Skip

You choose instead to sell out a talent that is not yours to sell.
August 2, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. William Burroughs’ Curse on Truman Capote (full text of the letter)
posted by juv3nal (59 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, he must have been stoned to the bone when he wrote that one -
posted by facetious at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2012


Wow! "You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on the New Yorker — (an undercover reactionary periodical dedicated to the interests of vested American wealth)." I would like my writing to be accused of being on the level of the New Yorker.
posted by headnsouth at 10:51 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Seems to have worked.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:52 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


vested American wealth

Also monocled.
posted by DU at 10:53 AM on August 2, 2012


Also monocled.

And bespatted.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:55 AM on August 2, 2012


To a certain extent, I see Burroughs and Capote as polar opposites on the axis of exploitation. Capote grew up poor, exploited his friends and acquaintances, and is today largely forgotten; Burroughs was born to money, exploited his own body and helped bring about today's sampling culture.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Capote...is today largely forgotten

So...just how many biographical movies have to be made about you in the last decade to count as having been "remembered"?
posted by yoink at 10:59 AM on August 2, 2012 [33 favorites]


"My biopic will be better than yours too. My biopic will have fucking Robocop in it."
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on August 2, 2012 [37 favorites]


One thing I find strange about In Cold Blood-- there's no question, to me, that Capote sold his subjects out and that there are traces of his own self-betrayal in the text of the book. Yet the book reads today as an indictment of capital punishment as practiced in the US even now. Smith and Hickock were what a lot of people probably see as poster children for the death penalty, but the book makes the whole process seem incredibly shitty. Maybe some people read the book and feel satisfied with what happened, but I have trouble seeing how.
posted by BibiRose at 11:02 AM on August 2, 2012


I love Naked Lunch the movie a lot. Naked Lunch the book? Not so much.

I can get what Burroughs is saying about Capote, though. On the other hand, Burroughs and the other Beat writers had pretty "problematic" views about women - women barely exist in their writing.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:08 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love Naked Lunch the movie a lot. Naked Lunch the book? Not so much.

No!! That's the wrong way 'round!!
posted by xmutex at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I love naked lunch a lot. Naked Lunch the book and Naked Lunch the movie? Not so much.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:15 AM on August 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


I'm all about the Cities of the Red Night trilogy myself.
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, at least Burroughs didn't take him down to Mexico and shoot him in the head.
posted by jamjam at 11:18 AM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Junglerot Kid on the Nod is a masterpiece.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:18 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Capote story was in my 8th grade English textbook and In Cold Blood was assigned to me in the 11th. Not so much forgotten as American canon literature.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2012


Well, at least Burroughs didn't take him down to Mexico and shoot him in the head.

Welcome to Annexia, Mr. Lee.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an aside, rereading a Wikipedia article delivered me to a literary feud between PJ Farmer and Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:22 AM on August 2, 2012


It's strange that Burroughs and Capote would be such bitter rivals. They have so much in common. There is something there though, about the differing socioeconomic backgrounds. Probably also Capote's need to put himself above the beats, and Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, as the "true" heir of a certain school (THE SCHOOL) of American letters...
posted by Skygazer at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect my critical fuculties are ossifying, because the older I get the less patience I have for the Beats. With the exception of Ferlinghetti and maybe Gary Snyder (whom I haven't read much of), their poetry holds for me the attraction of a fireworks display: sparkly and diverting, but ultimately just a bunch of noise and smoke happening at a distance. I never liked Kerouac. "On The Road" is, to me, an exuberantly bad book that should be read and digested by age 15 and never looked at again. Burroughs strength as a stylist is undeniable, but it's the heart of a lizard beating beneath that colorful skin.

But Capote? OK, he became a self-perpetuating sorry cartoon in his later years -- that has nothing to do with his prose (and a lot to do with the trappings of literary fame in the midTwenCen, a snare into which most of the Beats tumbled, too). The man could write. Had he written nothing but "In Cold Blood", that's be enough to secure his place in the pantheon.

If someone were walking around handing out dripping bags of Literary Talent and I were offered the choice between Burroughs and Capote, I'd pick Capote in a heartbeat.

