William S. Burroughs as a Character

William S. Burroughs as a Character

Posted on Dec 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Burroughs is different from Philip K. Dick.  Whereas PKD was the first to use himself as a character, Burroughs had been made a character before he even was published himself. 

That would be a tough act to follow.  He had the shadow of someone else’s fame over him (Kerouac), and the popularity and mythos of the whole Beat movement.  Burroughs had to attempt to claim himself not only as a writer but also as his own person.  Fortunately, he wasn’t one to follow on the coattails of the fame of others.  He was certainly a way better writer than Kerouac, and he was quite distinct from all of the Beat writers.

Finding works that Burroughs is in is rather difficult.  I’m not sure how many books in which Kerouac placed a Burroughs character, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other Beats had also used him as a character.  Burroughs is much more a cultural icon than PKD.  I don’t know how to even begin to seek out fictional works that feature him, but I’ll offer what little I know at present.

As far as I can figure, William S. Burroughs first appeared as Bill Lee in Kerouac’s On the Road.  Burroughs used this name later in his own work.  He might of initially used it in Junky which he did intentionally to play off of Kerouac’s work.  He chose to continue this mythologizing.  He later used this name in other Works such as Naked Lunch which was supposedly a name given it by Kerouac.  I don’t know if there are any other names that Burroughs went by in his fiction or the fiction of others.

Novels:

The works of Jack Kerouac

Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas
(A recent novel that mixes the mythos of the Beats with the Mythos of Lovecraft’s Cthulu.)

Movies:

Drugstore Cowboy written and directed by Gus Van Sant
(Burroughs acts the character of a defrocked priest named Tom.  He is loosely playing a character that is a mix of himself and his own fictional characters.)

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Ponderings Fictional

Ponderings Fictional

Posted on Dec 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
(1) I’ve noticed a correlation between the length of stories and the type of fiction.  Genre fiction tends toward short fiction… or is it short fiction tends towards the genre?  One thing is for sure, the only way for an author to escape genre categorization is to write a novel.  The only genre writers allowed into the mainstream literature section are those who’ve written longer works.  I can’t think of any exceptions offhand.

Is my observation correct?  If there is a correlation, what might be the causation?

Some possible answers:

 – Suspension of disbelief is hard to sustain in longer works of genre fiction which necessitates both a talented writer and a willing reader.
 – In terms of fantasy and horror, maybe it has something to do with the human psyche.  It could be related to how we tend to only remember short snippets of dreams.  So, this mght imply that the imagination works most effectively when highly focused.
 – Maybe it has to do with technique.  The loose and limited narrative structure that a short story allows may give more freedom for the imagination.
 – It could be as simple as it being the tradition of the genres.  Each generation of writers take their inspiration from and thus emulate the writers that came before them.  The earliest imaginative stories were short and have been influential.
 – Another possbility has to do with the expectations of publishers and readers.  The genres have often had a special relationship with anthologies and magazines.  Partly, this is because the genres have never been big money-makers.  Short fiction is what sold, and publishing magazines is cheaper than publishing a book.  If an author wrote enough short stories, they might be able to eke out a living.  A short story has a quicker return in terms of making money than spending a long time writing a novel.

(2) Horror is somewhat unique amongst the genres.  In some ways its the most respectable of the genres and someways its the least.  The earliest horror writers such as Poe aren’t even kept in the genre section, and even many of the fantasy writers that make it into the mainstream are often of a darker persuasion.  Horror seems to attact more literary writers than many of the genres, but simultaneously horror is the least popular of the genres in that its almost always the smallest section.  Horror gets isolated by itself wheras Sci-Fi and Fantasy usually get mixed together.

Horror has always had a close relationship with philosophy, and it often seems that horror writers can be more loose with their narrative structure than the other genres.  In many horror stories, not much happens at all narrative-wise… it can be rather cerebral where your stuck in a characters head and everything is subjective.

