family was southern on my mother’s side. My grandfather was a circuit-riding Methodist minister with thirteen children. Most of them went up to New York and became quite successful in advertising and public relations. One of them, an uncle, was a master image maker, Ivy Lee, Rockefeller’s publicity manager.

INTERVIEWER

Is it true that you did a great deal of acting out to create your characters when you were finishing Naked Lunch?

BURROUGHS

Excuse me, there is no accurate description of the creation of a book, or an event. Read Durrell’s Alexandria novels for four different ways of looking at the same thing. Gysin saw me pasting pictures on the wall of a Paris hotel room and using a tape recorder to act out several voices. Actually, it was written mainly in Tangier, after I had taken the cure with Dr. Dent in London in 1957. I came back to Tangier and I started working on a lot of notes that I had made over a period of years. Most of the book was written at that time. I went to Paris about 1959, and I had a great pile of manuscripts. Girodias was interested and he asked if I could get the book ready in two weeks. This is the period that Brion is referring to when, from manuscripts collected over a period of years, I assembled what became the book from some thousand pages, something like that.

INTERVIEWER

But did you actually leap up and act out, say, Dr. Benway?

BURROUGHS

Yes, I have. Dr. Benway dates back to a story I wrote in 1938 with a friend of mine, Kells Elvins, who is now dead. That’s about the only piece of writing I did prior to Junky. And we did definitely act the thing out. We decided that was the way to write. Now here’s this guy, what does he say, what does he do? Dr. Benway sort of emerged quite spontaneously while we were composing this piece. Something I’ve been meaning to do with my scrapbooks is to have files on every character, almost like police files: habits, idiosyncrasies, where born, pictures. That is, if I ever see anyone in a magazine or newspaper who looks like Dr. Benway (and several people have played Dr. Benway, sort of amateur actors), I take their photographs. Many of my characters first come through strongly to me as voices. That’s why I use a tape recorder. They also carry over from one book to another.

INTERVIEWER

Do any have their origins in actual persons?

BURROUGHS

Hamburger Mary is one. There was a place in New York called Hamburger Mary’s. I was in Hamburger Mary’s when a friend gave me a batch of morphine syrettes. That was my first experience with morphine and then I built up a whole picture of Hamburger Mary. She is also an actual person. I don’t like to give her name for fear of being sued for libel, but she was a Scientologist who started out in a hamburger joint in Portland, Oregon, and now has eleven million dollars.

INTERVIEWER

What about The Heavy Metal Kid?

BURROUGHS

There again, quite complicated origins, partly based on my own experience. I felt that heavy metal was sort of the ultimate expression of addiction, that there’s something actually metallic in addiction, that the final stage reached is not so much vegetable as mineral. It’s increasingly inanimate, in any case. You see, as Dr. Benway said, I’ve now decided that junk is not green, but blue. Some of my characters come to me in dreams, Daddy Long Legs, for instance. Once, in a clinic, I had a dream in which I saw a man in this rundown clinic and his name in the dream was Daddy Long Legs. Many characters have come to me like that in a dream, and then I’ll elaborate from there. I always write down all my dreams. That’s why I’ve got that notebook beside the bed there.

INTERVIEWER

Earlier you mentioned that if junk had done nothing else, it at least put you in contact with the carny world.

BURROUGHS

Yes, the underworld, the old-time thieves, pickpockets, and people like that. They’re a dying race; very few of those old-timers left. Yeah, well, they were show business.

INTERVIEWER

What’s the difference between the modern junkie versus the 1944 junkie?

BURROUGHS

For one thing, all these young addicts; that was quite unknown in 1944. Most of the ones I knew were middle-aged men or old. I knew some of the old-time pickpockets and sneak thieves and shortchange artists. They had something called The Bill, a shortchange deal. I’ve never been able to figure out how it works. One man I knew beat all the cashiers in Grand Central with this thing. It starts with a twenty-dollar bill. You give them a twenty-dollar bill and then when you get the change you say, “Well, wait a minute, I must have been dreaming, I’ve got the change after all.” First thing you know, the cashier’s short ten dollars. One day this shortchange artist went to Grand Central, even though he knew it was burned down, but he wanted to change twenty dollars. Well, a guy got on the buzzer and they arrested him. When they got up in court and tried to explain what had happened, none of them could do it. I keep stories like this in my files.

INTERVIEWER

In your apartment in Tangier?

BURROUGHS

No, all of it is right here in this room.

INTERVIEWER

In case Tangier is blown up, it’s all safe?

BURROUGHS

Well, more than that. I need it all. I brought everything. That’s why I have to travel by boat and by train, because, well, just to give you an idea, that’s a photographic file [thud]. Those are all photographs and photographs. When I sit down to write, I may suddenly think of something I wrote three years ago which should be in this file over here. It may not be. I’m always looking through these files. That’s why I need a place where I can really spread them out, to see what’s what. I’m looking for one particular paper, it often takes me a long time and sometimes I don’t find it. Those dresser drawers are full of files. All those drawers in the closets are full of files. It’s pretty well organized. Here’s a file, “The 1920 Movie,” which partly contains some motion picture ideas. Here’s “All the Sad Old Showmen”; has some business about bank robbers in it. Here’s “The Nova Police Gazette.” This is “Analog,” which contains science fiction material. This is “The Captain’s Logbook.” I’ve been interested in sea stories, but I know so little about the sea, I hesitate to do much. I collect sea disasters such as the Mary Celeste. Here’s a file on Mr. Luce.

INTERVIEWER

Do you admire Mr. Luce?