Just my opinion.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


If someone were walking around handing out dripping bags of Literary Talent and I were offered the choice between Burroughs and Capote, I'd pick Capote in a heartbeat.

If someone were walking about with dripping bags of Literary Talent, they probably had just wandered out of a Burroughs novel.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:59 AM on August 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


That Uncle Bill. Bless 'im.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:00 PM on August 2, 2012


...women barely exist in their writing

Very few artists from former times are going to conform to the mores of our time. It seems like enough to convict Burroughs on multiple counts of child endangerment (at the very least) during that Vollmer thing.
posted by DU at 12:03 PM on August 2, 2012


My biopic will have fucking Robocop in it

And Robocop fucking in it, too!

>Also monocled.

And bespatted.


Bespatted with the blood of the workers!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:09 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished."

I'd take it.
posted by oneironaut at 12:37 PM on August 2, 2012


The man could write. Had he written nothing but "In Cold Blood", that's be enough to secure his place in the pantheon.

It's been a long time since I read it, but I remember thinking Other Voices, Other Rooms, Capote's first novel, was an excellent book, with some insanely good writing. Dripping with insane amounts of literary talent, indeed.

It's strange to me though the similar hedonistic dissolution that both Capote and Burroughs fell into in their older years. Capote seemed to simply give up and Burroughs just began to recycle himself endlessly. His life and techniques, becoming more interesting than his own writing.

Amazingly, Capote was a hugely bitter person towards the end years, feeling that he'd been repeatedly overlooked for a Pulitzer Prize, especially with In Cold Blood.
posted by Skygazer at 12:38 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, thanks for the post and the comments are great.

"similar hedonistic dissolution that both Capote and Burroughs fell into."

Actually, Burroughs was 83 when he died, so I would venture he was a bit more sane about it.
posted by eggtooth at 12:45 PM on August 2, 2012


His life and techniques, becoming more interesting than his own writing.

I think that was always true about Burroughs.

There was an FPP here the other day about some obscure music hosted at Ubuweb, in which benito.strauss linked to an interview with one of Ubuweb's founders, a poet named Kenneth Goldsmith, who had this to say about his own work:
My books are better thought about than read. They’re insanely dull and unreadable...
When I read that I thought that would be a good approach to take with John Cage ... and also WSB.
posted by notyou at 12:49 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love you both. Please don't fight!
posted by Splunge at 12:51 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You got this together from all of those nasty Gore Vidal quotes, didn't you?

Vidal on Capote, from Palimpsest:
"After Rome I saw him only once again, in 1968, when, without my glasses, I mistook him for a small ottoman and sat on him at Drue Heinz's house in New York."
posted by Madamina at 12:54 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Funny....no vitrol like gay vitrol
posted by eggtooth at 12:56 PM on August 2, 2012


vitriol
posted by eggtooth at 12:57 PM on August 2, 2012


they see me vitrolin'
they hatin'
posted by FatherDagon at 1:01 PM on August 2, 2012


With the exception of Ferlinghetti and maybe Gary Snyder (whom I haven't read much of), their poetry holds for me the attraction of a fireworks display: sparkly and diverting, but ultimately just a bunch of noise and smoke happening at a distance.

Lumping Burroughs in with The Beats isn't really accurate. He kinda pre-dates beats (though beats certainly appreciated his lifestyle) and kept on writing (in my opinion) good works long after the fragmentary beats had degraded and disappeared. Also, Burroughs isn't really known for his "poetry" per se. Stylistically, the bombast that Burroughs writes with in his more hallucinatory works (his best, really) is utterly alien to the sense of urgency and immediacy that defined the beats.

While Richard Brautigan, second-generation beat type, was shooting himself (fearing he'd become irrelevant) Burroughs was finishing up his grand hyptertextual mythic masterpiece: The Cities of The Red Night trilogy. While Kerouac was bleeding to death in a hospital, Burroughs was finishing The Nova Trilogy which arguably provided the template (or at least foreshadowed) the 70s downtown NYC punk aesthetic.