(3) I enjoy authors that have distinctive personalities and voices.  The two examples that come to mind are William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, but to a lesser degree Kafka and Hesse fit in this category for me.  As for WSB and PKD, here ar some of the traits they share:

 – They both wrote fiction and nonfiction, and they often mixed the two together.
 – As such, they often mixed autobiography into their fiction even to the extent of creating characters that essentially represented themselves.
 – Along with this, because of their dstinctive personalities, they were both admired by other writers who also used them as characters in their stories.
 – They use repeating themes and chracter types across all of their work.

WSB and PKD are flawed writers (and flawed human beings), but still their writings compel me to a greater extent than do the writings of supposedly better writers.  Their is a humanity to their writing in that they both were interested in people and were great observers.  Also, you coud tell how much they simply enjoyed telling a good story.

Despite their similarities, they were very different in manyways.  For one, WSB travelled widely and PKD hated to travel.  One other thing is that WSB was way more cynical, but probably the better writer of the two.  PKD was a hopeless optimistic and more overtly spiritual.  For sure, they both had their own versions of despair even though they might’ve dealt with it differently.

I sense that they represent different sides of my own personality.  I don’t think they ever met even though they probably had some common acquaintances.  In my mind I try to imagine what they would be like if they had met eachother. 

I’m not sure if they’d even like eachother.  They’d both probaly think the other one was crazy.  WSB would be more confident and aloof, and PKD would be more nervous and talkative.  If they ever became relaxed enough around eachother, they would probably start swapping weird anecdotes, and neither of them would be sure if the other one was telling the truth or merely telling a good story.

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tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 16 hours later

tuffy777 said

Interesting.  Burroughs, Kafka and Hesse were major influences on PKD.       
  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Burroughs, Kafka and Hesse were major influences on me. So there ya go. Come to think of it, Burroughs, Kakfka and Hesse influenced many people.

I don’t know all the authors PKD read, but I know he read widely. PKD was also influenced by Jung and so was Hesse… probably Burroughs too.

Psychology and Parapsychology, Politics and Place

In some recent posts, I’ve discussed personality types and other psychological factors that distinguish one person from another.

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus

Horror and Typology

The Paranormal and Psychology

This subject is an interest of mine that goes back many years and my interest in psychology in general goes back even further.  I’ve always sought explanations for human experience and psychology is one of the best fields to look for helpful data and theory.  Psychology is also a good place to find connections between other fields: narratology and folklore studies, paranormal, religion, politics, etc.  I really became fascinated with psychology through Jungian typology and traits theory which connects to tons of fascinating research spanning the past century (and much from the last half century is cross-cultural research using large sample sizes).  Correlations and meta-analysis of varied research has offered clearer insight into many elusive factors of the human psyche and socio-cultural behavior. 

Psychology became even more interesting for me when I read George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal in which the author discusses experience and hermeneutics at the edge of mainstream science.  Along with discussing the trickster archetype, he details the relevance of Hartmann’s boundary types.  Upon further research, I learned that research on boundary types correlates with other research on personality types and traits, and of course Jung’s theory of personality types connects with his theory on archetypes.  Even further research has helped me to understand how central psychology is to the UFO field and paranormal in general.  Basically, this was an area that promised many further connections.

I’ve been recently focused on the connections between genre fiction (especially SF and Horror), philosophy (especially Pessimism), religion (especially Gnosticism) and the paranormal (especially UFO experiences).  There isn’t any grand reason my mind is focused on all of these subjects (besides general curiosity in all things weird and countercultural), but it does all fit together (more or less, in my mind that is).  To be specific, my friend has been reading a lot of Thomas Ligotti and other horror writers.  This has caused me to read more horror (and dark weird) fiction and discuss it with my friend… which has led me to read Ligotti’s philosophizing and the blog writing by related people (Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin).  Because of Gnosticism and other reasons, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs have been on my mind and the latter happened to be a favorite writer of Ligotti. 

 As you see, one thing leads to another and I at times can get obsessive in following certain leads.  My brain was being swamped by connections and so I wrote a post about it.

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I had initially noted in earlier posts some similarities and differences between William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick and between them and Thomas Ligotti.

PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs

Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti

My interest in such things is very personal in many ways, but I think the socio-political angle is at least as interesting.  Psychological understanding is probably needed in poltical discussions more than anywhere simply for the reason that politics seems to attract many people who lack subtle understanding (if any at all) of the human mind and behavior.  I wrote about this in a post a while back.

Morality, Politics, and Psychology

In looking into psychological research in context of “abnormal” experiences, I came across one particularly interesting piece of data (which I believe can be found somewhere in one of the numerous links in my post The Paranormal and Psychology).  Someone mentioned that UFO experiences are more common along the coasts of the US than in the midwest.  I haven’t seen this data, but I have seen data that shows liberals are more concentrated on the coasts and in highly populated areas (i.e., urban areas) and that shows conservatives are more concentrated in the interior and in lowly populated areas (i.e., rural areas).  So, it would be logical that UFO experience would correlate with liberal politics.  Research has shown that liberals and conservatives tend to have different personalities.  One of the major factors is that liberals tend to have more “openness to experience” (a particular trait that has been well researched).  This Openness also correlates to MBTI’s (Jungian typology’s) Intuition function and Hartmann’s thin boundary types (amongst other correlations). 

Anyways, it’s not simply a matter of different ideological persuasions, but psychological tendencies that we often are born with (and which tend to remain stable throughout our lives).  Liberal types aren’t simply open to believing in the weird.  They’re actually open to experiencing them.  A liberal believes in the paranormal because they’ve experienced it, and the conservative disbelieves because they’re experiences don’t include the paranormal.  However, even if a conservative did have a paranormal experience, they’d be more likely to try to explain it away or make it conform to their cultural expectations (such as fitting it into the doctrine of the religion they belong to).  Because of psychological and other factors, I truly doubt that people hold their viewpoints for primarily rational reasons, but I have no doubt that humans are very talented at rationalizing.  Another thought I had was that people’s beliefs aren’t exactly disconnected from reality.  It’s just they’re limited to one perspective on reality.  The conservative and the liberal each explains in a perfectly valid way the data of their experience.  The problem is that it only applies to their own narrow experience, but from an evolutionary point of view this may be no problem at all.  Both views are helpful or maybe even necessary for the stability of society.  Either side is wrong in claiming their beliefs are absolutely true.  Nonetheless, the conservative belief about human behavior applies to conservative humans and ditto for liberal beliefs. 

However, accepting each as a valid viewpoint would be criticized as pluralism by many conservatives (in particular moral conservatives).  Does this mean that a liberal has a better chance of understanding the conservative position than the other way around?  Maybe… depending on what we’re focusing on.  This could be explained that we aren’t just dealing with types here, but also social development such as understood by spiral dynamics.  Liberal as a personality trait wouldn’t be helpful in understanding conservativism, but liberal pluralism as a stage of development could potentially give someone greater perspective to understand previous stages of development (which is where the majority of the population is still at).  I’m less interested in the latter for this post.  I just wanted to point it out because this a complex subject with many factors and I’d rather not make simplistic judgments.

It is important to point out that these distinctions aren’t absolute.  The average person isn’t at the extreme opposite ends, and our pscyological attitude can change depending on situation.  Even so, most people tend to spend most of their time in one mindset or another.  Furthermore, people tend to seek out others similar to them and careers that are conducive to their thinking style.  A liberal-leaning person living in a rural area is more likely to move to an urban area and so this is how genetics become concentrated.  Liberals will tend to marry liberals and tend to have liberal kids, and the same for conservatives.  This wasn’t possible in the past because people didn’t move as much, but modern society has created a situation where human genetics may be diverging into two type of people.  This reminds me of a species of rodent (or something like that) that I saw on a nature show once.  There were two genetically distinct variations of males.  One set of males mated for life with a female, but the females weren’t so loyal in their affections.  The other set of males would have sex with any female and the females of this species were willing (when their spouses were otherwise distracted).  The children of the loyal males grew up to be loyal and the opposite for the other type.  I’ve always suspected this might be the case for human males as well, but even if not the general principle might apply to humans in other ways.

