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Posts Tagged ‘William S. Burroughs

“How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity”*…

Andy Warhol, Polaroid photographs of Truman Capote and William S. Burroughs

When one writer speaks frankly to another: William S. Burroughs’s bizarre and mean– and strangely prescient– “open letter” to Truman Capote after the publication of In Cold Blood

As Thom Robinson writes at RealityStudio, Burroughs had long been dismissive of Capote—and sometimes resentful of his success. For his part, Capote was none too impressed with Burroughs, who wasn’t yet the literary star he would become. Robinson quotes Capote telling the Chicago Daily News in 1967: “I hate pop art to death . . . Now William Burroughs. He’s what I’d call a pop writer. He gets some very interesting effects on a page. But at the cost of total lack of communication with the reader. Which is a pretty serious cost, I think.”

In the below letter, Burroughs engages in a sort of bizarre role-play, claiming (it seems) to speak for a department responsible for the cosmic fate of writers. He tells Capote that he has been following him closely, reading his works, his reviews, and his actions, even interviewing his characters, and that he has decided to withdraw the talent given to him by the department and curse him to never write anything good again—as if he were a minor god of creative action, or king of the muses. Robinson points out that Burroughs actually believed in curses at this time, and maybe he was right, because his damning words came true—he never wrote anything good again. Read Burroughs’s attack on Capote below. (He’s also not too keen on the New Yorker.)

July 23, 1970

My Dear Mr. Truman Capote

This is not a fan letter in the usual sense—unless you refer to ceiling fans in Panama. Rather call this a letter from “the reader”—vital statistics are not in capital letters—a selection from marginal notes on material submitted as all “writing” is submitted to this department. I have followed your literary development from its inception, conducting on behalf of the department I represent a series of inquiries as exhaustive as your own recent investigations in the sunflower state. I have interviewed all your characters beginning with Miriam—in her case withholding sugar over a period of several days proved sufficient inducement to render her quite communicative—I prefer to have all the facts at my disposal before taking action. Needless to say, I have read the recent exchange of genialities between Mr. Kenneth Tynan and yourself. I feel that he was much too lenient. Your recent appearance before a senatorial committee on which occasion you spoke in favor of continuing the present police practice of extracting confessions by denying the accused the right of consulting consul prior to making a statement also came to my attention. In effect you were speaking in approval of standard police procedure: obtaining statements through brutality and duress, whereas an intelligent police force would rely on evidence rather than enforced confessions. You further cheapened yourself by reiterating the banal argument that echoes through letters to the editor whenever the issue of capital punishment is raised: “Why all this sympathy for the murderer and none for his innocent victims?” I have in line of duty read all your published work. The early work was in some respects promising—I refer particularly to the short stories. You were granted an area for psychic development. It seemed for a while as if you would make good use of this grant. You choose instead to sell out a talent that is not yours to sell. You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on the New Yorker—(an undercover reactionary periodical dedicated to the interests of vested American wealth). You have placed your services at the disposal of interests who are turning America into a police state by the simple device of deliberately fostering the conditions that give rise to criminality and then demanding increased police powers and the retention of capital punishment to deal with the situation they have created. You have betrayed and sold out the talent that was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially withdrawn. Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. Over and out. Are you tracking me? Know who I am? You know me, Truman. You have known me for a long time. This is my last visit.

[original in the Burroughs Archive of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection]

Can one writer curse another for life? “William S. Burroughs’s Hate Letter to Truman Capote,” from Emily Temple (@knownemily) in @lithub.

[image above: source]

* William S. Burroughs

###

As we examine enmity, we might send apocalyptic birthday greetings to Harold Egbert Camping; he was born on this date in 1921. A Christian radio broadcaster and evangelist, he presided over Family Radio, a California-based radio station group that, at its peak, broadcast to more than 150 markets in the United States.

Camping is notorious for issuing a succession of failed predictions of dates for the End Times, which temporarily gained him a global following and millions of dollars of donations. Camping first predicted that the Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994. When it failed to occur, he revised the date to September 29 and then to October 2.  In 2005, Camping predicted the Second Coming of Christ to May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken up to heaven in the rapture, and that “there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world.”

His prediction for May 21, 2011 was widely reported [including here], in part because of a large-scale publicity campaign by Family Radio, and prompted ridicule from atheist organizations and rebuttals from many other Christians.  After May 21 passed without the predicted events, Camping said he believed that a “spiritual” judgment had occurred on that date, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the final destruction of the universe by God. That, of course, also didn’t happen. But as Camping had suffered a stroke in June of 2011, he was largely silent thereafter… though in March 2012, he announced that his attempt to predict a date was “sinful,” and that his critics had been right in emphasizing the words of Matthew 24:36: “of that day and hour knoweth no man.” Family Radio is still recovering from the fallout of the failed end-times predictions.

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