BURROUGHS

I don’t admire him at all. He has set up one of the greatest word and image banks in the world. I mean, there are thousands of photos, thousands of words about anything and everything, all in his files. All the best pictures go into the files. Of course, they’re reduced to microphotos now. I’ve been interested in the Mayan system, which was a control calendar. You see, their calendar postulated really how everyone should feel at a given time, with lucky days, unlucky days, et cetera. And I feel that Luce’s system is comparable to that. It is a control system. It has nothing to do with reporting. Time, Life, Fortune is some sort of a police organization.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve said your next book will be about the American West and a gunfighter.

BURROUGHS

 Yes, I’ve thought about this for years and I have hundreds of pages of notes on the whole concept of the gunfighter. The gun duel was a sort of Zen contest, a real spiritual contest like Zen swordsmanship.

INTERVIEWER

Would this be cut-up, or more a conventional narrative?

BURROUGHS

I’d use cut-ups extensively in the preparation, because they would give me all sorts of facets of character and place, but the final version would be straight narrative. I wouldn’t want to get bogged down in too much factual detail, but I’d like to do research in New Mexico or Arizona, even though the actual towns out there have become synthetic tourist attractions. Occasionally I have the sensation that I’m repeating myself in my work, and I would like to do something different—almost a deliberate change of style. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I want to try. I’ve been thinking about the Western for years. As a boy I was sent to school in New Mexico, and during the war I was stationed in Coldspring, Texas, near Conroe. That’s genuine backwoods country, and I picked up some real characters there. For instance, a fellow who actually lived in East Texas. He was always having trouble with his neighbors, who suspected him of rustling their cattle, I think with good reason. But he was competent with a gun and there wasn’t anyone who would go up against him. He finally was killed. He got drunk and went to sleep under a tree by a campfire. The fire set fire to the tree, and it fell on him. I’m interested in extending newspaper and magazine formats to so-called literary materials. Here, this is one of my attempts. This is going to be published in a little magazine, The Sparrow.

INTERVIEWER

[Reading] “The Coldspring News, All the News That Fits We Print, Sunday, September 17, 1899, William Burroughs, Editor.” Here’s Bradly Martin again.

BURROUGHS

Yes, he’s the gunfighter. I’m not sure yet what’s going to happen after Clem accuses him of rustling cattle. I guess Clem goes into Coldspring and there’s gunplay between him and the gunfighter. He’s going to kill Clem, obviously. Clem is practically a dead man. Clem is going to get likkered up and think he can tangle with Bradly Martin, and Bradly Martin is going to kill him, that’s for sure.

INTERVIEWER

Will your other characters reappear? Dr. Benway?

BURROUGHS

He’d be the local doctor. That’s what I’d like to do, you see, use all these characters in a straight Western story. There would be Mr. Bradly, Mr. Martin, whose name is Bradly Martin; there would be Dr. Benway; and we’d have the various traveling carny and medicine shows that come through with the Subliminal Kid and all of the con men. That was the heyday for those old joes.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?

BURROUGHS

In a sense. You see, a real con man is a creator. He creates a set. No, a con man is more a movie director than a writer. The Yellow Kid created a whole set, a whole cast of characters, a whole brokerage house, a whole bank. It was just like a movie studio.

INTERVIEWER

What about addicts?

BURROUGHS

Well, there will be a lot of morphine addiction. Remember that there were a great many addicts at that time. Jesse James was an addict. He started using morphine for a wound in his lung, and I don’t know whether he was permanently addicted, but he tried to kill himself. He took sixteen grains of morphine and it didn’t kill him, which indicates a terrific tolerance. So he must have been fairly heavily addicted. A dumb, brutal hick; that’s what he was, like Dillinger. And there were so many genteel old ladies who didn’t feel right unless they had their Dr. Jones mixture every day.

INTERVIEWER

What about the Green Boy, Izzy the Push, Green Tony, Sammy the Butcher, and Willy the Fink?

BURROUGHS

See, all of them could be Western characters except lzzy the Push. The buildings weren’t high enough in those days. Defenestration, incidentally, is a very interesting phenomenon. Some people who are prone to it will not live in high buildings. They get near a window, someone in the next room hears a cry, and they’re gone. “Fell or jumped” is the phrase. I would add, “or was pushed.”

INTERVIEWER

What other character types interest you?

BURROUGHS

Not the people in advertising and television, nor the American postman or middle-class housewife; not the young man setting forth. The whole world of high finance interests me, the men such as Rockefeller who were specialized types of organisms that could exist in a certain environment. He was really a moneymaking machine, but I doubt that he could have made a dime today because he required the old laissez-faire capitalism. He was a specialized monopolistic organism. My uncle Ivy created images for him. I fail to understand why people like J. Paul Getty have to come on with such a stuffy, uninteresting image. He decides to write his life history. I’ve never read anything so dull, so absolutely devoid of any spark. Well, after all, he was quite a playboy in his youth. There must have been something going on. None of it’s in the book. Here he is, the only man of enormous wealth who operates alone, but there’s nobody to present the image. Well, yes, I wouldn’t mind doing that sort of job myself. I’d like to take somebody like Getty and try to find an image for him that would be of some interest. If Getty wants to build an image, why doesn’t he hire a first-class writer to write his story? For that matter, advertising has a long way to go. I’d like to see a story by Norman Mailer or John O’Hara which just makes some mention of a product, say, Southern Comfort. I can see the O’Hara story. It would be about someone who went into a bar and asked for Southern Comfort; they didn’t have it, and he gets into a long, stupid argument with the bartender. It shouldn’t be obtrusive; the story must be interesting in itself so that people read this just as they read any story in Playboy, and Southern Comfort would be guaranteed that people will look at that advertisement for a certain number of minutes. You see what I mean? They’ll read the story. Now, there are many other ideas; you could have serialized comic strips, serial stories. Well, all we have to do is have James Bond smoking a certain brand of cigarettes.

