May 12th, 2012 / 12:10 pm
Power Quote

Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted

But these operations do not occur in neutral territory, Kaye was quick to point out. Burroughs treats all conditions of existence as results of cosmic conflicts between competing intelligence agencies. In making themselves real, entities (must) also manufacture realities for themselves: realities whose potency often depends upon the stupefaction, subjugation and enslavement of populations, and whose existence is in conflict with other ‘reality programs’. Burroughs’s fiction deliberately renounces the status of plausible representation in order to operate directly upon this plane of magical war. Where realism merely reproduces the currently dominant reality program from inside, never identifying the existence of the program as such, Burroughs seeks to get outside the control codes in order to dismantle and rearrange them. Every act of writing is a sorcerous operation, a partisan action in a war where multitudes of factual events are guided by the powers of illusion … (WV 253-4). Even representative realism participates – albeit unknowingly – in magical war, collaborating with the dominant control system by implicitly endorsing its claim to be the only possible reality.

From the controllers’ point of view, Kaye said, ‘it is of course imperative that Burroughs is thought of as merely a writer of fiction. That’s why they have gone to such lengths to sideline him into a ghetto of literary experimentation.’

Lemurian Time War

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  1. Ken Baumann


  2. deadgod

      Fun story.

      I don’t think Burroughs’s fiction “renounces the status [?] of plausible representation”.  I’d call ‘plausibility’ somewhat of an achievement of his.

      “[T]o dismantle and rearrange” sounds like dominant-reality programming, to me.

      Is it so sure that representative realists are unknowing in their collaboration with dominant programming? –and not pretty explicit in their endorsements of “the dominant control system”‘s claims to authoritative (sometimes exclusively authoritative) making intelligible of reality.

      When people say “everything is permitted”, they rarely – ever? – mean everything.  Usually – always? – , they mean ‘you’re not the boss of me!’.  Was skepticism about the truthfulness of paranoia “permitted” to Burroughs?

  3. Evan Hatch

      “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.” – Burroughs

  4. jose a.

      The plausibility of his work lies in the fact that a “magical war” was always being fought in the first place (what some people would call intelligibility’s fantastical supplement). Burroughs just cranked up the mythology and turned it imaginatively in his own direction. I don’t however see this as  a predicate of his literary style. I think paranoia is the most mundane thing in the sense of behaviours and controls leveraged upon by fear. Sometimes it takes a crisis to see what’s really already there.

  5. deadgod

      Naming the ‘fantastic’ “intelligibility’s supplement” is circularly to think as though intelligibility has no “supplement”:  the intelligibility of the “magical war” is itself one thing that’s at stake in asserting it (as much as in ignoring or denying it).

      What seems sure is that asserting that a “magical war” is being fought is the kind of ‘realism’ assumption – perhaps unwitting – that would be some control system’s replication of itself through reality-claims.

      I see authorizing the reader’s discovery of the reasonableness of paranoia as being uncontroversially predicable of Burroughs’s style.

      Sometimes, in the way that fearful people in a foxhole will believe anything that assuages their fear, a crisis makes for great difficulty in seeing what’s there that’s not succor-entangled.

  6. jose a.

      Scared people in a foxhole is hardly a situation which one could describe as mundane or likely to induce paranoia. Likelier, if these people are both scared and in a foxhole, it’s because some clear danger has supplanted any need for paranoia’s  imaginary hysterics.

      Authoring the readers discovery of an awareness he should have is indeed predictable of Burroughs style. However, to say that Paranoia is both ‘reasonable’ and ‘uncontroversially predictable’ begs several questions, including your own: was scepticism about the truthfulness of paranoia permitted to Burroughs?

      My point was about the style of the period of his work in question, relative to the style of writing employed earlier and later in his career. Relative also to any other style of writing in which such an awareness could be conveyed (Foucault’s or Fannon’s or Baldwin’s to name a few).

      Which brings to what I think is the misunderstanding here. A magical war is of course a mythical war. To name it a fantastic supplement is only to try and identify it’s role as intelligibility’s shadow, because it isn’t intelligible or ever fully graspable in itself. The question of reality-claims is at once personal and hegemonic is it not? Culture has it’s active mythologies but we also mythologise ourselves and each other. To claim that a ‘magic war’ is going on is to interrogate the way in which our thought is always mired in the future and the past; to interrogate paranoia which acts upon me not when I’m scared and in a foxhole, but when I’m eating breakfast, at work, on the subway, in bed.

  7. A sorcerous operation | Nikki Chau

      […] upon something that changes the course, such as clicking on a tweet that leads me to today’s HTML Giant post: Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted, quoting William S. Burroughs, Every act of writing is a sorcerous operation, a partisan action in a war where multitudes of […]

  8. deadgod

      Yes, that’s at least one mis- or, better, crossunderstanding:  my point is that the ‘fantastic’ is “intelligible” — at least to the point that we can name ‘it’, identify ‘it’, argue about ‘it’.  We use language to gesture at or disclose what we somehow sense eludes or simply ex-ists beyond language… but as soon as we say, for example, unintelligible of the ‘fantastic’, we’re already re-inscribing and re-inscribed.  That’s what I mean by the integrity and coherence with the ‘main’ of what one could try to call its ‘supplement’.

