Reviewed by Zoey Tsopela
“Dear Allen, thanks a million for the mescaline..” is how Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs begins. How can I not be captivated from the first page? The thousands of letters that are compiled by Editor Bill Morgan are an intense roller-coaster ride through Burroughs’ 15 years (1959-1974) of drug-induced, unapologetic gay porn tendencies, and literary conceiving life. These letters reveal his thoughts behind some of the great works produced, his thoughts on other writers of his time, his family, and of course his addictions- illegal and legal.
I found myself obsessing over Burroughs’ infatuation with adopting the Cut-Up method to film and audio as well as print. Although very difficult to follow and understand some of his letters due to his demonstration of the cut-up technique, their emotional appeal still lingers. Burroughs’ difficulties with his finances, publishing and drug addiction gave birth to an unbreakable emotion of empathy. Throughout the compiled pages of these 15 years, Burroughs never ceased struggling to break free from these predicaments which kept forcing him to stay on the move.
We also get a glimpse of some other Beat Generation protagonists- Gysin, Kerouac and Ginsberg among others. It was like having them all in the same room- very surreal. Burroughs shares intimate and very colorful stories with Gysin who grew to become one of his closest confiding friends. And unsurprisingly, we witness how Burroughs grows apart from other writers of his time.
As one of the main souls of the Beat Generation and co-parent of the Cut-Up method, Burroughs’ letters are everything I expected them to be; saturated in the generation’s slang, intimate and incredibly intimate.
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