It can’t be denied that humans do like trying to divide eachother up into categories.  I was reading an article titled “Burrough-sian Gnosticism In His Own Words” by Sven Davisson which can be found in the journal The Gnostic.  I was already familiar with Burrough’s ideas along these lines.  He considered himself a Manichaean and it was from this that he founded his own typology of people: the Johnsons and the Shits.  The Johnson Family was a designation that came from turn-of-the-century hobo culture.  A Johnson was someone who was a basically good and trustworthy person, someone who would help when such was needed but otherwise would mind his own business.  On the other hand (from the article): “A shit  is one who is obsessively sure of his own position at the cost of all other vantages.”  Upon reading that, I immediate thought that it sounded like an extreme version of a hedgehog type of person (who knows one big thing)… which is approximately an MBTI type with Sensation function (most notably represented by Kiersey’s SJ temperament), a thick boundary type, someone low on the trait ‘openness to experience’.  I was also reminded of a quote (by someone other than Burroughs) about a missionary (to paraphrase): “You could always tell the people she helped by the hunted look on their faces.”  My guess is that Burroughs was making an extreme distinction that could otherwise be stated with more psychological subtlety.  Taking as an extreme, it’s hard to disagree with Burroughs about the Shits of the world, but I’m sure he was intelligent enough to realize that not everyone exists at the extremes.

I also think the distinction between hedgehogs and foxes relates to the attitudes of universalism and pluralism.  I was thinking about  this latter category because of my reading another article in the journal The Gnostic.  The article is “Magic and Gnosticism” by  Will Parker.  I won’t say much about it right now as I haven’t finished the article yet, but I’ll point out that I’m thinking about his ideas in terms of George P. Hansen’s discussion of Max Weber’s theory of the process of increasing rationalization in Western society.  I plan on blogging more about this where I’ll also bring in how certain personality types are most likely to gain positions of power in certain types of organizations.

PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs

Philip K. Dick (PKD) had the idea of God as hidden and yet present in the world.  God invades the world and re-creates it, makes real that which lacks fundamental reality.  In light of this, I was thinking of another idea from A Course In Miracles (ACIM) which is that God doesn’t make real or even recognize our false creations.  Supposedly God sees us as we truly are no matter how we see ourselves.  Maybe, in a sense, both are right.  As God’s reality is hidden from us, our reality is hidden from God.  We can make this rationally coherent by proposing the Gnostic view that the divine can simultaneously be fallen and not fallen.  Also, from the Gnostic view, Jesus acts as mediary for he understands our predicament as God cannot.  Jesus, like all of us as separate individuals, is not ultimately real.  But Jesus reflects the light of the real, acts as a remembrance of the real.  If we can recognize that we are the fallen divine, then we can remember that the divine never really fell.

PKD had another idea borrowed from earlier Christians: the Ape of God.  The god of this world mimics the creative powers of the God of heaven, or if you prefer the emanating fullness of the pleroma.  The Ape of God, however, creates falsely.  In terms of ACIM, the Ape of God is the ego.  Even though ACIM posits no evil, ACIM does distinguish between the false and the real which would fit some definitions of evil and good.  Anyways, ACIM is clear that the false use of the creative power serves no useful end whatever terms one wishes to use.  PKD, on the other hand, theorized that the Ape of God may serve a positive purpose, may even be an artifact of the one true God.  Maybe God needs to remain hidden to accomplish his task and so we need to temporarily remain in this dream.  This attitude necessitates faith in God being in control and using that control to a benevolent end.  We will all awaken one day and the sufferings of the dream will be forgotten.  For PKD, that is our hope and consolation.

