Word Virus by William S. Burroughs
The William S. Burroughs Reader

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Synopsis

With the publication of Naked Lunch in 1959, William Burroughs abruptly brought international letters into the postmodern age. Beginning with his very early writing (including a chapter from his and Jack Kerouac's never-before-seen collaborative novel), Word Virus follows the arc of Burroughs's remarkable career, from his darkly hilarious "routines" to the experimental cut-up novels to Cities of the Red Night and The Cat Inside. Beautifully edited and complemented by James Grauerholz's illuminating biographical essays, Word Virus charts Burroughs's major themes and places the work in the context of the life. It is an excellent tool for the scholar and a delight for the general reader. Throughout a career that spanned half of the twentieth century, William S. Burroughs managed continually to be a visionary among writers. When he died in 1997, the world of letters lost its most elegant outsider.
 

About William S. Burroughs

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From hipster to so-called Godfather of Punk, William Burroughs has lived a controversial life as a leading member of the Beat Generation and a daring writer of psychedelic literary experiments, but, when he reached his seventieth birthday in 1984, it was almost as if he had been overtaken by respectability. Burroughs was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1914 as the grandson of the man who invented the adding machine and a descendant of Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame. He attended Harvard University. Later while living a bohemian life in association with such Beat writers as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Burroughs became addicted to morphine and under the pseudonym William Lee published his first novel, Junkie, in 1953 as half of an Ace Double Books paperback. The novel escaped critical notice but may be seen now as the forerunner of his later fiction with its introduction of many of the themes, settings, characters, and amoral postures that became prominent with Naked Lunch (1959) and its successors. Refused by the American publishers to whom Burroughs submitted the manuscript, Naked Lunch first appeared in Paris under the Olympia Press imprint in 1959, the same year that Burroughs was permanently cured of his addiction. Naked Lunch might have remained ignored had not Mary McCarthy and Norman Mailer called attention to the work at the International Writers Conference held in Edinburgh in 1962. Burroughs's raw subject matter and seeming lack of discipline have alienated some of the more academic and genteel literary critics. Naked Lunch was followed by three additional novels about the Nova crime syndicate-The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964), which make use of overlapping characters and motifs. With The Wild Boys of 1971, Burroughs began to develop a new style more accessible to the general reader. Although Cities of the Red Night (1981) received mixed reviews, it was praised by such Burroughs experts as Jennie Skerl and Robert Burkholder as perhaps the best of his more recent novels. Of The Place of Dead Roads (1983) is true to Burroughs's various obsessions with guns, homosexuality, and the terror produced by people who are addicted to power and control. Today much of the psychedelic effect of Burroughs's fiction appears to be an illusion that masks rather deliberate methods of composition. These include "cut-out" techniques, pastiche, and the deliberate trying-out of styles derived from popular fiction genres to create literary montages that owe as much to fantasy and science as to the surrealism of avant-garde literature. Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922. His first novel, The Town and the City, was published in 1950. He considered all of his "true story novels," including On the Road, to be chapters of "one vast book," his autobiographical Legend of Duluoz. He died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969 at the age of forty-seven.
 
Published December 1, 2007 by Grove Press. 570 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Word Virus

Publishers Weekly

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Burroughs's companion, longtime editor and literary executor Grauerholz, and Grove editor Silverberg include selections from the writer's better-known works, as well as sections of the experimental ""cut-up"" novels--complete enough to give readers a feel for the form without exhausting those una...

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Entertainment Weekly

A gaunt, mannerly WASP who favored pinstripe suits (as seen in his Drugstore Cowboy cameo), Burroughs was also a heroin addict and counterculture figurehead who died in 1997 at 83.

Apr 16 1999 | Read Full Review of Word Virus: The William S. Bu...

CNN.com

In the wry rants against the apparatus of control in "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (from "Nova Express"), "The Name Is Burroughs" (from "The Adding Machine") and "From Here to Eternity" (from "Exterminator!"), readers see the classic Burroughs.

Jan 20 1999 | Read Full Review of Word Virus: The William S. Bu...

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