The William Tell Act Tragedy
”I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.”
– William S. Burroughs, In the introduction to Queer,1953
On the Mexican afternoon that it happened, Bill found himself his face literally covered with tears, without any explanatory logic. One day we will rather think like: ”How could you NOT sense that in a few hours you were about to kill the person you love the most right in between the eyes.” One day our senses will have developed and we will be more trusty of our …”occult” senses…. Burroughs always has been a believer of the occult…
Burroughs was an extremely sensitive kid, this is what’s been written about his feelings about the years following the great flood, causing loss of human lives and lots of material damages…
”EVEN THEN BURROUGHS SAW BEYOND THE SURFACE OF THINGS AND SENSED, THE DREAD BENEATH THE VENEER.YEARS LATER HE WROTE:”WHEN I LIVED IN ST-LOUIS (MISSOURI) AND DROVE HOME PASS THE BARE CLAY OF SUBDIVIDED LOTS, HERE AND THERE, HOUSES SET DOWN ON PLATFORMS OF CONCRETE IN THE MUD, PLAY-HOUSES OF CHILDREN WHO LOOK HAPPY AND HEALTHY BUT EMPTY HORROR AND PANIC IN CLEAR GRAY-BLUE EYES, AND WHEN I DRIVE TO THE SUBDIVISION ALWAYS FELT DEEP IMPACT IN STOMACH AND FINAL LONELINESS AND DESPAIR”
-PLEASE CALL ME BURROUGHS/A LIFE by Barry Miles
In 1951, September 6th, they were living in Mexico City when they found themselves drunk at a party. Burroughs had tried unsuccessfully not sell one of his guns, it wasn’t shooting straight…
“It was during this party that at one point he just told Joan, ‘Let’s do our William Tell act,’ ” Miles says. “And she put this shot glass on her head and he whipped out his gun, and he missed. He shot low and got her in the forehead. It was quite clearly an accident, but he felt that some bad part of him, some evil spirit in him, had motivated him.”
In 1985, Burroughs told me he spent the rest of his life trying to write his way out of Joan’s death.
“It was an event that made me see, or, made me into a writer,” he said. “And of course, a writer often has — all his work will pivot around some simple idea, like Poe, the fear of being buried alive, which happened in those days. But it was sort of pivotal event.”
Before that, in novels like Queer and Junky, Burroughs’ writing was more or less straightforward autobiography. Afterward, he began to write the denser, visionary prose of Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and Nova Express. Even autobiographical characters, like Kim Carsons of 1984’s The Place Of Dead Roads, became more fantastic. Here’s how Burroughs describes Carsons in the book: “Kim is a slimy, morbid youth of unwholesome proclivities with an insatiable appetite for the extreme and the sensational. His mother had been into table-tapping and Kim adores ectoplasms, crystal balls, spirit guides and auras. He wallows in abominations, unspeakable rites, diseased demon lovers …”
‘We’ve Barely Started To Touch Him’
Burroughs became a magnet for artists, musicians and wannabe hipsters, but biographer Miles says the writer’s influence is yet to be completely understood.
“I think the Beats have now, they’ve all died — all the main ones except Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And we’re now starting to be able to see them from a distance and appreciate who was really important and who wasn’t,” he says. “And I think Burroughs is possibly now the leader, really the lead contender. [He’s] someone whose work is so deep and on so many levels … that we’ve barely started to touch him.”
William S. Burroughs died in 1997 at the age of 83.
Here is an extensive list of Burroughs Bibliography: