This passage seems to describe the landscape of the Burroughsian novels – a deteriorated city, which only palely echoes the signs of human activity, so crammed with unreality and hallucination that its own facades are beginning to crumble. This desolated vista of the city appears both in the Nova and in the Red Night trilogy. Burroughs depicts a city in which the artifice and the controlling network of information have eaten away at nature itself: They do not have what they call “emotion’s oxygen” in the atmosphere.
The medium in which animal life breathes is not in that soulless place – Yellow plains under white hot blue skies – Metal cities are controlled by the Elders who are heads in bottles – Fastest brains preserved forever […] An intricate bureaucracy wired to the control brains directs all movement . Significantly, these descriptions of the desolate city come from the third person narrator and never from the characters, who do not seem to be aware of, or mind, the squalor surrounding them.
These are the images of a city oversaturated with viruses, hallucinogenic substances and behavioral patterns which enforce incomprehensible laws on individuals. In Cities of the Red Night this image of the city is again (objectively) given by the omniscient narrator: “I will make myself clearer. We know that a consuming passion can produce physical symptoms…fever…loss of appetite…even allergic reactions…and few conditions are more obsessional and potentially self-destructive than love. Are not the symptoms of Virus B-23 simply the symptoms of what we are pleased to call ‘love’?
[…] I suggest that this virus, known as ‘the other half’, turned malignant as a result of the radiation to which the Cities of the Red Night were exposed. ” Ba’dan: This city is given over to competitive games and commerce. Ba’dan closely resembles present-day America with a precarious moneyed elite, a large disaffected middle class and an equally large segment of criminals and outlaws. Unstable, explosive, and swept by whirlwind riots. Everything is true and everything is permitted. In the first example, the virus is insidiously equated with probably the most cherished of human values – love.
The B-23 virus shares the same symptoms with love, therefore it will be very difficult to detect. The quotation outlines the idea that the virus has become “the other half” which constitutes itself in evident antithesis to individuality. The dialectic other becomes ominous and hostile in Burroughs’ cities, the structure itself having become infected. In the second quotation, we can notice how the ultimate example for the city in Burroghs’ novels is the American city, the epitome of capital and of a society organized around, and beneath, a rarefied elite.
Burroughs is thus deconstructing the idealized images of the capitalist city and exposing the unhealthy network of relations governing it. Conclusion This paper has sought to interpret the world depicted by William S. Burroughs – the outcast writer of the Beats – as an unmasking of the spectacular society. In this sense, William S. Burroughs places himself against the grain, he is deconstructing mainstream cultural and political practices of the capital state.
The theoretical texts which were applied in this analysis of Burrough’s work have proven very useful in addressing the following issues: the overlapping of illusion and reality, the invisibility of the spectacle and the paradoxical deterioration of the city, despite the cultural emphasis on surfaces, mirrors and other spectacular devices.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Transl. by Sheila Glaser, University of Michigan Press, 1984. Burroughs, William S. The ticket that exploded. Grove Press, 1987. Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994,