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Starting “Tangier Routines”

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I’ve been rereading The Letters of William Burroughs 1945-1959, edited by Oliver Harris (Viking 1993). I’m focusing on the letters from Tangiers, Tangier, Tanger, Tangers as it’s variously spelt—these run from 1954 to 1958, and a lot of them are to Allen Ginsberg. This particular edition came out in 1993, and I read in it then. It’s a nostalgia trip for me, reading this stuff, fitting as spring itself is a nostalgic season. The return of youth. The drifting blossoms. I’ve been into Burroughs for almost fifty years, I first read him in my brother’s copies of Evergreen Review when I was 12 or 13. See also my blog entry on Burroughs and his Yage Letters.

I also read a lot of his letters in an earlier collection, Letters to Allen Ginsberg, edited by Ron Padgett and Anne Waldman (Full Court Press, 1982), I remember reading that in my office on Church St. in Lynchburg, Virginia—I’d set up as a freelance writer there in fall of 1982, and was greatly heartened by Bill’s depression, frenzy, and hysterically funny turns of phrase.

In October, 2006, I wrote a story, “The Imitation Game,” in which Alan Turing escapes being murdered by the British secret service on June 8, 1954, and makes his way to Tangier, disguised as his Greek boyfriend Zeno. Turing has actually grown a copy of Zeno’s face which he’s glued to his face—and he left behind a copy of his face glued to the cop-poisoned Zeno’s face so that the Pig thinks they’ve offed Turing himself. That story is supposed to come out in Interzone magazine next month, the editor meant to put it out sooner, but lost track. You can, however, hear me reading “The Imitation Game” via podcast at my Feedburner link.

In his letters, Burroughs talks about his work in progress as being called Interzone, a phrase he probably coined because Tangier was at that time an International Zone, governed by France, Spain, Britain and Italy. This amalgam of “routines” became Naked Lunch.

By a routine, Burroughs means something like what we’d now call a rap or a rant. It’s kind of a vaudeville term. He starts talking about routines in his early 1950s novel, Queer. In a letter from June 24, 1954, he says a routine “is not completely symbolic, that is, it is subject to shlup over into ‘real’ action at any time (like cutting off finger joint [which Burroughs once did to impress a lover] and so forth).”

The routines are compressed short stories, long on affront, very in-your-face, often very funny. If you’ve read Burroughs you know what I mean. “Like snap, wow.” A phrase he uses a couple of times—a bit ironically of course—in one of his happiest and longest letters, written Oct 29, 1956, when he’s temporarily off junk and swinging with Miss Green. Even the threat of jihadist attackers amuses him. “It’s like the sight of someone about to flip or someone full of paranoid hate excites me. I want to see what will happen if they really wig. I want to crack them open and feed on the wonderful soft stuff that will ooze out.” Like snap, wow.

On Nov 1, 1955, once again after kicking junk and having a few words with Miss Green: “Watching a glass of mint tea on a bamboo mat in the sun, the steam blown back into the glass top like smoke from a chimney. It seemed to have some special significance like an object spotted in a movie. I was thinking like a book you read which also has pictures and accompanying music. Of course couldn’t approximate life itself which is seen, heard, felt, experienced on many different levels and dimensions…”

This dovetails synchronistically with the recent posts on RR vs. VR.

On Feb 18, 1955. He writes about an SF theme he hopes to weave into Naked Lunch. “…an anti-dream drug which destroys the symbolizing, myth-making, intuitive, empathizing, telepathic faculty in man, so that his behavior can be controlled and predicted by the scientific methods that have proved so useful in the physical sciences.”

Der Meister’s words hitting me like tracer bullets.

Synchronistically again, this is a theme in Hylozoic, where I write about the Peng birds siphoning off the world’s computational gnarl. I push it a little further, in that I don’t see a big distinction between the deep creativity of humans and the computationally irreducibility of matter. In Burroughs’s time, people didn’t yet realize that the physical sciences can’t in fact predict jack in terms of actual details, like which sand grain goes where in a slide.

In a letter of April 22, 1954, Burroughs mentions knowing Brian Howard, a dissipated graduate of Christ Church, Oxford, who might have known Alan Turing. Howard is in town for a cure of his (perhaps imaginary) TB. Howard in turn mentioned Burroughs in a letter, see Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure, edited by MJ Lancaster, 1968, in particular this page online, from Howard’s letter to his friend John Banting, in March, 1954: “a nice, if slightly long-winded, ex-Harvard creature of forty who is endeavoring to cure himself of morphinomania by taking this new medicine which the Germans invented during the war. There are several trade names for it. He uses two. Eukodal and Heptenal.”

If I fudge the dates a bit, I can suppose that Howard was still in Tangier in mid-summer of 1954, when Alan Turing hit the town. I want to write a story about him meeting Burroughs. I think I might write it in the format of “lost” letters from Burroughs. I’ll call the story “Tangier Routines” and publish it in Flurb. Flurb will print it for sure—I sleep with the editor (me).

It could be significant for the end of my story that Burroughs’s grandfather founded the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, later Burroughs Corporation, which was just beginning to get into computers in the mid-1950s.

To really emulate Burroughs in the composition of “Tangiers Routines,” I need to be pasting the thing together from scraps in letters. Or scraps in blog posts.

Perhaps Alan finds a way to form himself into something like a slug. He crawls across the room and schlup, he assimilates Burroughs. Or rather merges with him. In any case, the process ends with only one eccentric forty-year-old in the room. Feeling very full, Alan/Bill went into the outhouse in back and took a seventy kilogram dump — eliminating redundant parts. Like a corporation that’s “right-sizing” after a merger. And then home to re-organize the Burroughs Corporation!