If all one has to judge Burroughs by is Naked Lunch (the book, the movie doesn't have much to do with the book) then I suppose allowances could be made, but please do keep in mind that Burroughs wrote in a fairly varied style over the course of his 40 (or so) years of publishing.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:07 PM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm all about the Cities of the Red Night trilogy myself.
Yeah, it's a shame Burroughs is only really widely known for Naked Lunch. I don't really have a high regard for that book, but the Nova trilogy and Cities of the Red Night are wonderful. I've always liked My Education: A Book of Dreams, too.
"Always remember, the work is the mainsail to the Western Lands. The texts sing... The word for word is word. Each page is a door to everything is permitted. The fragile lifeboat between this and that. Your words are the sails..."
posted by byanyothername at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


... a poet named Kenneth Goldsmith, who had this to say about his own work: My books are better thought about than read. They’re insanely dull and unreadable...

He, known as KennyG when he had a regular show on WFMU, writes books consisting of things like retyping the entire phone book.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:15 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


i don't know if i should say i liked Adding Machine but i remember it

it's interesting in a way to kind of sit back and watch as the climate makes it such that people turn against his stuff
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:17 PM on August 2, 2012


I thought it interesting that when Burroughs and Ginsberg died, six months apart,
the media coverage in both cases was pretty slim. Now Vidal died, and he gets a lot of press.
posted by eggtooth at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2012


Naked Lunch makes a little more sense if you read it along with Interzone, which is a collection of short pieces that he was working on at around the same time and which eventually were incorporated, cut up throughout and recycled into Naked Lunch.

Say what you want to about his writing, but man...clearly a hell of a sorcerer.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probably also Capote's need to put himself above the beats, and Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, as the "true" heir of a certain school (THE SCHOOL) of American letters...

Which school do you mean? I never saw them as terribly similar, but maybe I haven't read enough.

I thought it interesting that when Burroughs and Ginsberg died, six months apart,
the media coverage in both cases was pretty slim. Now Vidal died, and he gets a lot of press.


I was in New York when Ginsburg died, and I remember it being a big deal. There was a huge memorial for him at St. Mark's with Lou Reed and Patti Smith and a bunch of other people that was covered in and of itself as well as the usual obits; and IIRC the New Yorker reprinted Kaddish in full along with a photo essay a few weeks later.
posted by Diablevert at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2012


I thought it interesting that when Burroughs and Ginsberg died, six months apart,
the media coverage in both cases was pretty slim. Now Vidal died, and he gets a lot of press.


For one thing, Gore Vidal wrote books that were a lot more accessible than what Ginsberg and Burroughs wrote. Plus, Vidal was an American blueblood and member of the establishment who behaved in mostly conventional ways. He was also a great interviewer who developed a lot of notoriety over the past ten years for his borderline Truther views.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:37 PM on August 2, 2012


the book, the movie doesn't have much to do with the book

It's a "making of"!
posted by Artw at 1:42 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu....well that's exactly right. But in terms of influencing the culture beyond
norms, Ginsberg and Burroughs (and Kerouac) went further...pioneers...

Whereas Vidal and Capote were champions of a lost dualism.
posted by eggtooth at 1:44 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you premise is simply wrong, egg and Koko. This is textbook recency effect. Ginsberg and Burrough's deaths were very big deals, Ginsberg in particular.
posted by Diablevert at 1:54 PM on August 2, 2012


You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on the New Yorker

Huh, I don't remember any Bob Dylan quotes in In Cold Blood.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:56 PM on August 2, 2012


Sure, Ginsberg's death was big in New York City.....not in the media...I remember.

At the time, I think it may have been The History Channel, or some other, that came out
with a documentary about the Sixties, completely re-writing it to make it look like total
stupidity....it was propaganda in the mainstream. They were trying to discredit the 60's
then, around '97, I believe.
posted by eggtooth at 2:02 PM on August 2, 2012


In the Book of Lies ed by Richard Metzger there is a long report by Genesis P-Orridge entitled "Magick Squares and Future Beats" which is a really scary account of Burroughs' black magic practices. One claim in there is he produced a cut-up tape recording with subliminal horror suggestions and walked back and forth in front of some Manhattan restaurant that served him a crappy meal or something playing the cut-up tape and the restaurant soon went out of business and the rental property was subsequently vacant for something like eight years.