INTERVIEWER

Didn’t you once work for an advertising agency?

BURROUGHS

Yes, after I got out of Harvard in 1936. I had done some graduate work in anthropology. I got a glimpse of academic life and I didn’t like it at all. It looked like there was too much faculty intrigue, faculty teas, cultivating the head of the department, so on and so forth. Then I spent a year as a copywriter in this small advertising agency, since defunct, in New York. We had a lot of rather weird accounts. There was some device called the Cascade for giving high colonics, and something called Endocreme. It was supposed to make women look younger, because it contained some female sex hormones. The Interstate Commerce Commission was never far behind. As you can see, I’ve recently thought a great deal about advertising. After all, they’re doing the same sort of thing. They are concerned with the precise manipulation of word and image. Anyway, after the ad game I was in the army for a bit. Honorably discharged and then the usual strange wartime jobs—bartender, exterminator, reporter, and factory and office jobs. Then Mexico, a sinister place.

INTERVIEWER

Why sinister?

BURROUGHS

I was there during the Alemán regime. If you walked into a bar, there would be at least fifteen people in there who were carrying guns. Everybody was carrying guns. They got drunk and they were a menace to any living creature. I mean, sitting in a cocktail lounge, you always had to be ready to hit the deck. I had a friend who was shot, killed. But he asked for it. He was waving his little .25 automatic around in a bar and some Mexican blasted him with a .45. They listed the death as natural causes, because the killer was a political big shot. There was no scandal, but it was really as much as your life was worth to go into a cocktail lounge. And I had that terrible accident with Joan Vollmer, my wife. I had a revolver that I was planning to sell to a friend. I was checking it over and it went off—killed her. A rumor started that I was trying to shoot a glass of champagne from her head William Tell-style. Absurd and false. Then they had a big depistolization. Mexico City had one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world. Another thing, every time you turned around there was some Mexican cop with his hand out, finding some fault with your papers or something, just anything he could latch on to. “Papers very bad, señor.” It really was a bit much, the Alemán regime.

INTERVIEWER

From Mexico?

BURROUGHS

I went to Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador, just looking around. I was particularly interested in the Amazon region of Peru, where I took a drug called yage, Bannisteria caapi, a hallucinogen as powerful as mescaline, I believe. The whole trip gave me an awful lot of copy. A lot of these experiences went into The Ticket That Exploded, which is sort of midway between Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine. It’s not a book I’m satisfied with in its present form. If it’s published in the United States, I would have to rewrite it. The Soft Machine, which will come out here in due time, is an expansion of my South American experiences, with surreal extensions. When I rewrote it recently, I included about sixty-five pages of straight narrative concerning Dr. Benway, and the Sailor, and various characters from Naked Lunch. These people pop up everywhere.

INTERVIEWER

Then from South America you went to Europe. Is the geographic switch as important as it once was to American writing?

BURROUGHS

Well, if I hadn’t covered a lot of ground, I wouldn’t have encountered the extra dimensions of character and extremity that make the difference. But I think the day of the expatriate is definitely over. It’s becoming more and more uncomfortable, more and more expensive, and less and less rewarding to live abroad, as far as I’m concerned. Now I’m particularly concerned with quiet writing conditions—being able to concentrate—and not so much interested in the place where I am. To me, Paris is now one of the most disagreeable cities in the world. I just hate it. The food is uneatable. It’s either very expensive, or you just can’t eat it. In order to get a good sandwich at three o’clock in the afternoon, I have to get into a taxi and go all the way over to the Right Bank. Here all I have to do is pick up the phone. They send me up a club sandwich and a glass of buttermilk, which is all I want for lunch anyway. The French have gotten so nasty and they’re getting nastier and nastier. The Algerian war and then all those millions of people dumped back into France and all of them thoroughly dissatisfied. I don’t know, I think the atmosphere there is unpleasant and not conducive to anything. You can’t get an apartment. You can’t get a quiet place to work. Best you can do is a dinky hotel room somewhere. If I want to get something like this, it costs me thirty dollars a day. The main thing I’ve found after twenty years away from St. Louis is that the standard of service is much better than New York. These are Claridge’s or Ritz accommodations. If I could afford it, keep it, this would be an ideal place for me. There’s not a sound in here. It’s been very conducive to work. I’ve got a lot of room here to spread out all my papers in all these drawers and shelves. It’s quiet. When I want something to eat, I pick up the phone. I can work right straight through. Get up in the morning, pick up the phone about two o’clock and have a sandwich, and work through till dinnertime. Also, it’s interesting to turn on the TV set every now and then.

INTERVIEWER

What do you find on it?

BURROUGHS

That’s a real cut-up. It flickers, just like the old movies used to. When talkies came in and they perfected the image, the movies became as dull as looking out the window. A bunch of Italians in Rabat have a television station and we could get the signal in Tangier. I just sat there open mouthed looking at it. What with blurring and contractions and visual static, some of their Westerns became very, very odd. Gysin has been experimenting with the flicker principle in a gadget he calls a “Dream Machine.” There used to be one in the window of The English Bookshop on the rue de Seine. Helena Rubenstein was so fascinated she bought a couple, and Harold Matson, the agent, thinks it’s a million-dollar idea.

INTERVIEWER

Describe a typical day’s work.

BURROUGHS

I get up about nine o’clock and order breakfast; I hate to go out for breakfast. I work usually until about two o’clock or two-thirty, when I like to have a sandwich and a glass of milk, which takes about ten minutes. I’ll work through until six or seven o’clock. Then if I’m seeing people or going out, I’ll go out, have a few drinks, come back, and maybe do a little reading and go to bed. I go to bed pretty early. I don’t make myself work. It’s just the thing I want to do. To be completely alone in a room, to know that there’ll be no interruptions and I’ve got eight hours is just exactly what I want—yeah, just paradise.