Or maybe they’ll be wearing ruffs of shelf-mushrooms on their necks. And I want a Happy Cloak routine (more on that later). If it’s routines, then I don’t have to choose. It can all come down.

Dear Allen…

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15 Responses to “Starting “Tangier Routines””

  1. Joe Stinnett Says:

    Hey Rudy, got this on google alert for Lynchburg. Darrell and I still remember you fondly from your time here. No doubt you’ve been following the huge controversy over selling the R-MWC, now RC, art. Enjoyed this post — I bet you like Paul Bowles too, he’s one of my faves.
    Cheers,
    Joe Stinnett
    The News & Advance

  2. Mac Tonnies Says:

    Burroughs has been one of my favorites since college, when I got my hands on a copy of “Nova Express” and purchased the then-new CD reissue of “Call Me Burroughs.” I’m still trying to perfect my Burroughs drawl. Maybe it helps that we’re both native Missourians.

  3. Gary Says:

    Naked Lunch would make a fantastic animated movie.
    And his routines, for example from The Ticket That Exploded would make a wonderfully funny comic strip.

  4. Rudy Says:

    Naked Lunch WAS a good (non-animated) movie by Cronenberg. To avoid pushing the by-now-reflexive Drug War buttons, Cronenberg has Bill addicted to “bug powder” instead of some real-world street drug. There’s some fabulous stuff with Bill’s typewriter becoming alive—rereading his letters I see that he did indeed have troubles with the typewriter. I got to meet Burroughs around 1980 at the Naropa Institute. I gave him a copy of WHITE LIGHT. “Far out,” he said, handling it with his sensitive pincers.

  5. Gary Says:

    Far out is right. Man, sharing orgones with El Hombre Invisible himself. The next time I go to Powell’s I’ll have to pick up a copy of that book. After all, it’s “Interzone Approved”.

    And yes I completely agree. Cronenberg’s film was good. It’s one of the most brilliant under-rated films of our generation. Personally I’d like to see it in black and white. The lighting design is highly reminiscent of french new wave/film noir.

    But when I kited the idea about Naked Lunch being an animated film, I was thinking in terms of a more literal translation of the book. Off hand, I don’t think the violence as depicted in the book would be a problem. Many popular graphic novels with highly violent content has crossed over to film without any legal or political outcries.

    Of course there will be those who’ll be disturbed about the sexual depictions.
    Especially those who still equate any use of animated film as anything other that media strictly for children’s entertainment.

    True, Naked Lunch has been in print for over half a century and has been recognized as one of the most influential novels in 20th century literature.
    Even the current TV hit series ‘CSI Miami’ had the foresnics detectives pursuing a post-op transgender perpertrator named Dr Benway.

    However, just as Cronenberg mentioned in several interviews, no visual version would be able to depict the whole of the book. How many countries did he say it would be banned? Ninety?

    Who knows? Perhaps in another fifty years things will change. But I sure as hell wouldn’t hold my breath.

    The same also goes with comic strips depicting his work. However, that doesn’t mean that cartoonists can’t use Burroughsian techniques to break through the three to four panel gags that the media syndicates have strangled the very creativity out of them.

  6. linus r. Says:

    I stumbled across an unusual black and white photographic collection of Chris Stein and Debbie Harry in New York with Burroughs, I can not remember the name of the book…. all these black and white photos of Burroughs and Chris Stein and his infamous knife collection in a New York appartment…. maybe the following link is this book, I don’t know…. I’m not too familiar with any of this….
    http://www.amazon.com/Beat-Punks-PB-Victor-Bockris/dp/0306809397

  7. Alex Says:

    A strange and wonderful girlfriend bought me the strange and wonderful ‘Ah Pook is Here’ back in 1979, I always remember the weird quote “Death needs time for what it kills to grow in…”

    BTW. I finally got Cellab 2 to run on my Mac. Thanks to the CrossOver Mac software! I’m looking forward to checking it out.

  8. Gary Says:

    I watch a show yestarday about Alan Turing on http://www.inner-live.com . Anybody see it ?

  9. Gamma Says:

    i was sat here in this chair with these slow fingers when i heard that Sir Arthur C Clarke had gone up into the blue maybe tunnel elsewhere – i went to lay down & read aloud to Tami & the Poodle (jake) the story set in TIBET yu know the 9000000 Names of God fitting in with the turning of that old prayer wheel moving about – i suppose that yu will have a lot of fun if we shifted up a degree

    G

    & just before the BSFA Easter con arising at Heathrow

    Dave

  10. Eric Says:

    Hello Rudy,
    Thanks for your blog. Always interesting. I never knew that you lived in Lynchburg. I lived there from ’73 until I was 8 in ’81.

    Here’s a youtube video of Burroughs explaining his cutup technique. You may have seen it but I thought this would be a good spot to link it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NU3dIdqIBw

    “…the only thing that is not prerecorded are the prerecordings themselves…”

    Take it easy,
    E

  11. Gamma Says:

    i was just reading one of bills letters to Jack in that book now about Bills bit in 3-Fisted Tales – what the hell is it Rudy dat eshatonic thingy ma jig a log zen
    p@raps

    much peace & trans quity in yur BS

    G

  12. Gary Says:

    It’s tough to find a copy of WHITE LIGHT. Not even Powell’s here in Porland has a copy.

  13. Rudy Says:

    Gary, WHITE LIGHT is in print from Thunder’s Mouth Press; you can get it from Amazon, and I’m sure Powell’s could order it into the store or online as well.

  14. Gary Says:

    Thanks Rudy. I really want to check it out!

  15. Gamma Says:

    I think i have a VIRGIN copy except i opened it but the binding is good so i s’pose it ain’t virgin no longer – now where it be?
    anyway good idea rudy lets go to Tunisia next


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