Wednesday, January 20, 2010

William Burroughs: The Writer as Prophet

Words by William Burroughs and a few of my thoughts on them.

In 1983, my novel Colombian Gold was published in English by Clarkson N. Potter. My editor, Carol Southern, solicited from William Burroughs a blurb for my book. Burroughs was one of my culture heroes, and his Yage Letters one of my favorite books.

Burroughs responded to my editor's request with the following words:

"What is happening? The West will have to defend their preposterous living standard against the Third World: by sheer force; by torture and extermination; by systematic terror; by silencing any voice of dissent. Suppose that a potentially industrialized country like Brazil should go Communist? Where would the U.S.A. be? Right where we deserve to be. We have struck out. We have failed. All we stand for is naked force.

"Latin American governments on the way to becoming democracies? What an utter, transparent travesty and farce. Democracies where people are dragged out of bed and tortured and shot. The government is investigating... Yes, and they will still be investigating ten, twenty years from now, if the flimsy structure holds together that long.

"Does Reagan know about all this? The torture and terror? Of course he does. He isn't a moron. Everybody knows... To quote Dr. Alexander King: 'I regard the next thirty or forty years as a period of great transition in human affairs. In Mexico, fifty percent of the population is under 15. This constantly escalating population will mean a huge increase in the work force, in countries already suffering from unemployment and underdevelopment. Can we envisage a world in which presently developed countries - U.S.A., Europe, the Soviet Union, Australia and New Zealand - are living in a ghetto of middle-aged people, relatively rich, protected by sophisticated weapons against hordes of people outside: young, hungry, unemployed? Such a situation couldn't persist for very long.'

"Well, Reagan and Co. don't care. They don't have much time left in any case."

Carol Southern wrote back to Burroughs thanking him for his statement but saying that we were hoping for a pithier blurb. William Burroughs obliged her with the traditional kind of blurb that publishers plaster on the back cover of their books. But almost thirty years later, his statement still continues to fascinate, and haunt, me for its prophetic accuracy about the world in which we live nowadays. I want to share it now with anyone whose eyes land on this page.