INTERVIEWER

Do you compose on the typewriter?

BURROUGHS

I use the typewriter and I use scissors. I can sit down with scissors and old manuscripts and paste in photographs for hours; I have hundreds of photographs. I usually take a walk every day. Here in St. Louis I’ve been trying to take 1920s photographs, alleys and whatnot. This [pointing] is a ghostly photograph of the house in which I grew up, seen back through forty-five years. Here’s a photo of an old ash pit. It was great fun for children to get out there in the alley after Christmas and build a fire in the ash pit with all the excelsior and wrappings. Here, these are stories and pictures from the society columns. I’ve been doing a cut-up of society coverage. I had a lot of fun piling up these names; you get some improbable names in the society columns.

INTERVIEWER

You recently said you would like to settle in the Ozarks. Were you serious?

BURROUGHS

I would like to have a place there. It’s a very beautiful area in the fall, and I’d like to spend periods of time, say every month or every two months, in complete solitude, just working, which requires an isolated situation. Of course, I’d have to buy a car, for one thing, and you run into considerable expense. I just have to think in terms of an apartment. I thought possibly an apartment here, but most likely I’ll get one in New York. I’m not returning to Tangier. I just don’t like it anymore. It’s become just a small town. There’s no life there, and the place has no novelty for me at all. I was sitting there, and I thought, my God, I might as well be in Columbus, Ohio, as here, for all the interest that the town has for me. I was just sitting in my apartment working. I could have a better apartment and better working conditions somewhere else. After ten o’clock at night, there’s no one on the streets. The old settlers like Paul Bowles and those people who have been there for years and years are sort of hanging on desperately, asking, “Where could we go if we left Tangier?” I don’t know, it just depresses me now. It’s not even cheap there. If I travel anywhere, it will be to the Far East, but only for a visit. I’ve never been east of Athens.

INTERVIEWER

That reminds me, I meant to ask you what’s behind your interest in the more exotic systems such as Zen, or Dr. Reich’s orgone theories?

BURROUGHS

Well, these nonconventional theories frequently touch on something going on that Harvard and MIT can’t explain. I don’t mean that I endorse them wholeheartedly, but I am interested in any attempt along those lines. I’ve used these orgone accumulators and I’m convinced that something occurs there, I don’t know quite what. Of course, Reich himself went around the bend, no question of that.

INTERVIEWER

You mentioned Scientology earlier. Do you have a system for getting on, or are you looking for one?

BURROUGHS

I’m not very interested in such a crudely three-dimensional manipulative schema as L. Ron Hubbard’s, although it’s got its points. I’ve studied it and I’ve seen how it works. It’s a series of manipulative gimmicks. They tell you to look around and see what you would have. The results are much more subtle and more successful than Dale Carnegie’s. But as far as my living by a system, no. At the same time, I don’t think anything happens in this universe except by some power—or individual—making it happen. Nothing happens of itself. I believe all events are produced by will.

INTERVIEWER

Then do you believe in the existence of God?

BURROUGHS

God? I wouldn’t say. I think there are innumerable gods. What we on Earth call God is a little tribal god who has made an awful mess. Certainly forces operating through human consciousness control events. A Luce writer may be an agent of God-knows-what power, a force with an insatiable appetite for word and image. What does this force propose to do with such a tremendous mound of image garbage? They’ve got a regular casting office. To interview Mary McCarthy, they’ll send a shy Vassar girl who’s just trying to get along. They had several carny people for me. “Shucks, Bill, you got a reefer?” Reefer? My God! “Certainly not,” I told them. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then they go back and write a nasty article for the files.

INTERVIEWER

In some respects, Nova Express seems to be a prescription for social ailments. Do you see the need, for instance, of biologic courts in the future?

BURROUGHS

Certainly. Science eventually will be forced to establish courts of biologic mediation, because life-forms are going to become more incompatible with the conditions of existence as man penetrates further into space. Mankind will have to undergo biologic alterations ultimately, if we are to survive at all. This will require biologic law to decide what changes to make. We will simply have to use our intelligence to plan mutations, rather than letting them occur at random. Because many such mutations—look at the saber-toothed tiger—are bound to be very poor engineering designs. The future, decidedly, yes. I think there are innumerable possibilities, literally innumerable. The hope lies in the development of nonbody experience and eventually getting away from the body itself, away from three-dimensional coordinates and concomitant animal reactions of fear and flight, which lead inevitably to tribal feuds and dissension.

INTERVIEWER

Why did you choose an interplanetary war as the conflict in Nova Express, rather than discord between nations? You seem fascinated with the idea that a superterrestrial power is exercising an apparatus of control, such as the death dwarfs—

BURROUGHS

They’re parasitic organisms occupying a human host, rather like a radio transmitter, which direct and control it. The people who work with encephalograms and brain waves point out that technically it will someday be possible to install at birth a radio antenna in the brain which will control thought, feeling, and sensory perceptions, actually not only control thought, but make certain thoughts impossible. The death dwarfs are weapons of the nova mob, which in turn is calling the shots in the cold war. The nova mob is using that conflict in an attempt to blow up the planet, because when you get right down to it, what are America and Russia really arguing about? The Soviet Union and the United States will eventually consist of interchangeable social parts and neither nation is morally “right.” The idea that anyone can run his own factory in America is ridiculous. The government and the unions—which both amount to the same thing: control systems—tell him who he can hire, how much he can pay them, and how he can sell his goods. What difference does it make if the state owns the plant and retains him as manager? Regardless of how it’s done, the same kind of people will be in charge. One’s ally today is an enemy tomorrow. I have postulated this power—the nova mob—which forces us to play musical chairs.

