Wednesday, June 28, 2017


The Soft Machine: The Restored TextThe Soft Machine: The Restored Text by William S. Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

”In order to accomplish the purpose I prostituted myself to one of the priests---(Most distasteful thing I ever stood still for) ---During the sex act he metamorphosed himself into a green crab from the waist up, retaining human legs and genitals that secreted a caustic erogenous slime, while a horrible stench filled the hut---I was able to endure these horrible encounters by promising myself the pleasure of killing this disgusting monster when the time came---And my reputation as an idiot was by now so well established that I escaped all but the most routine control measures---.”

So the paragraph above that I shared with you is strange, but easily understood. Now check out this paragraph.

”Larval people whispering flesh. Eyes ejaculated spine mud. Black gum in member. Old junky coughing limestone in the obsidian morning: the sale mirror to red sky. Manipulated spasms puppets vestigial meat. Pulsing pink shell. Red pagodas and crystal accounts. Wet dream eyes hanging in lust of dead flesh patios. Boy chrysalis in streets of postcard. Eating birds patrol black lichen. Catatonic sports sear lungs of dream clay. Lust of mud bubble coal gas the insect street. Flesh ejaculation. Penis in the broken mirror rocks of Marwan. Serving the crystal dawn photo of sex. On the Brass and Copper Street.”

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This book was originally composed using the cut-up technique inspired by the artist Brion Gysin. Let me define cut-up for you: ”Cut-up is performed by taking a finished and fully linear text and cutting it in pieces with a few or single words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged into a new text.” So William S. Burroughs wrote a traditional novel and then cut those sentences up into pieces and rearranged them randomly. Maybe less of a creative process than just a random throw of the dice. Burroughs was not happy with the 1961 edition, and in several editions after the original, he continued to make radical changes. It is the type of novel that possibly, because of the randomness of design, can never be finished.

He added more standard prose to each new edition to make the book more readable. There is this moment when he writes: ”But then who am I to be critical?” I chuckled because it was as if he were talking to the reader. There is a lot of homosexual sex described, but a lot of it is fairly repetitive. He likes the words jissom (jism) and rectum, and the phrase ”ragged pants to the ankles.” Did I say there was a lot of sex description? I meant there is oceans, mountains, oodles, gobs, and, forgive my French, a$$loads, (Yes, I’m being tongue in cheek) of sexual situations.

There is a linear prose chapter titled The Mayan Caper which gives the reader some idea of what they are actually reading about. If you do decide to take on the task of reading this novel, and you become bogged down, frustrated, discombobulated, or start screaming uncontrollably, please skip ahead to this chapter and soothe your ruffled reader’s soul with at least something you can wrap your mind around.

I made notes of some cool passages that I really liked:

”An evil old character with sugary eyes that stuck to you.”

“They were ripe for the plucking forgot way back yonder in the corn hole---Lost in little scraps of delight and burning scrolls.”

“The man opposite me didn’t look like much---A thin grey man in a long coat that flickered like old film.”

“ these times when practically anybody is subject to wander in from the desert with a quit claim deed and snatch a girl’s snatch right out from under her assets.”

“When the boy peeled off the dry goods he gives off a slow stink like a thawing mummy.”

“Crab men peer out of abandoned quarries and shag heaps some sort of vestigial eye growing cheek bone and a look about them as if they could take root and grow on anybody.”

Even the linear prose is sometimes as confusing as the cut-up technique sections. Most people probably do not need to read this trilogy, but if you are someone who enjoys looking at words used in unusual ways, or if you are someone who wants to write innovative songs or progressive novels, or if you are someone who thinks that you understand what edgy writing is all about, you probably do need to at least dip a toe into the murky waters of Soft Machine.

What will I do? Well, I will read the rest of the series and probably, over time, everything that Burroughs wrote. I save his books for a time when I feel I am becoming stale or too comfortable. Sometimes, I just reach these crustaceous moments when I start to feel like a barnacle attached to the underside of a boat, permanently moored in port.

”Human faces tentative flicker in and out of focus. We waded into the warm mud-water. Hair and ape flesh off in screaming strips. Stood naked human bodies covered with phosphorescent green jelly. Soft tentative flesh cut with ape wounds. Peeling other genitals. Fingers and tongues rubbing off the jelly-cover. Body melting pleasure-sounds in the warm mud. Till the sun went and a blue wind of silence touched human faces and hair. When we came out of the mud we had names.”

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