PKD had a further notion about these two ideas.  The hidden God and the Ape of God both operate in the world, one seemingly good and the other seemingly bad.  PKD felt that the two were inseparable.  The world could be seen as a game with two players, but still the game is being played out by a single God.  William S. Burroughs thought that evil often appeared as good and good as evil.  This is an aspect of the hidden God.  God isn’t where we expect him; or, as PKD stated it, God in the garbage.  Burroughs was more cynical than PKD and saw this world as one to be escaped.  PKD, on the other hand, believed escape was not necessary or maybe even possible.  Accordingly, we may “escape” our delusions and misunderstandings, but we can’t escape the world.  We need not seek out God because God will seek out us.  PKD went so far as to say God can’t be found.  God reveals himself for reasons that are a mystery to us, and God’s hand can’t be forced.

PKD started out much more of a dualist, and Burroughs seems to have remained a dualist.  For Burroughs, the god of this world and the God of the Western Lands are two entirely separate beings.  Burroughs said he always believed in God but, oddly for a writer, not the God of the Word.  He apparently took from Christianity that this world was created from the Word; but since this world didn’t seem good to him, he believed that neither was the God who created it.  Interestingly, PKD was influenced by Burroughs Gnostic thinking.  Both sought God in unlikely places, and PKD was interested in Burroughs cut-up technique.  The idea is that if language is broken up from its normal order, true information can be revealed (God in disorder similar to God in garbage).  So, language could be used to see beyond language as long as one realized that Truth existed beyond the Word.  PKD also sometimes seemed to equate the creative Word as part of the deceptiveness of this created world, but it was a deceptiveness serving a good purpose.  Burroughs, of course, saw no good in it (even though he saw goodness or the potential for goodness in people or at least some people).

The mixing of the seeming good and the seeming evil is the trick of PKD’s maneuvering past dualism.  PKD remained fascinated with dualities but felt they were contained in a larger whole.  PKD had begun to question what he saw as the dualism of Gnosticism, and later in life he questioned Christianity for the same reasons.  He was drawn to the Greek idea of pantheistic monism.  He saw in Greek philosophy a love of symmetry and beauty that he felt lacking in Christianity.  He once had a vision of a world beyond a golden door (i.e., Golden Rectangle).  It was utterly perfect and he saw a young woman within that world.  He somehow knew this woman was Aphrodite and that this world was the Greek otherworld rather than the Christian heaven.  Burroughs believed in the Egyptian idea of an otherworld which I don’t know if it at all resembled PKD’s vision of the Palm Tree Garden.  For certain, there is a clear distinction between Burrough’s vision of a perfect world only attainable in death and PKD’s vision of divine reality existing as part of this world.  The former, to the extent that I understand Burrough’s view, is entirely dualistic in that the worlds of good and evil shall never meet.

So, what conclusion can we come to about dualism?  My sense is that PKD is right that absolute dualism is false, but maybe dualism still portrays something true in our experience.  From PKD’s perspective, it’s necessary that we take the game seriously even though it is only a game.  Dualism, according to PKD, may serve a purpose of purification of the world.  The good needs to remain hidden so that the evil can be more apparent.  If good were to be obvious, then evil would mimic it and we wouldn’t be able to distinguish the two.  God must act as an undercover agent in enemy territory.  God may even forget himself in entering the human realm, but he leaves clues for himself (something like the Hymn of the Pearl).  In a sense, we are all God hidden in the form of the human for the spark of God exists within every person.

The hiddenness of God allows for the subtlety of faith.  Faith must be developed and that is what God encourages in remaining hidden (yet available).  This offers freedom to choose.  God is intimately close to everyone, but every person must choose what he sees.  Even though God can’t be found out through force, by a shift of perception we can open ourselves to the possibility of revelation.  A simple shift is all that is necessary (and an immensely humble patience is also helpful).  This fits in with the idea of willingness in ACIM.  However, unlike ACIM and Burroughs, PKDs evil can serve the purpose of good for the reason that God can and does use everything to his end.  Furthermore, there is nothing to fear because the Second Coming already happened… for those who have eyes to see.

In general, PKD was interested in dualities which is something he probably picked up from his studies of Gnosticism (and Jung).  He had many theories about dualities.  Along with the good and evil issue, he connected the views of a lower and higher world in which he saw this world as the meeting ground for the two.  He thought about this partly as a depth perception in time rather than space, the two worlds being two perspectives that create our perception of reality (the mind itself reflecting this split in reality).  This also relates to his idea of how the Holy Spirit flows backwards in time.  So, the backward flow with the “normal” experience of forward flow creates the present.  I could go on and on with PKD”s philosophizing about dualities, but I’ll only add one further aspect. 

