Today marks the centenary of the birth of the American writer, artist and performer, William S Burroughs II (1914-1997), and to commemorate this fact we are sharing some items from MS Morgan D – Correspondence: Named individuals as part of our ongoing blog series.
William Burroughs was a leading figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, furthermore he has been described as being:
one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century.
Edwin first came into contact with the American author at the International Writers Conference at Edinburgh in 1962, to which Burroughs had been invited to talk on the future of the novel. EM was clearly greatly impressed:
The star performer was Wm Burroughs, American author of The Naked Lunch & The Soft Machine, both banned in Britain & U.S., hardly known to the general public at all but generally thought by those who have managed to get hold of his books as one of the most powerful writers now living. His theme was ‘The future of the novel is in space not time’… he doesn’t want a story that moves steadily along in time, but an exploration of life in all its dimensions, using techniques like the flashback of cinema, what he calls the cut-up and fold-in methods.
What also interested Eddie was that Burroughs was the first writer at the conference to be speaking as an artist about the craft of writing ‘telling the public about the tricks of the trade’ and moreover the audience was ‘listening most intently, you cd hv heard a pin drop’.
Inspired EM wrote an account of the conference using Burroughs’ style, which he titled ‘The Fold-In Conference’ and dedicated to William Burroughs.
The article was published by the student publication Gambit: Edinburgh University Review in Autumn 1962.
NOW DAY FOUR was a ‘Censorship’ day and that was quite a day…. Revelation clinched clearcut dry plastic raincoat zombie spectacles William Burroughs flat tones chalk face from which bolge confirming THOUGHT CONTROL modern governments guise protecting young farcical profusuion unliterature striptease comics horror scandal sheets of permitted penetration stimulating illiterate erotic jungle adolescent growth impervious to less gross literate sex art…
Burroughs himself enjoyed his experience in Edinburgh and his trip to Scotland proved to be quite fruitful. In Bill Morgan’s book Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1959-1974 (London, 2012) he recorded:
On September 1st 1962 WSB wrote in a letter
The Writers Conference was for me quite a success – Got an English contract plus favorable publicity – Found myself addressing an audience of two thousand people all of whom had paid a dollar to listen – Spoke on censorship, cut ups and fold ins – All well received on the whole….
Then in another letter in January 1963 Burroughs acknowledged EM’s article:
Gambit, the Edinburgh University magazine, has a cut up of the writer’s conference in the current issue dedicated to me…
This was not the last time that Burroughs inspired Eddie to utilise the cut-up and fold-in. When Rupert Loydell sent out a snowballing emailing in August 1997 inviting people to send ‘a text i.m. William Burroughs’ for a tribute publication My Kind of Angel, EM crafted the poem We Do Our Work And Go, a cut-up from the last pages of various books by Burroughs, with ‘Shelley’s ‘Adonais‘ as fold-in.’
…Eternity through invisible door. Why linger why turn
back don’t answer. No more word scripts no more flesh
scripts borne darkly fearfully afar. Adios Meester
William like a star.
Both the manuscript and typescript versions of the poem can be found in MS Morgan DB/10 along with numerous articles and press cuttings both about, and by, William Burroughs.
The centenary of Burroughs birth is also being marked by the exhibition Taking Shots: The Photography of William S. Burroughs, which runs at the Photographers’ Gallery in London from 17 Jan – 30 Mar 2014. The gallery is also hosting the conference Beyond the Cut-up: William S. Burroughs and the Image on the 15 February 2014.
In tandem with this event we have published a small set of black and white images from MS Morgan DB/10 on Flickr. Although the only contextual information we have is a note in EM’s hand that states ‘Somewhere in England mid1960s’, we believe these images were taken on Glastonbury Tor, perhaps at the summer solstice in 1972.
For additional information on the 1962 Edinburgh International Writers Conference please see MS Morgan N, which includes EM’s file, containing: correspondence; notes for the writers attending, with the programme and a list of attendees; press cuttings; and articles.
Please note that these files are restricted and an appointment is required to request access, please contact Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Categories: Special Collections