Don't know how much Burroughs or P-Orridge believed in that stuff but the report is very interesting and well worth reading. My point is perhaps a Burroughs curse is not a laughing matter.
posted by bukvich at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's referenced in the original link, bukvich:
It should be noted that, at the time of writing, Burroughs was a credulous believer in the efficacy of curses (famously believing he had successfully used tape recorders to close down a London restaurant where he had received bad service)

Incidentally, P-Orridge figures prominently in FLicKeR, a documentary about Gysin's Dream Machine.
posted by juv3nal at 2:28 PM on August 2, 2012


"The Job" is awesome....closest Burroughs got to McKenna...Don't forget, "Yage" is Ahyuasca
(sp?)...DMT...so. Burroughs knew.

In the "Yage Letters" he mentions Ibogane, an even more potent....medicine... Rare mention
in those days.
posted by eggtooth at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2012


Don't know how much Burroughs or P-Orridge believed in that stuff but the report is very interesting and well worth reading. My point is perhaps a Burroughs curse is not a laughing matter.

From what I understand, Burroughs was pretty involved in the occult all the way up until his death.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:52 PM on August 2, 2012






Oh!

The Dream Machine.

Someone at the old eBar in Pasadena would occasionally bring one of those in and spin it up. I don't recall that I ever got anything out of it, but that may have had more to do with youth and impatience (and nearby young ladies requiring attention) than the effectiveness of the device. The aging hippies gathered 'round seemed to enjoy it.

The wikipedia writeup on P-Orridge, mentioned above, closes with this:
After marrying Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 1993, Genesis and Lady Jaye began a project to become Breyer P-Orridge, a single pandrogynous entity. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge continued this project after the death of Lady Jaye in 2007.
Hrm?

That must be a complicated procedure.
posted by notyou at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everybody Loves William Burroughs

Woah weird. I don't think I've ever pictured him in my head (or seen a photo) of him grinning before.
posted by juv3nal at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2012


While I love those pictures, some of them could be titled, [famous person] and Burroughs coincidentally sitting nearby. Sometimes on the nod.
posted by Splunge at 6:18 PM on August 2, 2012


After marrying Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 1993, Genesis and Lady Jaye began a project to become Breyer P-Orridge, a single pandrogynous entity. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge continued this project after the death of Lady Jaye in 2007.
...

That must be a complicated procedure.


Well, there was lots of plastic surgery involved. The goal (at least of the surgical aspects, not necessarily the psychological ones) was to make them look more and more like each other, as seen here.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:20 PM on August 2, 2012


Tru dat.

[Yes, I am ashamed on multiple levels that I wrote that.]
posted by Mael Oui at 8:04 PM on August 2, 2012


Everybody Loves William Burroughs

He was so iconic, and for many I think, he was one of the very first glimpses into a person in the real world who was living in an utterly unique, uncompromising, individualistic vision of the world and the imagination and how they could intersect to form a special life or reality.

Not everyone was treated well by him though. Joy Division played a show in '79 or '80 where Burroughs was also doing a reading, and Ian Curtis, the singer of JD, who was a HUGE HUGE fan of the guy approached WSB at the bar with the idea of introducing himself and perhaps getting a book signed was promptly told to fuck off.

Also WSB loathed Lou Reed saying that there was something disturbingly "bucolic and sheep-like" about him.

On the other hand my best friend, Greg Scott, now gone, (by his own hands, in 2003), began a quite friendly correspondence with Burroughs (and his assistant Gruerholz, sp?) in the early 90s. And among many of the pieces and ephemera WSB signed for him came from the fact that they'd both been Eagle Scouts, as had been WSB, and sent him an old Boy Scout Handbook from 1912 as a gift and WSB returned the favor by sending some rare post cards with a handwritten message of greeting and delighted thanks, and his John Hancock in cursive, if I remember right. My friend had it framed, and might've even had an extra copy of that early edition Boy Scout Handbook signed by Burroughs.

