With William Burroughs

By Victor Bockris


On politics

(Seaver Books New York)

French version

Susan, Victor et Bill après le dîner, New York City, 1979. Photo de Gerard Malanga




BOCKRIS: You were at medical school for a year in Vienna in 1937 you feel as if the whole place was going to blow?

BURROUGHS: They knew that Hitler was going to move in.

BOCKRIS: How did people react to Hitler as a media figure?

BURROUGHS: Lots of people in America were pro-Hitler; and not only the rich people. The whole Yorkville section of New York was pro: Hitler; whole sections of Chicago were pro-Hitler.

BOCKRIS: What did they find so attractive about him?

BURROUGHS: He was a leader whose hands weren't tied. We are governed by people whose hands are tied. "Well, I'd like to do something about it . . . but my hands are tied."

SONTAG: Do you have a feeling that people are afraid of war?

BURROUGHS: Excuse me, there's such a difference that people can't really realize what a nuclear war means.

SONTAG: I've heard people say it's all right this time, I'm over age. I won't be drafted.

BURROUGHS: I could say that myself -about being drafted- but that don't mean shit.

SONTAG: Because for America war means going over there. And casualties also have been small.

BURROUGHS: Americans are terribly naive about what Edwin Arlington Robinson called "the merciless old verities." In his poem ''Cassandra" You remember:

Are we to pay for what we have

With all we are

And will you never have eyes

To see the world the way it is?

We've never encountered them, we've never been invaded, we've never even occupied or even bombed. We're speaking in the Atomic Age in World War I people actually used to take a bomb and drop it oust the plane by hand. The pilots used to shoot at each other with pistol from their planes. Now this just shows you what a splendid thing technology is. It took them five hundred years to get the idea that a cannonball could explode on contact. Once they got that idea it developed into the atom bomb in a very short time. The cartridge rifle didn't appear in America until after the Civil War. We can orient ourselves by comparing technologies. This shows us where an artifact j5 what is wrong with it, and how far it has to go. Take a bow. Nothing much wrong with it and it may well have reached the limit of effectiveness for a weapon using springs or elastic energy to propel a dart or other projectile. It can't go much further. Now look at this artifact. A flintlock pistol. What is wrong with it? Just about everything: length of time needed to load, high incidence of misfire, wind and rain can render weapons useless, black powder is dangerous to transport and store. It has this far to go. Here is the most modern machine-gun pistol, and here are some special models like the Darlick. Never hit the open market, but we may be approaching the limit with arms and projectiles propelled by explosive charge. So you can see by useful comparison the technology that is not yet finished. And we cad see the human organism as an artifact, ask what is wrong with it, and how far it has to go. I wonder if anyone at this table would be alive say, if we were all living a hundred years ago. I've had appendicitis. I've had malaria. I've had several infections checked by penicillin that might well have been fatal. Malaria is an absolutely crippling disease.

BOCKRIs: I don't understand how people can continue being involved in politics it doesn't really seem to make any difference who wins, they - always do the same thing anyway

BURROUGHS: It makes a hell of a lot of difference, my dear. Do you realize how narrowly a fascist takeover in this country was headed off by Watergate? They all said as much quite frankly in all their boring memoirs. It is extremely important to keep track of these things, and remember.

BOCKRIS: Having to keep track of what's going on seems like a very l tiresome thing to do.

SONTAG: But sometimes your life is at stake.

BURROUGHS: Your life is at stake, believe me. I knew people in that period. I remember the terrorism of the late sixties. People framed for pot. There was a time when Sinclair went to jail for ten years for one joint. It means your life to keep track of these things. Coming back to America from before Watergate and after Watergate is like coming back to Russia before and after Stalin. When I came back to this country in 1964 my luggage was pulled apart. Huncke was told at that time that the FBI had got a list of people they were out to get.

SONTAC: It was very easy to get into trouble in the fifties and early sixties. I remember the fifties as absolutely terrifying. People threw away books that were so innocent. I'm not talking about Marx, I'm talking about Ruth Benedict, John Dewey. People were hiding these most innocent liberal books because they'd be misconstrued. You can't imagine! People would throw away Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the early fifties because they were afraid that they would be accused of reading Russian writers. This is a time, in the early fifties, when you could not write in red ink on a government form when you came into this country. You can write in purple ink, you can write in green ink or yellow ink, but you can't write in red ink. This is a time when a team called the Cincinnati Reds had to change its name. That fear went on through the fifties and early sixties. Then something happened in the sixties which we still feel works. However, one Wonders if even these things are now possibly revocable as opposed to irrevocable.

BOCKRIS: I imagine that everything is revocable.

BURROUGHS: Yes. Revocable and have been experimentally revoked or suspended.

SONTAG: Sure. It's fifteen years for us, that s a long time, it s roughly the mid-sixties to now. It's a very long time, so it seems like forever

BURROUGHS: NO, you see that's just part of the sales talk-the price of your freedom here. you got it pretty easy, nobody's busting into your apartment at three in the morning, are they? Well, then don't worry about what they're doing in South Korea and places like that. It s like the standard of living. Are you content to achieve your higher standard of living at the expense of people all over the world who've got a lower standard of living? Most Americans would say yes. Now we ask the question, are you content to enjoy your political freedom at the expense of people who are less free? I think they would also say yes. I think the CIA is precisely dedicated to getting a yes on both questions. Yes Yes. Yes. Give up my standard of living!? NEVER!



William Burroughs' and Brion Gysin's resources



On writing: Dîner with Nicolas Roeg, Lou Reed, Bockris-Wylie and Gerard Malanga : New York 1978




Un passeport pour William Burroughs

Sur l'écriture: Dîner avec Nicolas Roeg, Lou Reed, Bockris-Wylie et Cérard Malanga: New York 1978

Dîner avec Susan Sontag, Stewart Meyer et Gérard Malanga : New York 1980

Sur la Politique: Dîner avec Susan Sontag - New York 1980

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