Monday, 12 December 2016

The Soft Machine - William Burroughs


So, what is The Soft Machine by William Burroughs about? What does it mean? And come to that, what is anything about? What does anything mean?
On reading The Soft Machine it's very clear that Burroughs was way ahead of his time and in fact, we're all still trying to catch up. In this post-truth Donald Trump world, of Brexit and HyperNormalisation, infotainment and fake news, Burroughs is the perfect accompaniment.

Martin Amis once said of Burroughs that when reading a book, most people like to have the author up in the control tower guiding the planes not running around on the runway waving their arms about. Or words to that effect.
William Burroughs was a total genius but if anyone came upon this book (or any others by him, actually) would they take it for the rantings of a lunatic? Would they liken it to a man having just stumbled out of a jungle having been lost there for months surviving on a diet of lizards, bark and bugs? The senseless gibberish of a man in the throes of fever? It's very likely. And would they be appalled? I would hope not. Rather, I hope they would recognise that Burroughs was doing something totally unique within the idiom of language; subverting it so as to reveal the hidden layers underneath and subsequently blasting a portal into another dimension of human perception.

"Shoot your way to freedom, kid," writes Burroughs and he doesn't mean with a pistol. Up to Lexington 125, feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive. I'm waiting for my Man.
"Hello, I'm Johnny Yen, a friend of - Well, just about everybody."
'Green lizard boy with slow idiot smile poses on the bank of a stagnant stream under a railroad bridge A sleeping carrion hunger flickers in his eyes one hand rests lightly on his worn leather jock strap.'
"Cut word lines - Cut music lines - Smash the control images - Smash the control machine - Burn the books - Kill the priests - Kill! Kill! Kill!"
It's a scary world we live in when text derived from Burroughs' cut-up and fold-in technique from 1961 makes more sense and is closer to the truth than what is printed in the newspapers these days.
"We don't report the news - We write it."

How do you review a book like The Soft Machine? The answer is 'You don't'. The Soft Machine is beyond such things. You read it and that's all. In doing so, however, you're allowing its parasitical presence to invade your body so as to do battle with all the other parasites you're riddled with (whether you know it or not?). That's my understanding of it, anyway.
And if you're looking for a name to call your band, this is the place to go. Soft Machine has already been taken (Robert Wyatt had that one) as has Dead Fingers Talk, and even the term 'Heavy Metal'. 'Upper Baboonasshole' has a certain ring to it though, don't you think? Grab it quick whilst it's still going I'd advise, or you'll soon be seeing some act appearing on X Factor or Britain's Got Talent calling themselves it before they hit The Charts...
John Serpico

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