Notes on David S. Wills: Burroughs on Civilisation, Hallucination, and Telepathy

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For William Burroughs, the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a dividing point in history, marking the moment that Western civilisation finally ended. Could you really call a people capable of such an atrocity “civilised”? And so without civilisation, those born since 1945 have lived scavenging about the ruins of a lost civilisation, without a home or a people. Burroughs was often nostalgic for the times before the bomb.

From there, the post-modern idea that artistic creativity includes random processes, the chopping together of whatever you can find. You do what you must in a post-apocalyptic world. Failure of many to understand: they wait for the apocalypse, expecting immanent disaster, but it’s already happened.

Burroughs tells us to pay attention to visions. “Just a hallucination” is meaningless, doesn’t explain anything: what, after all, is a hallucination? You don’t know. So focus on what you DO know. You SAW something. What is it? What are its qualities? And see if it means something to YOU. You can disregard it if it’s vague and without meaning for you. Otherwise, take it up and use it, or pay attention and heed its warning, depending on what it is you saw.

Telepathy is, by definition, independent of space. A telepath can send her thoughts anywhere. It’s also independent of time, says Burroughs. Meaning that every thought that has ever, is right now, or ever will be thought is present and available to anyone sensitive enough to pick it up. So ignore your “hallucinations” at your peril.

It’s easy to feel jaded, and say that the world is singularly devoid of vision today. Why? If humanity has no future, then there’s no future thought to pick up on. You can only look around at the present, scattered people blinking at each other, or turn backward, search in old books, or whispers of past thoughts lost among long scattered ashes.

Too pessimistic. The end of civilisation meant the end of something. And something new will arise from those who live among the wreckage. But it’s difficult to pick up on the signals of a future culture, speaking as it will a whole new language, with a whole new system of thought. Difficult but not impossible. Learn to recognise the new and you can help to bring it into being.

(I’ve been re-reading David S. Wills’ Scientologist!: William S. Burroughs and the “Weird Cult”)

This entry was posted in Beat Generation, books, Literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Notes on David S. Wills: Burroughs on Civilisation, Hallucination, and Telepathy

  1. Priti says:

    Yes it’s true may be it’s difficult to bring a whole new system but it’s not impossible. Well written 😊👌🌹

    Liked by 1 person

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