INTERVIEWER

You see hope for the human race, but at the same time you are alarmed as the instruments of control become more sophisticated.

BURROUGHS

Well, whereas they become more sophisticated they also become more vulnerable. Time, Life, Fortune applies a more complex, effective control system than the Mayan calendar, but it also is much more vulnerable because it is so vast and mechanized. Not even Henry Luce understands what’s going on in the system now. Well, a machine can be redirected. One technical sergeant can fuck up the whole works. Nobody can control the whole operation. It’s too complex. The captain comes in and says, “All right, boys, we’re moving up.” Now, who knows what buttons to push? Who knows how to get the cases of Spam up to where they’re going, and how to fill out the forms? The sergeant does. The captain doesn’t know. As long as there’re sergeants around, the machine can be dismantled, and we may get out of all this alive yet.

INTERVIEWER

Sex seems equated with death frequently in your work.

BURROUGHS

That is an extension of the idea of sex as a biologic weapon. I feel that sex, like practically every other human manifestation, has been degraded for control purposes, or really for antihuman purposes. This whole Puritanism. How are we ever going to find out anything about sex scientifically, when a priori the subject cannot even be investigated? It can’t even be thought about or written about. That was one of the interesting things about Reich. He was one of the few people who ever tried to investigate sex—sexual phenomena, from a scientific point of view. There’s this prurience and this fear of sex. We know nothing about sex. What is it? Why is it pleasurable? What is pleasure? Relief from tension? Well, possibly.

INTERVIEWER

Are you irreconcilably hostile to the twentieth century?

BURROUGHS

Not at all, although I can imagine myself as having been born under many different circumstances. For example, I had a dream recently in which I returned to the family home and I found a different father and a different house from any I’d ever seen before. Yet in a dream sense, the father and the house were quite familiar.

INTERVIEWER

Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that accurate?

BURROUGHS

I do definitely mean what I say to be taken literally, yes, to make people aware of the true criminality of our times, to wise up the marks. All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable. Like the advertising people we talked about, I’m concerned with the precise manipulation of word and image to create an action, not to go out and buy a Coca-Cola, but to create an alteration in the reader’s consciousness. You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and 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.
Author photograph by Gerard Malanga.

The Existential Hero: Dark Souls through Kierkegaard, Camus, and Sartre

So, Dark Souls is a special game, a rare kind of game that is only released a few times a console generation. Past its ecstatic gameplay and thick aesthetic, though, its theme of the futility of physical identity particularly striking. There exists in the world of Dark Souls two opposing forces, the gods, the lords, who seek to keep the Age of Fire going, and those that oppose those gods, who seek to bring about an Age of Darkness, where, interestingly, man holds his destiny in his own hands. Beyond these two archetypal forces is a third, vague energy that persists over Lordran, a rotting, indifferent predetermination, which can be read as the developer’s hand in the game, but does not have to be. This is the force that kills players mercilessly, the force that fills every pool of water with poison and bones. It is also the force that dethrones the idiot gods, as even their control over nature is limited. Strangely, due to this third force, this cosmic weight, it would be curious to see how Lordran transforms if a godless age was brought about, as the gods themselves have nothing to do with the paradoxical cosmic indifference and free-will erasing predeterminism. Would man bring about a prosperous Lordran? The game seems to lead one to believe this.

Dark Souls8
Dark Souls (PS3)

Being alive in Dark Souls is a weakness, and existing at all is a pretty awful, meaningless trial. It is a rampant landscape of existential and, in particular, moral nihilism. Søren Kierkegaard’s (1813-1855) ideas on nihilism, which he referred to as leveling (sort of ironic in the context of an RPG). Leveling, “at its maximum,” to Kierkegaard was the process of suppressing individuality to the point where individuality loses all meaning, and “is like the stillness of death” in his words. Interestingly, Kierkegaard uses similar language to that found in Dark Souls. The individuals of Lordran, the Solaires and the Knights of Astora, are punished for their wills, and turned into the Hollowed, a meaningless, violent existence. The player character can occasionally “save” one of these NPCs, but the obscure methods of doing so only emphasize the futility of the situation.

Relationships between characters are equally meaningless and violent, as the player character can kill any NPC whenever the player wills it, join any religious covenant which is not indicative of any real faith, and be attacked by a false friend at any moment. The religions of Lordran and the very gods themselves are meaningless and hold no real power as no such power or faith truly exists. PvP players act as unknown assassins, invading worlds they have never been to just to kill and purge.

Dark Souls is a world without sex and a world without love. Deep in the lore are buried lovers, yes, but love can never be depended on for tenderness or meaning. Upon death, players are forced to retrieve their bloodstains to retrieve their souls and humanity. Souls and humanity are not metaphysical notions but bodily ones, being represented by bloody pools on the ground marking death. Souls and humanity are reduced to items, currency, and hold little spiritual or existential value.

There have been a plethora of great heroes who have faced the materialist JRPG-hellworld, including the original JRPG hero, the legendary hero of Erdrick of Dragon Quest fame, but the player character in Dark Souls is a bit different. Erdrick, like the player character in Dark Souls, fought off mindless enemies full of gold and trudged through poisonous marshes and over beds of spikes. However, like most RPG heroes, Erdrick made little in the way of moral decisions. He was tasked with saving the kingdom and vanquishing evil, and that’s what he did. He used the King of Tentegel Castle’s save features, and other JRPG heroes used an inn’s save features, or a church’s. There are rules and roles in place, JRPG tropes.

Dark Souls10
Dark Souls (PS3)

The story of the player character in Dark Souls is a much more vague affair, where every action is morally ambiguous, but not in the way of other open-world games. The player character is a shapeshifter, much like the protagonist in A Voyage to Arcturus, and a killer, who could kill the King of Tentegel Castle with no remorse just to get a rare drop, sacrificing the game’s save feature in the process. There is no karma system to guide players’ actions, nor are there any real cues to let players know what they are doing is immoral.

