I never met William S. Burroughs in person, but I felt like his reading his books was an introduction to the person. I didn't even encounter Burroughs writing until the spring of 1998, a half year after the author in question had died. It was a senior class seminar for college and I needed the credits and nothing else was remotely appealing.
I remember walking into that class with only a vague idea of who William S. Burroughs was. I knew he was an author and that he'd written a book called Naked Lunch and supposedly done a lot of drugs. I remember not feeling overly enthused at the time, because I was a straight edge kind of person, but I needed the class.
Little did I know that reading William S. Burroughs work would have a significant effect on my magical practice and my writing.
As I started reading his books, I felt his presence, hovering over my shoulder. Burroughs is one of those writers who lives on in his writing, a phantom presence that comes and visits, whispering secrets in your ears as you read his words. You know he's there, but when you look, you can't find him. His soul is embedded in every word. You could say he's a virus in his words.
As I read his books and learned about his writing techniques, I felt like the secrets of the universe were revealed to me. Soon I was cutting up magazines and newspapers and my own writing and randomly gluing it altogether to create my own versions of cut-ups and like Burroughs I discovered that the cut-ups could circumvent linear time and provide glimpses and even manipulations of time.
But Burroughs didn't just write about writing or drugs or all the other subjects he's most known for. He also wrote about magic. Oh his books weren't your average magic books, written explicitly about magic. No, the magic was in his stories, in what the characters did and how Burroughs explained their relationship to the world, spirits, and whatever else he was writing about. In the lurid sex acts, in the depictions of corporate greed, and the frank exploration of the word as a virus, as well as the stories of magic, what Burroughs did was paint a picture of the world that would make so strong an impression on me that it changed me.
I experimented with writing and I experimented with magic. Burroughs wasn't about rules, but about possibilities, and the recognition that there was no such thing as coincidence in a magical universe. What he taught me was that the universe was magical and I had only to open myself to that fact to discover just how magical it could be.
For several years after I finished my undergrad degree, I religiously read Burroughs. There was always at least one book by him among the collection of whatever else I was reading. In reading his books I connected to his spirit and that spirit was my mentor as I experimented with time, and the alchemy of the body.
Burroughs taught me to question control and all its forms, to question the word and why people used the word in the ways they did. And he taught me to question magic and why magic need be so formal, or if it could just be simple and direct. In those days I did a lot of ceremonial magic and its fair to say that Burroughs ruined that for me, because in the way he wrote about magic, he boiled it down and made it simple. The magic of Burroughs was street magic, survival magic, the magic you do to get results, and you don't want to spend lots of time doing things that are unnecessary with that kind of magic.
I connected with Burroughs because I could relate to the struggle of his life as it pertained to dealing with the Ugly Spirit. My Ugly Spirit was my emptiness and I grappled with it constantly then (and for many years afterwards). In reading his writing and reading about his life, I felt a connection to what he'd gone through and while I didn't do anything so dramatic as his William Tell act, I nonetheless knew something of writing for the sake of writing out that ugliness within one's self, because so much of my own writing at the time was precisely about that.
Eventually I got into a Master's program for English and I drifted away from reading Burroughs work, but nonetheless his writing and magic had change me and my approach to everything I did with magic and writing. When the final book of Burroughs came out, Last Words, I remember picking it up and feverishly reading it, the words inscribing themselves into my soul. And his final words, so strong, so poignant speaking to me of a person who found his answers and was ready for the Western Lands.
I haven't read Burroughs in 16 sixteen years. The truth is that you can't read the works of someone like that casually. There's a commitment, a magical connection that demands discipline from you as a reader and as a writer (if you identify as such). But in this year of reconnecting to my writing roots and in some ways my magical roots once again, I have recently started reading his books again. And there his presence is again, ready and waiting after so long, to continue the instruction. I'm ready now to, ready to continue divesting myself of the dead weight of academic writing, which had dulled so much of my writing, to get back to the non-linear narratives that still sing in my soul.
Hurry up please, it's time to go. Nothing here but the recordings, but he's here to, in the recordings. I'm ready to experiment again, ready to see where this journey takes me. I'm ready Burroughs. Thanks for waiting for me.