“He was spending as much time now in the Land of the Dead as in Lawrence, Kansas”: Iain Sinclair visits Burroughs

Burroughs shows us how to take refuge from the horrorshow as we near our end….

He was spending as much time now in the Land of the Dead as in Lawrence, Kansas. It was my impression that Burroughs chose this place in order to make that transition smoother; the twinned locations in the end were impossible to separate. Going out for eggs over easy, bacon, toast, coffee – and getting it, his order filled with a smile and a replenished cup – confirmed the fact that he was not yet in hell. …

Apart from an interest in alien abduction (he pays a visit to Whitley Strieber, author of Breakthrough), and sexual encounters of the third kind, Burroughs was most concerned with proving that the dogmas of science were meaningless or totally misguided. He couldn’t accept that nothing moved faster than the speed of light. He spoke of clicking a switch fifteen years ago and seeing lights come on in an unvisited room: today. Changing sets is a simple matter, he explained: Morocco, Martinique, Manchester, context is everything. The taste of a cigarette will do it, even a photograph of the cigarette, visible traces of rent boy saliva. One line from a book by Joseph Conrad will import, or predict, meteorological conditions. You can read yourself into a storm. But you can’t, when you’re asleep, conjure up a decent plate of ham and eggs. The dead are starving, but they can’t eat.

‘I have seen weather magic,’ Burroughs said. ‘I have even performed it. I stopped rain in Seattle.’

— From ‘Dream Science’: an account by Iain Sinclair of a 1995 visit to William S. Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, taken from ‘American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light’, which will be published by Hamish Hamilton in November, 2013. At the link is the chapter in its unedited (or: “raw state”) form…


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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

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