The Letters, Vol. 1: 1945-1959

The Letters, Vol. 1: 1945-1959
Goodreads Rating: 4.17
Pages: 512 pages
Published: June 1st 1994 by Penguin (Non-Classics) (first published July 27th 1993)
Category: Nonfiction
Author: William S. Burroughs, Oliver Harris

Guru of the Beat generation, controversial eminence grise of the international avant-garde, dark prophet and blackest of black-humor satirists, William S. Burroughs has had a range of influence rivalled by few living writers. This meticulously assembled volume of his correspondence vividly documents the personal and cultural history through which Burroughs developed, revealing clues to illuminate his life and keys to open up his texts. More than that, they also show how in the period 1945-1959, letter-writing was itself integral to his life and to his fiction-making. These letters reveal the extraordinary route that took Burroughs from narrative to anti-narrative, from Junky to Naked Lunch and the discovery of cut-ups, a turbulent journey crossing two decades and three continents. The letters track the great shifts in Burroughs' crucial relationship with Allen Ginsberg, from lecturing wise man ("Watch your semantics young man") to total dependence ("Your absence causes me, at times, acute pain.") to near-estrangement ("I sometimes feel you have mixed me up with someone else doesn't live here anymore."). They show Burroughs' initial despair at the obscenity of his own letters, some of which became parts of Naked Lunch, and his gradual recognition of the work's true nature ("It's beginning to look like a modern Inferno.") They reveal the harrowing lows and ecstatic highs of his emotions, and lay bare the pain of coming to terms with a childhood trauma ("Such horror in bringing it out I was afraid my heart would stop."). It is a story as revealing of his fellow Beats as it is of Burroughs: he writes of Kerouac and Cassady in the midst of the journey immortalized as On the Road ("Neal is, of course, the very soul of this voyage into pure, abstract, meaningless motion."), and to Ginsberg as he was writing Howl ("I sympathize with your feelings of depression, beatness: 'We have seen the best of our time.'").

And throughout runs the unmistakable Burroughs voice, the u

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