Since Lordran is a morally nihilistic nightmare, the player character emerges as something of an existential hero. For Camus, in his The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal values poses only one question: does the realization of the absurd require one to commit suicide? Such a hyperbolic question deserves an equally hyperbolic answer: “No. It requires revolt.”

It could be argued that the player character is the Chosen Undead, that he or she is destined for this quest as the prophecies in the lore dictate. The player character therefore has no free will as fate predestines he or she be the legendary hero despite whatever he or she may actually seek. From this reading of the lore, the player character then is nothing of an existential hero, but merely a pawn in the plot of Lordran’s history. But this is not the case. From a more accurate understanding of the metaphysics of Lordran, no fate willed the player character to do anything. Obviously, characters like Kingseeker Frampt try to guide the player characters’ actions, and characters like the Knight of Astora are catalysts for the player character’s adventure, but it is the player character who eventually stands up to the indifferent world of Lordran and its idiot gods, proclaiming himself free of their laws and the natural laws that plague existence. The player character never becomes fully Hollowed and is ultimately in charge of his own destiny.

For Sartre, since there is no Creator, there is no specific human nature or eternal truths imbued in humans, what he refers to as essence. His famous quote, “existence precedes essence,” means that people are fully responsible for their actions and that they have no inherent properties willed upon them. This can be seen in Dark Souls in the bloodstains left behind when players die. Their existence (blood, body, physicality and actions) is how they are measured and to be whole is to reclaim that. Their essence (soul, humanity) is important to the game, but it is merely a currency with no intrinsic value associated with it. There is nothing moral about holding onto souls and humanity, and their value is only measured in what they can buy. The gods of Lordran (the lords) are not true creators as there are none, save the game developers, the third force mentioned earlier.

Thus, the player character, faced with an absurd, meaningless existence, without essence in a world without justice, explores Lordran, amasses power by killing those the player deems worthy of killing, and eventually discovers an option to change Lordran, an option essentially devoid of morality.

http://the-artifice.com/existential-hero-dark-souls/

$400: The Price of Over 700,000 Police Accounts on the Dark Web

A hacker is selling hundreds of thousands of accounts that were allegedly used by police and federal agents on a hacked law enforcement forum. The database being sold in the dark web contains over 715,000 user accounts. The breached site, PoliceOne, is a news site and community reportedly used by verified police officers and investigators to discuss specialist topics.

Using this account information, “criminals may be able to access ‘private messages and posts,’ the hacker who goes by the handle Berkut” told Motherboard.

PoliceOne.com is the #1 resource for up-to-the-minute law enforcement information online. More than 500,000 police professionals nationwide are registered PoliceOne members and trust us to provide them with the most timely, accurate and useful information available anywhere.

Berkut’s listing in the dark web marketplace claims that the forum was hacked in 2015 when this police data was stolen. “Emails from NSA, DHS, FBI and other law enforcement agencies as well as other US government agencies” is included in this database which is currently going for $400. The data includes usernames, email addresses, dates of birth, other forum data, and passwords stored in MD5, an encryption algorithm that is now considered relatively easier to crack.

The hacker responsible for the breach claimed that he breached the site using an exploit for vBulletin, a software widely known for its easily exploitable vulnerabilities, that has been leveraged in a number of forum breaches.

PoliceOne has confirmed the breach and is currently investigating the claim of stolen data. The site released the following statement:

We have confirmed the credibility of a purported breach of the PoliceOne forums in which hackers were potentially able to obtain usernames, emails and hashed passwords for a portion of our members. While we have not yet verified the claim, we are taking immediate steps to secure user accounts and our forums, which are currently offline while we investigate and gather more information.

While we store only limited user data and no payment information, we take any breach of data extremely seriously and are working aggressively to resolve the matter. We will be notifying potentially-affected users as a matter of priority and requiring them to change their passwords.

source: http://wccftech.com/hacker-selling-police-accounts-dark-web/

The Century of The Self

To many in both business and government, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power is truly moved into the hands of the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How is the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interest?

Series

Part one documents the story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays who invented ‘Public Relations’ in the 1920s, being the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires. Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer manipulation, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement to outrageous PR stunts and to eroticising the motorcar. His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods, it was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

Part two explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud’s ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses. Politicians and planners came to believe Freud’s underlying premise that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany, and in response to this, they set out to find ways to control the masses so as to manage the ‘hidden enemy’ within the human mind. Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna, and his nephew, Edward Bernays, provided the centrepiece philosophy and the US government, big business, and the CIA used their ideas to develop techniques to manage and control the minds of the masses. However, this was not a ‘cynical exercise in manipulation’ according to those in power, as they really believed that the only way to make democracy work and have a stable society was to repress the ‘dangerous and irrational desires and fears’ of the people.

In the 1960s, a radical group of psychotherapists challenged the influence of Freudian ideas, which lead to the creation of a new political movement that sought to create ‘new people’, free of the psychological conformity that had been implanted in people’s minds by business and politics. This episode shows how this idea rapidly developed in America through “self-help movements”, into the irresistible rise of the expressive self: the Me Generation. Soon, American corporations realised that this new self was not a threat, but their greatest opportunity. It was in their interest to encourage people to feel they were unique individuals and then sell them ways to express that individuality. To do this, they turned to the techniques developed by Freudian psychoanalysts, to manipulate the inner desires of the new self.

