William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

William S. Burroughs

David Woodard and Burroughs standing in front of a dreamachine invented by Brion Gysin; Burroughs collaborated with Gysin in popularizing the literary cut-up technique, with which he wrote Naked Lunch.

Shotgun Art. Heroin Addict. Satirist. Cut-up technique.

Do not ask me to explain Burroughs or his work; Naked Lunch was one of the most bewildering experiences I’ve ever had, and not in a good way. But his legacy matters.

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within investigates the life of the legendary beat author and American icon. Born the heir of the Burroughs Adding Machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems, and self.

He was forced to deal with the tragedy of shooting and killing his wife (while drunk) and the repercussions of neglecting his son. His novel, Naked Lunch, was one of the last books to be banned by the U.S. government. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer testified on behalf of the book. The courts eventually overturned the 1966 decision, ruling that the book had important social value. It remains one of the most recognized literary works of the 20th century.

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.

William Burroughs was one of the first to cross the boundaries of queer and drug culture in the 1950s, and write about his experiences. Eventually he was hailed the godfather of the beat generation and influenced artists for generations to come. But his friends were left wondering if he had ever found contentment or happiness.

Independent Lens: William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Sunday, February 27, 10:30 pm, WOSU TV
Friday, March 4, 1:00 am, WOSU TV

This program investigates the life of the legendary beat author and American icon. Born the heir of the Burroughs’ adding machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems and self. He was forced to deal with the tragedy of killing his wife and the repercussions of neglecting his son. His novel, Naked Lunch, was one of the last books to be banned by the U.S. government. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer testified on behalf of the book. The courts eventually overturned the 1966 decision, ruling that the book had important social value. It remains one of the most recognized literary works of the 20th century.

This extremely personal documentary pierces the surface of the troubled and brilliant world of one of the greatest authors of all time.

– Scott

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