by William S. Burroughs
Berkeley: Blue Wind Press
$15.95 cloth, $5.95 paper
In William S. Burroughs’s autobiographical first novel Junky, first published in 1953, there is a confrontation between the author-surrogate William Lee and a cop in a Mexican bar. Drunk out of his mind on tequila, Lee shoves a gun in the cop’s belly:
“Who asked you to put in your two cents?” I asked in English. I was not talking to a solid three-dimensional cop. I was talking to the recurrent cop of my dreams – an irritating, nondescript darkish man who would rush in when I was about to take a shot or go to bed with a boy.
Twenty-seven years later Burroughs has kicked junk, but he still hasn’t got rid of that cop. And all the technical devices he’s used to fragment narrative don’t quite obscure the fact that he is still obsessively writing and re-writing the same book. Port of Saints, his latest – written in 1973 but not published until 1980 – is a reworking and expansion of The Wild Boys (1969), which derived from Naked Lunch (1959), which derived from Junky. They all seem in part to be attempts to exorcise that cop in Burroughs’s head, who has changed from a “nondescript darkish man” with William Lee’s gun at his navel to a Lesbian policewoman held at bay by the eighteen-inch bowie knife of a Wild Boy, but still screaming, “What are you doing in front of decent people?”
Port of Saints begins with bits of a story about a young man lost at sea, bits of which are repeated but not resolved later – perhaps in Burroughs’s next book we’ll learn more. Interspersed with these fragments are pieces of two parallel stories: one of a sexual encounter between two teenaged boys (one of whom is apparently a fantasy-projection of Burroughs as a boy) and another made up of murky glimpses of “Audrey the ice boy.” The rest of the book is a collage of sex scenes between Burroughs’s various fictional alter egos and his usual subtly dominating initiator figures, and further adventures of the Wild Boys, those dashing young men in blue jockstraps who roller skate through the ruins of our collapsing civilization. Like most of Burroughs’s writing, it is readable and should present no difficulties once you realize that most of the characters are incarnations of Burroughs himself, zigzagging through time and space in search of a place where there are no women or policemen, just sharp-toothed Mexican boys who will slip an arm around his waist and then fuck him silly.
I was reminded as I read
I used to think that Burroughs was at times an astute social commentator, but now when I look through the interviews in The Job all I can find is nonsense like “Love is a con put down by the female sex” and America “is a matriarchal … country.” Sigh. No wonder Norman Mailer, that misogynist and homophobe, could call Burroughs “the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” Even that was said when Burroughs was scraping sludge off the soft underbelly of the American dream. Now he’s writing boys’ books, and in retrospect it can be seen that that is all he’s ever written: Erector-set science fiction out of Hugo Gernsback and Buck Rogers, you-show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine sexuality, no girls allowed, Fenimore-Cooper Indian torture and Arab boy with Huck Finn on the raft, all written by an elderly boy still mortally afraid that Aunt Sally is going to “sivilize” him. While I realize that such stuff speaks to many men, gay and straight, I am more interested in outgrowing it.