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Burroughs Live: The Collected Interview of Wiliam S. Burroughs, 1960-1997 (Double Agents) Paperback – December 1, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
For a man who hated interviews, William Burroughs (1914-1997) ended up doing quite a few of them over 30-plus years, appearing in print everywhere from Mademoiselle to Semiotext(e). Gathered for the first time in Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs, edited and annotated by Sylvere Lotringer, the 99 pieces begin with the fictional interviews that Burroughs wrote himself, elaborating his hallmark junkie personae, and ending on a conversation with Allen Ginsberg about Burroughs's exorcism. In betweem, the writer discusses interplanetary invasions, morphine addiction treatments, the influence of Rimbaud and Celine, his three lines of defence against criminals (a mace gun, a cobra, and a cane) and more.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This massive collection includes published as well as unpublished interviews with Burroughs and transcripts of conversations with celebrities like Tennessee Williams and David Bowie. For the most part, the material is arranged geographically and chronologically. In addition to Burroughs's life and art, the topics covered reflect the concerns of his novels narcotics addiction and drug laws, control and deconditioning, homosexuality, overpopulation, and censorship. Of particular note after September 11 are Burroughs's comments on terrorism. Burroughs, as Lotringer notes, hated being interviewed, and that's evident, particularly in the flat responses made in some of the shorter pieces. There is a good deal of repetition, and the editor's decision to provide bibliographic citations at the end of the volume rather than in a headnote is a real inconvenience to the reader, who must flip back and forth to find the source of each interview. Those industrious enough to sift through the silt will no doubt find their share of gold nuggets, but most readers will be adequately served by the more selective Conversations with William S. Burroughs. For research-level collections. William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
And after nearly 800 pages of "openness,' one is left with a deep sense of Burroughs' intellectual landscape... But oddly, not as strong of a sense of how he approaches his craft.
This has almost everything to do with his interviewers, the bulk of whom seem more interested in talking to The Legend rather than The Writer. After a while, these interviews start to read like attempts to commune with The Wise Old Cracker Barrel Sage On The Mountain, rather than attempts to reveal the creative processes behind an often brilliant writer.
This is especially evident when one reads interviews by J.E. Rivers and Jennie Skerl, which are actually NOT included in this book for some odd reason. Those interviewers are focused almost exclusively on getting Burroughs to talk about his WORK, and they are among the best interviews of him that are available. It's hard to fault "Burroughs Live" for being an incomplete endeavor, but these particular omissions are inexcusable (to read those particular interviews, you'll have to get Hibbard's "Conversations with...")
There are, however, many, many more insights that will amuse, engage and surprise the Burroughs scholar (and who else would read a bookof interviews THIS size?). During one early interview, for example, Burroughs dismisses the infamous "William Tell Routine" as an ugly rumour. This either casts a doubt over everything else he has to say, or fits in quite nicely with his vaudevillian huckster persona, depending on how you choose to proceed.
Obviously in a book this size, there are themes and ideas that are repeated from one interview to another... some ad nauseum. That helps to seperate Burroughs' actual infatuations from his transient interests, and provides some good context for reading his books. There are some, however, who will wish the editor had made some actual editorial judgements in this regard, which is a valid criticism.
Burroughs always appeared inaccessible while he was alive, but that was apparently not the case. It looks like he would talk to just about anyone who claimed to represent a journal of some kind, which makes me wish I had joined my college newspaper (which, by the way, had more thorough proofreaders than this book.)
The interviews, says Sylvere Lotringer at the outset, were altered from their original form in order to better serve the flow of the book. While this is understandable or even necessary given the number of interviews collected here, some of the editorial choices destroy any sense of the original interviews. In several cases Lotringer collapses different interviews with different interviewers from different times into one, creating a fictionalized pastiche of Burroughs live. & in other cases the editing of transcripts is so severe, as with the Playboy drug panel, that Burroughs comes out seeming like the subject of the article when originally he was just another participant. The thrill of the interview format is in seeing how a particular subject creates on the spot, how he interacts with the other participants & how the ideas of his work transfer to his life. While there's a good deal of originals throughout the book, many interviews needlessly lose the spontaneity of the originals as a result of editorial tinkering.
In addition, there is repetition, particularly from other books that an avid Burroughs reader would already have. There is material reprinted from the Re/Search book on Burroughs, as well as Victor Bockris's With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker. The pieces culled from the latter are particularly frustrating, since that book was already a collection of interviews. In addition, those pieces tend to be edited here! To reprint interviews already collected in book form is wasteful, but to alter them further is absurd. We would have been much better off with the complete transcripts of previously unavailable material, rather than the inclusion of recycled, re-edited, already-available interviews.
Finally, there are basic editorial errors throughout the book. Typographical errors, sometimes quite embarrassing (as when Burroughs tells David Bowie of a sound below the level of hearing - below 16 'Mertz'!), litter the whole book. There are several times where paragraphs are repeated word for word on a single page. There are even interviews that end in the middle of a sentence simply because that sentence came at the end of a page. As an editor myself, I can spot the telltale signs of unchecked OCRing (optical character recognition) - in other words, the editor scanned the interviews into his computer, used the OCR program to convert it to a text format, & never bothered to check the accuracy of the results. Any competent copyeditor would spot such errors from a mile away & easily fix them; the fact that this book has been published without such necessary editorial attention is disgraceful.
That said, there are many interviews collected here which would otherwise be impossible to find. There are translations from French & German, there are reprints from the myriad small presses Burroughs associated with in England, there are curiosities & oddities that might not have otherwise seen the light of day. For these pieces alone, this book remains a necessary purchase for us Burroughsphiles. But the errors of the editor keep this book far from being the last word on his interviews.
That Burroughs is a fascinating read in any format goes without saying. For all the intelligence, humor, & world-weary wisdom he imparted, he surely deserves a better publication than this.
Most recent customer reviews
Naturally this is a wonderfull collection of interiews of Mr Burroughs.Read more