This episode explains how politicians turned to the same techniques used by business in order to read and manipulate the inner desires of the masses. Both New Labour with Tony Blair and the Democrats led by Bill Clinton, used the focus group which had been invented by psychoanalysts in order to regain power. Both set out to mould their policies to manipulate people’s innermost desires and feelings, just as capitalism had learnt to do with products. Out of this grew a new culture of public relations and marketing in politics, business and journalism. One of its stars in Britain was Matthew Freud who followed in the footsteps of his relation, Edward Bernays, the inventor of public relations in the 1920s. The politicians believed they were creating a new and better form of democracy, one that truly responded to the inner feelings of individual. But what they perhaps didn’t realise was that the aim of those who had originally created these techniques had not been to liberate people, but to develop a new way of controlling them.

‘Welcome to hell’: The chilling case of a teen ‘horror’ blogger accused of killing her parents

Days before her parents’ grisly deaths, Ashlee Martinson purportedly posted a poem about torturing and killing people in the woods, “where the agonizing screams cannot be heard.”

“Walking into a small cabin,” the teen wrote on her “Nightmare” blog on March 2, 2015, according the Daily Mail. “Marveling at the sweet horrors of blood that I thirst for. I then take the next victim who is unconscious. I tightly bind them to a low table.”

Martinson described herself online as a “horror fanatic” and went by the pseudonym “Vampchick,” according to People.

“I clean the dry blood off my tools from a previous session,” she wrote in the chilling March 2015 post, called “Unworthy.”

“The last body has been disposed of just hours before, yet I have not been satisfied with the pain, agony and blood.

“I bend down as they start to wake.

“‘Welcome to hell.’ I whisper in her ear. ‘Never again will you see the light of day.’”

Five days later, Martinson’s parents were found dead at their home in the tiny town of Piehl, in northern Wisconsin.

Investigators immediately turned their attention to Martinson, who had fled to Indiana with her boyfriend.

She was arrested and charged after police said she shot and killed her stepfather and then fatally stabbed her mother more than 30 times.

Now 18, Martinson pleaded guilty last week to second-degree homicide.

On March 7, 2015, one day after her 17th birthday, Martinson got into an argument with her parents, she later told police.

Her younger sister told authorities that Martinson’s mother and stepfather had discovered that the teen had a 22-year-old boyfriend and sent him a message on Facebook telling him to stay away from their daughter, according to court documents.

“As her parents,” her parents wrote, “we can press charges.”

They took away Martinson’s keys and cellphone, according to the documents, and forbid her from seeing him again.

The three fought. Martinson left home on foot and her stepfather brought her back.

Then, she went to her room.

Martinson told police that she grabbed “one of the many loaded shotguns in the house” and prepared to commit suicide, according to the documents.

But when her stepfather started “loudly banging” on her bedroom door, she said she considered killing him instead.

Two gunshots rang out.

Martinson shot 37-year-old Thomas Ayers first in the neck, then took aim at his head, authorities said.

She told police the second shot was “to ensure that he was dead and could not hurt her,” according to court records.

She said she turned to her mother for comfort, but her mother ran to Ayers, yelling at her daughter for what she had done.

Martinson told police that her mother, 40-year-old Jennifer Ayers, grabbed a knife and came toward her, according to court records. The teen wrestled the weapon from her mother, then stabbed her “with considerable force” over and over and over.

“She was basically a good kid, a very decent girl, until this happened,” her friend, Jon Rasmussen, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year.

Accounts from Martinson and professionals who interviewed her after the incident portray a teenage girl who, after years of alleged abuse, suffered severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her online presence, it seems, revealed the darker side.

Martinson had put pictures on Pinterest that she said came from “the dark, haunted woods of Wisconsin,” according to People.

The blog entries painted more macabre scenes.

In January 2015, she posted a poem called “Murder Maddness,” which was republished by the Daily Mail; in it, she wrote that she could hear nothing “but their screaming souls.”

“Unlike the monster I am/That no one can see,” it said. “And what I have become/What I have done to some.

“Someone like me/That no one can see/A psychopath in the dark.”

Authorities confirmed last year that the “Nightmare” blog that had been linked to Martinson was indeed associated with her; but they did not know whether the content posted under the pseudonym “Vampchick” was her original work.

The blog has since been taken offline.

Martinson told police that she was subjected to years of mental, verbal, physical and sexual attacks from her mother’s boyfriends — one of whom, she claimed, burned her with a cigarette and once raped her when she was 9, according to the court documents.

“People didn’t know about the abuse she went through,” Rasmussen, her friend and neighbor, recently told People. “This is a tragedy for everybody involved.”

Martinson said her stepfather was no exception.

Over the years, Thomas Ayers had been accused of assault, kidnapping, child enticement and party to the crime of sexual assault of a child under 15, according to court documents, which noted that he “had numerous prior arrests and convictions.”

Two of Martinson’s sisters told authorities that Ayers would hit them “very hard” with “a thick belt and his hand” — on several occasions until “their buttocks nearly blistered,” according to the documents.

They said he had choked them and had punched one of the girls in the face, giving her a black eye.

One of the girls said Ayers told them he threw their puppy around and “shot and killed him, and fed him to a bear.”

He also abused Martinson’s mother, they said.

The teen told police that her stepfather once climbed on top of her mother, pinned her down, put a gun to head and pretended to sexually assault her, saying “just like your father,” according to court documents.

Court-appointed doctors said Martinson was neglected by her mother, who did not provide “a safe environment for her,” according to the documents.

“We all knew she was having a hard time,” another friend, Jacob Dietzler, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But news of the killings, he said, “came as a complete shell shock. It was bad.”

On Martinson’s 17th birthday, she texted her 22-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Sisco, to say that she had woken up as her mother was being beaten by her stepfather.

“I can’t take this s— anymore,” she wrote, according to the documents. “He’s gonna kill her if she doesn’t leave soon and I don’t want to be around.”

Martinson wrote in a text that she wanted to kill him.