All those materials were lost in the chaos and confusion of Greg Scott's suicide in 2003, he left behind only an elderly mom who died a short 9 months after. There was some talk of his collection of ephemera, and he had quite a bit of collectible stuff from WSB, Genesis and his wife Lady Jane, with whom he spent quite a bit of time with at their Brooklyn apt, as well as the Vienna Actionists, Fluxus, Coum Transmissions, John Balance, Eric Boyd of NON, the guy (Peter something...it's escaping me right now) who ran Pure magazine, etc and etc...

Of course, WSB did a play on the Boy Scout Handbook with: Burroughs very own very subversive and updated take on that manual.


WSB was very complex and unpredictable no doubt about that and I have mixed feelings about him at this point. I used to worship the guy as a hero in my teens and early twenties, but as I've gotten older and learned more about the man, and my own knowledge of character has deepened, I see he was a guy with a serious fucked up guy in many ways.

He had a crippling inability to make real emotional connnections, and so many hang ups and neuroses based on his over-cerebralized suspicions of any and all belief systems, and their foundations and origins (as control mechanisms) that he sometimes hurt those who needed him the most, for fear of giving in to something, a control system, (and he included biological, emotional and ideological systems in that) that would destroy his freedom and his imagination. That would enslave him and make him another worker bee in it's machinations...so he pushed the envelop every way he could, remaining a moving target emotionally, intellectually, biologically and so on, in a state of perpetual de-programming.

And that's all very noble, and breathtakingly exhilarating and heroic, and why I think it appealed to so many creative folks seeking to blaze their own trials and myths. Some true artists. Most, self-absorbed narcissistics, using that artistic pose (and I think there is some validity), as an excuse for hedonism and irresponsibility and arrested development. Especially in the run up (in the 50s) and the come down (in the 70s), to the 60s...and all the empty excess and phony ideas, that came along with the real evolution that took place..

Anyhow, there were some who needed WSB to be a fixed idea in their lives, and WSB, seemed constitutionally unable to consider a fixed place for himself in the universe, other than as an agent provocateur against all systems of control forever, and that wasn't such a great thing for his estranged son, who Burroughs seemed unable to accept or show much understanding for, or at the very least, be able to provide a sensible structure for growing up within, of any kind whatsoever. And after bouncing around for years and years simply on the idea that he was Burrough's son (what a concept!) succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver, at the incredible age of 29.

Dying from cirrhosis of the liver at 29, is a damned-near superhuman accomplishment.

So, yeah, I'm on the ambivalent side about folks like Burroughs, and the rest of the counter-culturalists he sheparded and mentored, have truly accomplished. I think he was an extraordinary man, but also deeply almost fatally flawed in ways, and the fact that he lived to 83 is a miracle and probably had a lot to do with the stabilizing influence of Gruerholz, and the move to Lawrence, Kansas in his final years.



One final thing about this so-called "curse." He and Bryon Gysin, because of their time in Tangiers where it seems all sorts of wayward primal energies are the rule, really and truly believed in being able to call forth spirits and put curses on people. And occasionally did so when they moved to Paris.

There's a famous story of an especially loathsome old woman who ran a news-stand near their apartment in Paris in the 60s who daily gave WSB and Gysin the evil eye when they sauntered past or bought a paper who one day they got utterly sick and tired of and so, somewhat jokingly went down to the news-stand and performed some sort of curse ritual.

The next morning the news-stand was burned down to the ground and the old woman was burned alive within it as well.


So, I wouldn't dismiss that this curse WSB put on Capote, didn't in fact work somehow, after it was passed over for a Pulitzer, Capote never wrote anything as ambitious as that, and it seems to these eyes/brain, spent the rest of his years doing the talk show circuit, and being a huge decadent coke head in the 70s, at the Studio 54 disco in Manhattan.
posted by Skygazer at 12:01 PM on August 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is a great FPP. Thanks.
posted by werkzeuger at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2012


« Older Cutting canyons below Second Avenue   |   It is the ocean that links the seas of night Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post