PKD, in line with the Gnostics (and Jung), was very much interested in the duality of male and female and how this corresponds to spiritual truths.  For PKD, this was very personal.  He had a twin sister who died as an infant and this made him obsessed with this sense of a missing part of himself.  He was obsessed with the “dark-haired girl” both in his fiction and in his personal life.  More importantly, he had that vision of the divine feminine which stuck with him.  Burroughs, to the contrary, was more critical of the feminine to the point of being called a misogynist.  Going by an essay he wrote on the matter, I don’t think he was actually a misogynist but simply a pessimist about life in general.  He just had a negative view of life, of embodied existence.  He wasn’t trying to simply blame it all on women.  Still, he certainly wasn’t idealizing the feminine either.  Personally, my experience is more in line with PKD.  I fel a certain connection to the divine feminine.  Understanding the interplay, psychologically and spiritually, between the feminine and the masculine seems important to me.

Let me return to the views about the world of the good, of the true.  Burroughs believed the Western Lands was distant and the path arduous.  PKD believed (as did certain Gnostics, Kabbalists and Christian mystics) that the Kingdom is all around us and even within us, that the Kingdom is right here and now in this world (necessitating dual vision).  I must say both make sense to me in that both speak to that which feels true in my experience.  Oftentimes, the divine does feel infinitely distant and infinitely alien to this world.  God is so far beyond my comprehension that I’m left with nothing useful to say (which doesn’t stop me from trying)).  But I sense the reality of something that, although beyond me, does exist within or at least touches upon my experience and so is intimately close (there is some comfort this at least).  It’s right here, and yet always beyond my grasp.  Like Gnostic Valentinus, I suspect that all believers may be saved in some sense, but still gnosis is very much desirable.  What good does the hope (or even certainty) of being saved do when people are lost in delusion and ideology?  Seeing truly is of utmost importance in this world and such discernment is no easy task.  The kingdom may be all around us, but the trick is to truly understand what this means.  Belief isn’t enough.  We must know… or else we suffer (and cause suffering) in our unknowing. 

To quote PKD from his Exegesis (1978 entry, p. 143, In Pursuit of Valis):

The Valentinian ontological assessment of knowledge is not that it (the Gnosis) leads to salvation or is knowledge about salvation.  But that in the act (event, revelation, experience) of knowing in itself lies salvation.  Because in knowing, there is restoration of man’s lost state, & a reversal of his present state of ignorance.  Upon knowing, man is again what he originally was.

This knowing isn’t a conclusion.  From the conventional sense of reality, it’s an utter paradox (a dualistic view that allows for seemingly contradictory experiences).  We are saved and yet the world remains as it was.  We simply remember what always has been true.  The hidden is glimpsed, but even in its revelation it remains hidden from our intellect.  We can’t really understand it no matter how much we try.  PKD  accepted the failure of the intellect and saw in this very failure a hidden success.  This was part of the paradox.  Seeking God always fails, but only in our failing can we find God.  The seeking is necessary in its own way.

To quote PKD once more from his Exegesis (1979 entry, p. 91, In Pursuit of Valis):

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences; ie., real contradictions, with something being true and not true.

The enigma is alive, aware of us, & changing.  It is partly created by our own minds; we alter it by perceiving it, since we are not outside it.  As our views shift, it shifts in a sense it is not there at all (acosmism).  In another sense it is a vast intelligence; in another sense it is total harmonia and structure (how logically can it be all three?  Well, it is).

Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti

William S. Burroughs had a powerful influence on many writers, two of note being Philip K. Dick and Thomas Ligotti.  PKD wrote about Burroughs in his Exegesis a number of times and he experimented with Burroughs cut-up technique.  Ligotti considered Burroughs to be his last artistic hero, but disliked his cut-up technique.  Burroughs, for me, acts as a middle ground between these two writers and also between the visions of hope and of despair. 

