The writer William S. Burroughs was a polarizing figure. With his aristocratic-bohemian-reptilian disdain for the status quo and all things wholesome, he was both genuinely admirable in a certain sense but also seemed dizzyingly strange and scary. Maybe it was his (accidental) assassination of his wife Joan? His connections with arguably even stranger folks like L. Ron Hubbard and Wilhelm Reich? His lifelong drug addiction? Definitely not the best poster persona for the kind, gentle, sustainable lives we are all meant to be living these days. Nonetheless, to my mind, he was without doubt one of the most innovative writers of the Twentieth Century. His reputation may have faded but there always seems to be one more teenager huddled somewhere with a copy of Junky or Naked Lunch, or an art student entranced by (Brion Gysin and) Burroughs' Dada-inspired cut-up method. Barry Miles, longtime counterculture chronicler, has written a new biography of Burroughs and 2014 marks his hundredth birthday. Peter Schjeldahl has written a lengthy, ambivalent appraisal in The New Yorker and Jeremy Lybarger weighs in with considerably more enthusiasm in Bookforum. Both pieces well worth a read.
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