Burroughs, William S. The Job. London: John Calder, 1984.
The Job is a collection of "topical writings and interviews" with Burroughs. It is an expanded version of a French-language collection, Entretiens avec William Burroughs, published in 1969, adding a number of small press articles and limited edition texts. The interviews were conducted by Daniel Odier.
In his introduction, Burroughs states that "In The Job I consider techniques of discovery." The book is an essential title for anyone interested in the theories and beliefs that inform the author's works of fiction. It can also serve as a manual for those interested in Burroughs' literary and "magical" techniques. It's worth noting, however, that The Job is a snapshot of Burroughs in his most eccentric phase, discussing fringe science, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and radical social theory - and more besides. It's a valuable, vital text, but it dresses rather strangely.
The main body of the book is prefaced by Playback From Eden To Watergate, a short essay in which Burroughs suggests that organised citizens could bring down the Nixon administration - and any corrupt "God" figure - by using its preferred weapon of surveillance - recording and playback - against it. As is apparent in several sections of The Job, Burroughs is inspired by the democratic possibilities that affordable personal tape recorders and cameras offer, on a social and personal level - the ability to edit and recreate reality via perception. He cites his celebrated - by himself, mostly - campaign against the Moka Bar, a London café he accuses of "discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake". By making and manipulating audio/visual recordings of the establishment, and playing the manipulations back, Burroughs claims that he successfully destroyed the business. He also targeted the London Scientology Centre, with supposedly similar success. The experiments described are essentially exercises in sympathetic magic, with a technological slant, and are obviously reminiscent of the author's earlier text-based explorations into content manipulation - the cut-up and fold-in.
The first main chapter of The Job is Journey through time-space. This interview - with some inserted prose - discusses Burroughs' views on the state of literature and the trajectories for writing suggested by other media and techniques - from painting to computer manipulation. Burroughs gives opinions on his contemporaries - he has kind words for Beckett and Genet - and the role of the reader. He also digresses into a lengthy discussion of control - you'll find one in pretty much any Burroughs book - involving L. Ron Hubbard and Mayan calendar.
The next chapter, the longest in the book, is entitled Prisoners of the Earth come out. It deals primarily with social and political issues; censorship, the influence of mass media, capital punishment, overpopulation, Vietnam, the penal system, anarchy, economics, the peace movement, pornography... and this list is taken from the first twenty pages (the chapter has fifty-two in total). Burroughs ricochets like a rubber rocket from topic to topic, invariably casting an apocalyptic light on his subject matter - informed by the global (and especially American) civil unrest and nuclear paranoia of the time:
Q: Does total destruction seem to you a desirable outcome?
A: I would say total destruction of existing institutions, and very rapidly, may be the only alternative to a nuclear war which would be very much more destructive.
The interview captures Burroughs at his most volatile, advocating direct, pragmatic action against humanity's oppressors (Burroughs' "Nova Conspiracy"). He is characteristically blunt and offers no quarter:
Q: The Beat/Hip axis... want to transform the world by love and nonviolence. Do you share this interest?
A: Most emphatically no. (...) The only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower pot from a high window.
It's a pessimistic - though humorous - read. Burroughs does kick off by saying that he thinks things are "very much in the balance at the present time", but forty pages later is advocating the destruction of society - not, it should be noted, of people - as the only escape route from literal atomic obliteration. This doesn't stop him throwing in a couple of textbook routines, fortunately - including the excellent 23 Skidoo: "The grenade blew her mink coat fifty yards." There's also an interesting discourse on the destructive capabilities of subsonic waves. Burroughs imagines an eighteen-foot wide aircraft-fan-operated 7 Hz infrasonic "whistle" that "could kill a man five miles away". To protect your own troops, he advises, "turn the machine on from a safe distance".
The short penultimate chapter is A new frog, and is concerned with Burroughs' views on sexuality and the elimination of the family. Now, as much as I love Burroughs and as great an influence as he has been on me, it must be said that his views on women - particularly in the era of this interview - were simply insane, and I've chosen that word very carefully. In this regard, I can do no better than to quote Burroughs directly:
In the words of one of a great misogynist's plain Mr. Jones, in Conrad's Victory: "Women are a perfect curse." I think they were a basic mistake, and the whole dualistic universe evolved from this error.
If that speaks to you, you'll love the whole chapter. It's not devoid of interest - at the very least, it helps illuminate many of the author's other works - but it is devoid of sanity. In a nutshell, Burroughs describes the "anti-sexual" manipulation of society by women, and looks forward to an age of asexual reproduction and, indeed, the elimination of infancy, which, as you are no doubt aware, is a vested interest that drives women to block research into the creation of "artificial beings".
Moving on, then, the final chapter is Academy 23, a blistering return to form that draws forth Burroughs' theories on drugs and addiction, the perception of drugs and addiction, and the cultural roots and ramifications of the "drugs problem". Depressingly, most of the time he could easily be discussing the state of play in 2003, over thirty years later. Into his comments are mixed a succession of primo essays and routines, including The Invisible Generation ("why stop there / why stop anywhere") and Electronic Revolution, which are often referred to in texts by and about Burroughs. Pausing briefly to discuss the neurological value of learning hieroglyphics, Burroughs rounds off by describing his ideal "academies", training communities dedicated to preparing their students - physically, mentally, linguistically - for migration into space... which is more than simply outer space. Here, Burroughs sees an escape route, a path out of the civilisation we must destroy to survive.
Together with The Adding Machine and his Selected Letters, The Job is essential Burroughs non-fiction. For all its gonzo misogyny and excess paranoia, this small, powerful book is a passionate attempt to motivate the reader - a plea for inquiry and experimentation, a manual for those who would retake responsibility, a call to arms before all freedom is destroyed in the Nova Ovens. In short, Burroughs wants action! Here, he gives you all you need to begin. There's no better way to finish this node than the way the book finishes:
Research that could be used to free the human spirit is being monopolized by paltry intellects in the name of "national security". What are you getting out of national security?
One academy could bring back hope to dead radioactive riot-torn streets to this contaminated overpopulated mismanaged planet. Are they going to give you that hope? If past performance is any indication, they are not going to give you anything but bullshit, blacks and whites you have been sold out. If you want the world you could have in terms of discoveries and resources now in existence be prepared to fight for that world. To fight in the streets.