PKD, like Burroughs, was attracted to Gnosticism and saw something fundamentally or at least potentially good in a dark world.  Burroughs cut-up technique fits in with PKD’s belief about God in the gutter, divine truth revealed where one is least likely to look for it.  Both believed that, however difficult, God could be discovered.

Ligotti also started out as a spiritual seeker with his studies and meditation practice, but lost his faith along the way.  Ligotti, like Burroughs, takes very seriously the suffering of the human condition.  Ligotti takes the dark pessimism of Burrough’s to the extreme which he writes about in his Conspiracy Against the Human Race (an excerpt is published in the Collapse journal).  Both present insights that most people would rather not know about.

PKD sought the spiritual and had revelatory visions of what to him felt divinely true.  Ligotti sought the spiritual and yet discovered no truths to be consoled by.  Even though both accept the world is filled with much suffering, the difference is whether one has faith in the face of it.  Can our suffering be placed in a context of meanng?  Or are we simply animals who can’t comprehend the trap we find ourselves in?  Burroughs presents a very challenging view of reality.  PKD and Ligotti represent two very different responses.  So, why this difference?

PKD and Burroughs seem to have been more restless in their seeking than Ligotti (or so this is what I sense from my readings of these authors).  It’s possible that Ligotti is just better medicated.  He speaks about being more restless before his moods were modified with prescriptions, and also said something along the lines that this dulled his creative edge as he no longer had the extreme manic phases to motivate his writing.  PKD, on the other hand, did his best to magnify his manic phases by self-medicating himself with uppers (to the point of mental breakdown.. and maybe divine breakthrough).  Burroughs was also an experimenter with illicit drugs.  It makes me wonder what kind of view Ligotti might’ve come to if like Burroughs and PKD he had spent his whole life destabilizing his psyche.

This is important from another perspective.  For Burroughs and PKD, there instability drove their minds, their seeking, and their writing.  They were restless and had long careers and wrote profusely.  Ligotti has said that he at present doesn’t feel compelled to write.  I don’t mean to romanticize mental illness, but their is some truth to the connection between non-ordinary (including disturbed) states of mind and the creativity of artists.

Another issue is that both Burroughs and PKD were very interested in people and the human experience.  This included spirituality, relationships, and politics.  They were restlessly curious about this world that humans both live in and help to create.  Ligotti, however, wishes to see beyond the human, but realized that as a fiction writer he had no choice but to convey the horror of reality through the experience of the human.  The truly monstrous can’t be conveyed in its own terms whatever that may mean.  The problem is that this sense that one’s humanity is a failing or a limitation possibly doesn’t lead one to a long career as a fiction writer.  Afterall,  fiction is ultimately about human experience which necessitates to a certain extent a desire to sympathize and to understand. 

I appreciate what Ligotti has written as he has a probing intellect and communicates well.  However, some of Ligotti’s fans have said that Ligotti has said all that he could possibly say and has said it as best as he possibly could, and so what more is left for him to do?  Ligotti easily could be argued as a consistently better writer than Burroughs and PKD, but what good does it do if his understanding of the human condition has come to a deadend? 

I’m not saying that Ligotti can’t come to further insight.  However, without the restless seeking that drove Burroughs and PKD, is he likely to feel a desire to seek further insight?  Burroughs and PKD believed there was meaning to be found, but Ligotti dismisses meaning as just another way of avoiding suffering.  Other than the momentum of his identity as a writer, what is to inspire Ligotti to continue his creative career, to continue to share his thoughts and publish them?  Without a sense of purpose, what is the point of writing at all?

Anyways, Burroughs symbolizes the ideal of the person who simultaneously strives to be an artist and a truth seeker.  It takes something like courage (or maybe just a perverse compulsion) to confront suffering, grapple with it, try to understand it, and to convey whatever insight one has gained.  But there is danger in delving so far into the morass of the human condition.  You don’t know what you’ll find… or what you’ll become in the process.