      I like “at once personal and hegemonic” – the entwinement, in a different register, of emancipatory and disciplinary aspects or facets or ‘personalities’ that one feels one is experiencing with empirical autonomy.

      I think I see what you meant by Burroughs’s style:  the literary style particular to the period of, say The Ghost Lemurs of Madagascar (?).  –while I was thinking of Burroughs’s cultural-critical style first to last.  The Lemurian Time War essay refers to a 40+ year swathe of his books, and seems to me to interest itself in Burroughs’s whole.

      [By the way, not predictable; predicable — not ‘what can be foretold‘, but rather, ‘what can be said of‘.  It’s the predicate adjective or nominative (or phrase) in an ‘is’ sentence:  ‘Socrates is mortal.’ – ‘mortality’ is predicable of ‘Socrates’ – ; ‘Humans are language animals.’ – ‘animal’ is predicable of a ‘human’ and ‘language’ is predicable of this animal – .]

      You do say “mundane” of paranoia, but you end with “crisis” being sometimes needed “to see what’s […] there”.  I’m referring to the common truism that ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole’, by which people usually mean that the crisis of proximate and approaching mortality inspires one to comprehend the spiritual reality that had always been present.  I’d meant that I think that pressure is or might be a misleading ‘place’ to see what’s there that one isn’t fearfully projecting – a reality free from succor (or, I guess, from cosmic threat).

  9. jose a.

      Yes, the no atheist in a foxhole thing is a pesky faulty truisms. My point there was that Burroughs created the crisis (the planet literally exploding) in which those control mechanisms hidden within quotidian anxieties became visible by his resplendent expose–became intelligible through means of projective allegorising. 

      It would useful to define what we meant by ‘fantastic’ as regards its (un)intelligibility.

      In a general way,  I would say that unintelligibility(Lacan’s real or any other phenomenological limit)’s intelligibility is a proximal one, one step removed from it’s originary which as you say may be beyond sight or language. I suppose to re-inscribe this proximal intelligibility as unintelligible may indeed be ‘circular’ but that circularity seems needed if one is to avoid accepting these reified proximals as as anything more than failed attempts to see or represent what cant be seen or represented–in short–as’real’.

      It would seem to me that a control system’s success is largely predicated on a fantasy or mythology–which I call unintelligible but could also call irrational–that either capitalizes on the perceived reification of these proximals or in fact informs and shapes their establishing logic. So I’m pointing to the ‘fantastic’ as intelligibility itself, but also as it’s hidden interior nature.

      And yes, I did misread predicable as predictable. Morning rush, but the response would have actually been the same.

  10. deadgod

      “Phenomenological limit” is a good way to put the crux.  ‘Linguistic limit’ is another, paradoxical way.  If language is other-than – or shot through with – an other, I don’t see how we can ‘know’ so.

      Okay:  posit, disclose, gesture.  ‘Nonsense’ – an indifferent absence of sense, perhaps experienced as defiant.  –but still, to me, that’s sense-making, both the generator and work of sensibility.

      You’d said (farther above) “[a magical war] isn’t intelligible or ever fully graspable in itself”.  Maybe “fully” is an intersection of agreement and disagreement between us:

      The lack of full agreement between mind and world might seem – provisionally – to indicate ‘unintelligibility’ — but that’s not the right way to look at (say) testing intelligibility.  I don’t know or understand, but that’s not necessarily because there’s anything that’s unknowable; my many cognitive failures or insufficiencies are mine, not (necessarily) reality’s!

      Perspectival relativism is no argument against the rationality of the ‘real’.

      (pace postmodern theory – that, say, of Rorty – , diversity of perspective isn’t an argument against an intelligible ‘real’, but rather, for it.)

      As I understand things, assertions of hidden disciplinary processes and hiding resistance to them – call them ‘control’ and the ‘fantastic’, respectively – is to say that they’re not obvious, not that they or anything is, in its nature, unintelligible.

  11. jose a.

      Ah yes, I believe I’ve encountered your assuredness of an absolute rationality before. I won’t attempt a scrimmage there. Our philosophical dispositions are genuinely differentially set in that regard. But giving credence, as I do, to a type of ‘perspectival relativism’ I’m not bothered. 
      ‘Fully’ is where we’ll have to leave it.

  12. deadgod

      Ah… no.  You’ve not encountered “assuredness” of an “absolute” rationality here, and not from me ever.

      I’ve encountered assured evasions of philosophical unfoundedness before, and full is what they are, wherever they’re left.

  13. jose a.

      where is the evasion? your argument sounds agnostic.