“Just take one of his guns,” she wrote, “and blow his f—— brains out.”

The day after the double-homicide, Martinson’s three younger sisters were still inside the home with their slain parents.

One of the sisters later told authorities that Martinson had taken two showers to wash away the blood before telling the girls — then ages 9, 8 and 2 — that they were going to play a game, according to court documents.

She said Martinson gave them snacks and juice and then locked them in a bedroom, tying a cord around the door.

They managed to escape and call 911.

When police arrived, Martinson and her boyfriend, Sisco, had already fled.

After a nationwide manhunt, they were arrested outside Lebanon, Ind., according to news reports.

Martinson was charged with homicide and false imprisonment, for locking up her sisters, though the false imprisonment charge was dropped.

Sisco has not been charged in connection to the slayings.

Martinson first pleaded not guilty to first-degree homicide by reason of mental disease or defect, but recently took a plea deal for a lesser, second-degree charge.

The stepfather’s brother, Don Ayers, said he did not agree with the deal.

“The day before the murders, she wrote on Facebook that she wanted to kill them,” he recently told People. “To me, that’s premeditated. They should have left the charges at first-degree murder.”

Ayers said it’s not fair how his brother and sister-in-law have been portrayed.

“Thomas and Jennifer are being judged right now by what she is saying about them, but they aren’t here to defend themselves because she killed them,” he told People. “I think she stretched the truth to save her own neck.”

Martinson’s attorney, Amy Ferguson, declined to comment.

Martinson will be sentenced June 17 and faces a maximum of 120 years in prison.

MORE READING:

The complete, terrifying history of ‘Slender Man,’ the Internet meme that compelled two 12-year-olds to stab their friend

“Kuso” Deemed “Grossest Movie Ever” Amid Mass Walk Outs at Sundance

Last week, we brought you the trailer (below) for Flying Lotus’s directorial debut, Kuso, which I noted was pretty much the most batshit thing I’ve seen in my life! To recap:

Kuso goes deep and vividly into the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that hits L.A. But that’s just where the fever dream movie from Steve Ellison and Brainfeeder Films starts. The lift-off is the real ride. Along with the Funkadelic leader [George Clinton], Kuso also stars comedian Hannibal Buress plus Iesha Coston, Zack Fox, The Buttress, and Tim Heidecker.

 

 

Apparently, Kuso isn’t just batshit. According to Variety, crowds abandoned the film in droves not long after it launched its midnight screening at Sundance this morning, it may just be the most disgusting movie ever made. The industry trade gives a description of some the film’s most shocking moments, but be warned: If you decide to read, you will be bombarded with seriously grotesque imagery.

Per Variety:

“I’ll start with the footage of an erect penis being stabbed. As with most footage of an erect penis being violently gored by a long steel rod, it’s certainly unexpected. A large chunk of the audience left my screening early, when a boil-covered woman choked a man with a strap until he covered half her face with semen that looked like a muted version of Nickelodeon slime. But the walk-outs continued in a consistent stream up to the final scene. Some gross-out films are one-note, but ‘Kuso’ finds new ways to test viewers’ fortitude. Some folks stuck around after a woman chewed on concrete until her teeth disintegrated, but still peaced out when an alien creature force-yanked a fetus from another woman’s womb (accompanied by a ‘Mortal Kombat’ sound clip: ‘Get over here!’), then smoked the tiny corpse.”

Please excuse me as I try to wash these mental pictures out of my head!

Of course, this kind of terrible review could actually be seen as a good thing for Horror Freaks, who appreciate filmmakers who push envelopes to dangerous extremes. It will clearly be a mainstream flop, but I’m willing to bet Kuso will go on to amass some kind of cult following. Heck, I’ll certainly give it a view (in spite of my better judgment, perhaps!).

http://horrorfreaknews.com/kuso-deemed-grossest-movie-ever-amid-mass-walk-outs-sundance/14681

THE AISLES HAVE EYES

How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power

Blame it on the smartphone, the technology that is bringing internetlike tracking and surveillance into brick-and-mortar stores.

In this revealing account, Turow (Communication/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth, 2012, etc.) describes how the same online personalization made possible on your computer by cookies has reared its head in the aisles and checkouts of supermarkets and department stores, where 90 percent of all retail purchases still occur. “Tying into the always-on smartphone carried by about 70 percent of Americans,” writes the author, “merchants, brand manufacturers, and their agents are exploiting cellular signals, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sound waves, light waves, and more to track customers and send them product messages before, during, and after their store visits.” This is the beginning of a “great transformation” in retailing: by 2028, half of all Americans are expected to have body implants that can communicate with retailers as they walk around stores, which will allow merchants to gather increasingly specific data on shoppers and redefine seller-customer relationships. In return for capturing data—generally without shoppers’ awareness—merchants offer loyalty programs, discount coupons, and other benefits. In effect, they are training consumers to “give up personal data willingly,” accept discriminations made between high- and low-value shoppers (with some getting better prices than others), and relinquish “the historical ideal of egalitarian treatment in the American marketplace.” Turow writes in a matter-of-fact manner that barely disguises his outrage at the invasiveness of the under-the-radar surveillance at Target, Wal-Mart, and elsewhere, which, he says, demands regulation and consumer education. While sometimes repetitious, his book offers invaluable insights about in-store data-gathering, including frank observations from unnamed industry sources. Most retailers, he writes, hope future generations will simply accept surveillance and tracking as part of the American shopping experience.

Valuable reading for shoppers and retailers alike.

 

Beware the Slenderman

Click to watch

Beware the Slenderman discusses the incident in which a pair of twelve-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin allegedly held down and stabbed another classmate nineteen times in an attempt to appease Slender Man.

Duration: 114 min

Quality: HD

Release: 2016

IMDb: 6.5