Celebrating Transgression essay part file 2

This is Steadman, but William S. Burroughs’ art work is showing in London for the next couple of months. – see

The Unseen Art of William S. Burroughs

79 Beak Street, Regent Street – W1F 9SU

So, since he’s named as an anthropology ancestor, here’s some more from my essay on fieldwork/filed works – from Celebrating Transgression (forthcoming with Berghahn in November)

2.1Instead of a litany of names that founded schools, which constrict and contrive, how about those who enact openings to thought? With Louis Aragon, in The Adventures of Telemachus, the disenchanting of the gods proceeds apace as Mentor opens a bottle the gods had failed to uncork by simply smashing it on a rock (Aragon 1988: 87). Is it already too late to be contrite, to be polite, to not offend with a smart-alec radicalism? The disenchanters have not yet taken over the asylum, indeed they (we) have barely worked out how to fill the forms that give tenure. Fieldwork is over. Malinowski is dead (shock!)

2.2With William Burroughs at 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 lies, cultivating the head of department, so on and so forth’ (Burroughs 2001: 76).

2.3 Burroughs ‘defines paranoia as “having all the facts”’ (Burroughs in Lotringer 2001: 476) but also thinks ‘we are all black centipedes at heart’ (in Lotringer 2001: 168). Did he learn any more anthropology on his ‘fieldwork’ trips to South America in search of Yagé? From where does that critical countenance come? He says: ‘if a large number of people defy the whole question of boundaries, thousands of people walking across borders without passports, that sort of thing seems to me a useful form of demonstration’ (Burroughs in 1968, in Lotringer 2001: 106). And reflects: ‘I would love to see… in England “they must” get rid of the idea of this bloody Queen. That bitch. Sitting there soaking up the energy of forty million people. People say “The Queen isn’t important. She’s just a figurehead.” A Figurehead of subservience. A figurehead of kissing her ass. Worthless wench. She should be sweeping floors’ (Burroughs in 1968 in Lotringer 2001: 102). Burroughs’ routines expand the field.

2.4Complicity – it is never a matter of automatic accusations of complicity over against assertions of purity or righteousness; even if all encounters were complicit this would not be grounds for invalidation. What is more important is debate and discussion, even with wrong ideas and false gods. Would it that a Burroughs or an Aragon were offering the introductory lectures for the discipline.

2.5Anthropological paranoia. To treat paranoia as a productive value makes sense where the paranoid distrusts codifications and established routines as the very traps that must be avoided by a non-paranoid consciousness. Salvador Dalí would be the patron of this impossible anthropology then, that would validate disruptions and deviations to the codes of common sense and conventionality. The paranoid-critical method might be useful. Teaching Dalí as proto-ethnographer to students in the 1980s did more for experimental ethnography than anything else I could imagine.

[Burroughs at Riflemaker is open mon-sat till 6pm each day]


3 thoughts on “Celebrating Transgression essay part file 2

  1. Went to see this exhibition today and am somewhat disappointed. The collection in the first room is good, but the two videos on crappy little screens in the stairwell showing vids I have already seen were, well, crap. Bumped my head on the stairwell on the way down to the basement where the best (very few) pieces were – but its not cos I bumped my head that I am down on this show. Grizzly mooded doorkeeper should try to score for the immaculate fix or in some other way cheer his self up. Crikey. He’s got good reasons to be cranky for no reason, I guess. but I missed learning this a pose at art school? As in, I’m not tuning in to the post-ironic subtleties of being a mugwump thirty years after it was already old. And him doing the door thing without the drugs that might excuse the grinchiness. Wouldn’t you?


  2. I observed a piece of Uncle Bill’s Ahht in El Lay—he apparently had loaded .12 gauge shells with paints of various colors and shot them at some plywood or something. Political power flows out the barrel of a gun? His art seems a bit ineffectual (especially compared to N.L, or the Boschean vision of Cities of the RN, which we have been attempting to reread), but then Dali and the rest seem fairly unimportant as well, except for those fortunate to be living in downtown NW, LA, or SF, or Europa—but even then, I suspect Ahht functions more as status reinforcer– or ice cream social for a few hip westside dykes–than as a serious endeavor; moreover the westside “fashion-art” of Hockney has , well tainted everything (and that’s not meant to be anti-queer—Hockney’s simply an obnoxious and greatly overrated artist, ah believe, kind of a bad re-run of Matisse); and along with the Hockney-school, a sort of feminist marxist rage-academy (UCLA specializes in it) has taken over, which any semi-bright hepcat should vomit at. Some young-turks following in the tradition of Dali or Masson or Grosz would be swell, but that ain’t likely to happen (that said, I believe Dali was a horrible person, a Barcelona De Sade, really, but he produced some very powerful imagery)…… Away from the urban centers, Art jus’ doesn’t really happen (except maybe as an adjunct to like native american jewelry)—


  3. Tho’ I wager you don’t share my own somewhat libertarian readings of Burroughs, I do think he was opposed to the sort of “one big family” of pastoral leftism that the hippies favored, and also opposed to the innate multiculturalism of many marxists (which has taken over a great portion of the Ahhtworld). Cities of the RN makes a great deal of pirate imagery; Burroughs generally upholds sort of anarchist, anti-statist freedom (of course WSB’s crew are not exactly Disney type of pirates—ah doubt a jack-off contest between boys would appeal too much to Disney execs, except when they can surf the web anonymously, heh heh)


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