The Job

Christopher Owens with an impossible review job.

As we all know, free speech in 2019 is a hotly contested issue all over.

From the recent case of Jussie Smollett perpetuating one of the biggest race hoaxes since the Tawana Brawley case  (and arguing that those who didn't believe him "...says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now") to the open attack on an innocent bystander at the Washington Memorial

Where, I ask, would Beat Generation icon William Burroughs have fitted into this malaise? A wife killing, heroin abusing, trust fund kid who wrote about sex with rent boys and indulged in the literary "cut up" technique while proclaiming that the:
… first and most important thing an individual can do is to become an individual again, decontrol himself, train himself as to what is going on and win back as much independent ground for himself as possible.
The answer is nowhere. He'd be vilified by the left as much as the right. And maybe that's not a bad position to be in.

The Job is a collection of chapters that use interviews with Burroughs as their starting point, allowing him to delve into his noted areas of fascination: control (and all it's different machinations), society, drugs, sex, literature and everything in between (such as the traditional nuclear family being redundant in 1969).

Like a lot of Burroughs' writing, it's virtually impossible to give The Job a review in the traditional sense. What starts out as a straightforward Q and A session quickly gives way to the expected Burroughs "cut up" where he writes about how words are a virus, the tape recorder beginning in the Garden of Eden, and general commentary of the times (such as the Robert Kennedy assassination).

Consider the following quote as an example of the social/political angle that the book follows:
Could the elimination of money alter the structures of society?
1959, Minutes To Go I wrote: “I’m absolutely weak I can only just totter home darling the dollar has collapsed.” Minutes To Go which incorporates the first cut-up experiments, has turned out to be a prophetic book. You see there is something wrong with the whole concept of money. It takes always more and more to buy less and less. Money is like junk. A dose that fixes you on Monday won’t fix you on Friday. We are being swept with vertiginous speed into a worldwide inflation comparable to what happened in Germany after World War I. The rich are desperately stockpiling gold, diamonds, antiques, paintings, first editions, stamps, food, liquor, medicines, tools, weapons.
The scion of a well-known banking family once told me a family secret. When a certain stage of responsibility and awareness has been reached by a young banker he is taken to a room lined with family portraits in the middle of which is an ornate gilded toilet. Here he comes every day to defecate surrounded by the family portraits until he realizes that money is shit. And what does the money machine eat to shit it out? It eats youth, spontaneity, life, beauty and above all it eats creativity. It eats quality and shits out quantity.
Not the sort of thought you'd get from The Guardian!

While there's a hell of a lot to be excited and provoked by, it has to be said that there are some segments that are hard to read (his various comments about American women being "...possibly one of the worst expressions of the female sex...There seems to be a very definitive link between matriarchy and white supremacy" do not read well in this day and age), some seem rather silly (his limited praise for Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, later to be retracted in public fashion  and his use of the cut up to answer questions about how America is a nightmare can infuriate those looking for straight answers (even though those familiar with Burroughs should be well aware on what to expect).

But what this book is, ultimately, is an expression of ideas being articulated by one of the most influential writers of all time. A glimpse into his world and mindset is certainly not going to be pretty, but it's better to have this than bland conformity. They're discussion points, they're provocative points. And that's what is needed now more than ever.

In this era, where you choose sides and your words carefully, we need someone like Burroughs to show us that cutting up traditional notions is the way to the future.

William Burroughs, Daniel Odier, 1969. The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs. Penguin Classics. ISBN-13: 978-0141189857

⏩  Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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