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Book cover of The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945-1959

The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945-1959

by William S. Burroughs, Oliver Harris

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pages: 512
Paperback
ISBN: 9780140094527






Available to Buy

Overview of The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945-1959

Guru of the Beat generation, controversial eminence grise of the international avant-garde, dark prophet and blackest of black-humor satirists, William S. Burroughs has had a range of influence rivalled by few living writers. This meticulously assembled volume of his correspondence vividly documents the personal and cultural history through which Burroughs developed, revealing clues to illuminate his life and keys to open up his texts. More than that, they also show how in the period 1945-1959, letter-writing was itself integral to his life and to his fiction-making. These letters reveal the extraordinary route that took Burroughs from narrative to anti-narrative, from Junky to Naked Lunch and the discovery of cut-ups, a turbulent journey crossing two decades and three continents. The letters track the great shifts in Burroughs' crucial relationship with Allen Ginsberg, from lecturing wise man ("Watch your semantics young man") to total dependence ("Your absence causes me, at times, acute pain.") to near-estrangement ("I sometimes feel you have mixed me up with someone else doesn't live here anymore."). They show Burroughs' initial despair at the obscenity of his own letters, some of which became parts of Naked Lunch, and his gradual recognition of the work's true nature ("It's beginning to look like a modern Inferno.") They reveal the harrowing lows and ecstatic highs of his emotions, and lay bare the pain of coming to terms with a childhood trauma ("Such horror in bringing it out I was afraid my heart would stop."). It is a story as revealing of his fellow Beats as it is of Burroughs: he writes of Kerouac and Cassady in the midst of the journey immortalized as On the Road ("Neal is, of course, the very soul of this voyage into pure, abstract, meaningless motion."), and to Ginsberg as he was writing Howl ("I sympathize with your feelings of depression, beatness: 'We have seen the best of our time.'"). And throughout runs the unmistakable Burroughs voice, the u

This volume of correspondence vividly documents the personal and cultural history through which Burroughs developed, revealing clues to illuminate his life and keys to open up his text. "Sheds light on both the personal demons and lacerating misanthropy that inspired Burroughs' brilliant literary highjinks."-- Entertainment Weekly.

Synopsis of The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945-1959

Guru of the Beat generation, controversial eminence grise of the international avant-garde, dark prophet and blackest of black-humor satirists, William S. Burroughs has had a range of influence rivalled by few living writers. This meticulously assembled volume of his correspondence vividly documents the personal and cultural history through which Burroughs developed, revealing clues to illuminate his life and keys to open up his texts. More than that, they also show how in the period 1945-1959, letter-writing was itself integral to his life and to his fiction-making. These letters reveal the extraordinary route that took Burroughs from narrative to anti-narrative, from Junky to Naked Lunch and the discovery of cut-ups, a turbulent journey crossing two decades and three continents. The letters track the great shifts in Burroughs' crucial relationship with Allen Ginsberg, from lecturing wise man ("Watch your semantics young man") to total dependence ("Your absence causes me, at times, acute pain.") to near-estrangement ("I sometimes feel you have mixed me up with someone else doesn't live here anymore."). They show Burroughs' initial despair at the obscenity of his own letters, some of which became parts of Naked Lunch, and his gradual recognition of the work's true nature ("It's beginning to look like a modern Inferno.") They reveal the harrowing lows and ecstatic highs of his emotions, and lay bare the pain of coming to terms with a childhood trauma ("Such horror in bringing it out I was afraid my heart would stop."). It is a story as revealing of his fellow Beats as it is of Burroughs: he writes of Kerouac and Cassady in the midst of the journey immortalized as On the Road ("Neal is, of course, the very soul of this voyage into pure, abstract, meaningless motion."), and to Ginsberg as he was writing Howl ("I sympathize with your feelings of depression, beatness: 'We have seen the best of our time.'"). And throughout runs the unmistakable Burroughs voice, the u

Publishers Weekly

Between July 1945 and October 1959, Burroughs, the future author of Naked Lunch , kept up a voluminous correspondence with beat compatriots Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and, to a lesser extent, with Neal Cassady, Paul Bowles and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The 180 letters presented here in chronological order tell of his drug and sex habits, day-to-day existence and developing writing technique. In the correspondence, Harris, a British university lecturer on American literature, finds ``mandarin intellect and hipster humor'' emerging from ``a life that was often deluged by disaster.'' Several times, for example, police intercepted letters and used them to bring drug charges against Burroughs. Mailed from self-imposed isolation in outposts such as New Orleans, East Texas, Mexico City and Tangier, Burroughs's letters are full of despair and myopic worldviews. Still, this correspondence yields valuable insights into Burroughs's literary development. (July)

About the Author, William S. Burroughs

A wanderer and a literary experimentalist, William S. Burroughs is the Beat writer who outlived most of his contemporaries to become the literary symbol of a dispossessed, rock n' roll mentality. His rollercoaster existence made for good semifictional reading, but he also innovated the narrative form with his fragmentary, brash style.

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Editorials

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

Between July 1945 and October 1959, Burroughs, the future author of Naked Lunch , kept up a voluminous correspondence with beat compatriots Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and, to a lesser extent, with Neal Cassady, Paul Bowles and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The 180 letters presented here in chronological order tell of his drug and sex habits, day-to-day existence and developing writing technique. In the correspondence, Harris, a British university lecturer on American literature, finds ``mandarin intellect and hipster humor'' emerging from ``a life that was often deluged by disaster.'' Several times, for example, police intercepted letters and used them to bring drug charges against Burroughs. Mailed from self-imposed isolation in outposts such as New Orleans, East Texas, Mexico City and Tangier, Burroughs's letters are full of despair and myopic worldviews. Still, this correspondence yields valuable insights into Burroughs's literary development. (July)

Library Journal

The first of a projected two volumes, these letters cover the activities of Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac in the years that gave birth to the Beat Generation. Written mostly to Ginsberg or Kerouac, the letters provide a rare glimpse into Burroughs's psyche, revealing his struggle with drug addiction, his confusion over his sexual identity, and his search for a form fluid enough to mirror his mind and art. Although much of this correspondence first appeared in Letters to Allen Ginsberg 1953-1957 (1982) and in The Yage Letters (1963), this new collection is highly recommended both for the additional letters it contains and for its detailed explanatory notes.-- William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY

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