Notes on The Soft Machine Chapter 8: “I Sekuin”

“… the old hop smoking world I created …”

Who created it?

“I Sekuin …”

Who are you?

“I Sekuin Perfected These Arts Along The Streets Of Minraud.”

Sekuin has perfected the art of image-control. Word dust blows through the streets of his city, and settles on shop window frames.

Sekuin is a kind of deity, this landscape belongs to him because it is his creation. He made it through cut-up, reducing the words and images to dust and fragments.

“Darkness fell in heavy chunks blocking out sections of the city.”

I found this chapter hard to grasp. It describes the end point of the cut-up experiments, a nightmarish horror city-scape in which no kind of continuity can survive. Minraud is a city broken into fragments and filled with dust. When the word is destroyed, disjointed cities like Minraud will be all that remains of the world.

Bradly, the tragic hero of this chapter, crash lands here and is immediately seized by one of the local inhabitants, who wants to help him, or this is what he says.

“You crazy or something walk around alone?”

But who could live in this desolation? Is this a human being or just a spectre, a projection, an assemblage of images and words conjured up in a moment by the wind that carries the dust through the empty streets?

Bradly follows his guide, the spectre. What else can he do?

He’s taken to a restaurant, he’s in need of a meal. “Krishnus,” his guide says, as the waiter puts the strange food stuff down on the table. Bradly eats “in ravenous gulps.”

Later, Bradly is seduced by his guide. They undress and smear a bright green substance over each other’s bodies. This green slime burns their bodies away until all that is left of them is the slime. This is Bradly’s form now in this world, his human body dissolved away. Slime that will itself eventually break apart, disintegrate, and dissolve into the scenery.

Sekuin watches the scene, watches sadly his own world “… the old hop smoking world I created mutters between years saddest of all movies frosted on the glass wind and dust through empty streets and gutted buildings spectral janitors grey autumn chill in the ashes cold dusty halls …”

And through the emptiness his past self calls out to him. Who was Sekuin before he was Sekuin? What is this past identity calling out to him now?

“… a petition from the old me … the narcotics department … Colonel Smoky … Chinese waiters … Pantapon Rose … Bill Gains …”

These are names from Burroughs’s past work. Sekuin is Burroughs, it was Burroughs who created this desolate hellscape and became Sekuin, a captive in his own creation. This silence, where words must become dust to blow endlessly along desolate grey streets and human beings must be reduced to slime.

“Under Sign Of The Centipede. A Captive Head. In Minraud Time.”

Sekuin is Burroughs himself, at an extreme. Burroughs is showing us the extreme desolation that exists at the furthest limit of cut-up experimentation. He’ll return from this limit, from this point of self-destruction, to turn his technique around against a greater evil in the world …

(I’ve been reading The Soft Machine by William Burroughs. All the stuff in quotation marks is taken from there.)

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