Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How To Understand Lynch and Cronenberg

Some of the greatest adventure stories ever written, The Place of Dead Roads and Cities of the Red Night, are written by William Burroughs. Burroughs is most known for his works Naked Lunch, Junky and Queer. As brilliant as these three books are...and revolutionary for literature...his finest work is among his Westerns. Burroughs just got better and better as time went on. Too many folks read the sensationlist novels and never get to his masterpeices.

I was thinking how * and Red are going to see the new David Lynch movie, Inland Empire and I'm going to see it on Friday. Red doesn't like Lynch, and I was thinking, well no big deal...but it is a big deal to at least understand what Lynch is attempting to do with his bizarre characters, stilted dialogues and time warps/travel. He is working under the influence of a master. So is Cronenberg. Listen, even Cormac McCarthy hasn't reached the same kind of accomplishment in his body of work. And that master...unrivalled yet today except by the writers from a different time the KING. William Burroughs. If you haven't read his Westerns, you haven't read Burroughs.

The following is from an essay I found here:

Burroughs explicitly linked his philosophy to Manichaeism-a third century Persian religion. Manichaeism was founded by a young preacher, Mani in the early to mid third century of the common era. Mani was heavily influenced by Gnostic Christianity-calling himself a "disciple of Christ" and the Paraclete", or biblical healer. The Manichaens incorporated many existing belief systems into their worldview. From Manichaenism and Gnosticim, they appointed a strongly held belief in cosmic dualism. It is in this sense that Burroughs links his philosophy to that of the thrid century religion. Burrough's fiction and nonfiction work (as the two are not readily separable) are best characterized as mythology. He himself described his effort as writing the mythology for the space age. His philosophy has many parallels to early Gnosticism that go beyond this simple invocation of Manichaeism dualism.

Burroughs first encountered the concept of the Johnson Family while still a boy reading the book You Can't Win by Jack Black. First published in the 1920's Black's autobiographical account of hobo life was immensely popular in it's day. Burroughs describes the Johnsons in The Place of Dead Roads:

"The Johnson Family was a turn-of-the-century expression to designate good bums and thieves. It was elaborated into a code of conduct. A Johnson honors his obligations. His word is good and he is a good man to do business with. A Johnson minds his own business. He is not a snoopy, self-righteous, trouble-making person. A Johnson will not stand by while someone is drowning or trapped under a burning car."

In his essay "The Johnson Family" Burroughs elaborates on the Johnson's philosophical placement within his mythic system-explicitly linked them to Manichaeistic dualism:

"The Johnson Family formulates a Manichaen position where good and evil are in conflict and the outcome is at this point uncertain. It is not an eternal conflict since one or the other must win a final victory."

In contrast to the honorable world of hobos and criminals, Burroughs describes a type of person known simply as a "Shit". Unlike the Johnsons, Shits are obsessed with minding other people's business. They are the town busy body, the preacher, the lawman. Shits are incapable of taking the honorable road of each-to-his-own. Burroughs describes the situation in his essay "My Own Business" thus:

"This world would be a pretty easy and pleasant place to live in if everybody could just mind his own business and let others do the same. But a wise old black faggot said to me years ago: 'Some people are shits, darling.' I was never able to forget it."

In Burroughs mythology, the world is one of conflict between the Johnsons and the Shits. A Shit is one who is obsessively sure of his own position at the cost of all other vantages. Burroughs describes Shits as incapable of minding "their own business because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a small pox virus has." This is more than an offhand analogy. For Burroughs, Shits are, in actuality, virus occupied hosts-chronically infected by what he terms the Right virus. "The mark of a basic Shit," Burroughs reminds us, "is that he has to be right."

The war between the Johnsons and the Shits is an epic one that runs throughout Burroughs writing. Though of immense proportions, like the Gnostic battle between good and evil, the cosmic war is not figured across eternity. It has an end and, for Burroughs, that end is imaginable. It does not come without immense conflict, however. Burroughs tells his reader, "The people in power will not disappear voluntarily." There is no turning back, once the battle is met. "Once one take up arms against a bunch of shits there is no way back. Lay down your arms and they will kill you." Hell hath no vociferous fury than an endangered parasite." And remember, "The wild boys take no prisoners." full article here.


Underground Baker said...

Just read the article.

If I had all those thoughts in my head at the same time I too would have to take a ride on that pony just to give myself a rest.

I haven't read any of Burrough's essays and had not thought of his books in such a structured mythological way. I had alway kind of looked at it as almost magical realism, (which is also mythological I realize...)but not looked any further. Oh dear, more reading.

Of course you know, I love him most for his power to create images for me that are tangible.

Underground Baker said...

thanks for the link!

Wylie Kinson said...

You're so much more enlightened than me, I'm sometimes embarrassed by my own shallowness when I read your blog :)
But I'm too dopey to let it get to me, so I'll keep coming back ;D

Candy Minx said...

Underground Baker, I was surprised to see him linking his ideas so clearly to manicaeism...of course, anything with good guys and bad guys could be broken down like that...

Wylie, well, YOU ARE NOT SHALLOW! Please keep coming back, I love the company and you have lots of awesome ideas. I just like the idea that you are either a Johnson or a Shit in Buroroughs books...I met him and saw him read years ago, and it was like meeting a shaman who felt super real yet was very matter of fact. I hope you might check out his books sometime when you're in the mood. He is edgy, but real.

* (asterisk) said...

I'm jealous you're going to see Inland Empire. I still haven't been able to go. Don't know when I will. Provincial towns suck. May have to wait for the DVD...

Joy Renee said...


I've loved Lynch since Twin Peaks. His soties reminded me somewhat of Flannery O'Conner who has been one of my idols since the eighties. I think that was about the same time I discovered magical realism in Gabbo's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I don't think I've read any Burroughs. At least none of the titles you listed are familiar to me. Nope. Just checked wikipedia for a bib list. Something else to put on the agenda for if/when the libraries reopen.

His definiton of those who are Right as being equivalent to a virus is one I came to after I cxited Fundamentalism. Tho I still differentiate between the ideas and the person. The ideas are viral. I am uncomfortable with the idea that violence against the Idea infected person is the only valid self-defence. How does one fight a Right-fighter without being one themselves? It is more likely that Right-fighters of every ideological shade will exterminate each other for no Right-fighter would be able to live in peace in a universe containing other minds suspected of heretical thoughts. I know how these people think from the inside out.

Anonymous said...

Burroughs was (stupid analogy coming) like Zardoz. He believed in the gun before the penis - or the unity of penis/gun.

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