Monday, 26 January 2015

The Ticket That Exploded

William S. Burroughs The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
The Ticket That Exploded is one of Burroughs' more intense cut-up novels in that the cut-up texts tend to dominate with not much in the way of more conventional forms to dilute the flow of information; and those parts of the narrative comprising regular, instructional texts about the operation of tape recorders and suchlike tend to be punctuated by means of hyphens rather than full stop with no additional concession to sentence structure, thus blurring the distinction.

Cut-up text is of course not so much random words and phrases as words and phrases selected for their apparent meaning from otherwise effectively random words and phrases. As with much of Burroughs' writing of this kind, impressions are formed by the images which seem to be described, and so a narrative appears to emerge as you read, even if it's hardly a linear narrative. One supposed purpose of the cut-up is divinatory or at least revelatory, allowing either the future or the truth to be revealed as a pattern within the otherwise random juxtaposition. Being as The Ticket That Exploded seems mostly written as random juxtapositions, it feels like certain truths of modern life and western society skinned and sanded down to expose the workings - not pretty to look at, but that's what's really going on here.

Word evokes image does it not? - Try it - Put an image track on screen and accompany it with any soundtrack - Now play the soundtrack back alone and watch the image track fill in - So? What is word? - Maya - Maya - Illusion - Rub out the word and the image track goes with it -

A lot of this reminds me of Debord's spectacle, specifically the separation of that which exists from its own image:

This is the principle of commodity fetishism, the domination of society by intangible as well as tangible things, which reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence.

This is probably nothing new in terms of either Burroughs or whatever it was I said about any of his other books, but it's worth saying, and worth noting how Burroughs managed to give each novel its own distinctive flavour despite that he was doing something essentially quite repetitive for most of his career. This one feels closer to science-fiction in the traditional sense than at least a few of the others, and still without following any conventions of the form, aside from a curious nod to Henry Kuttner's Fear; and on the subject of such references, I'm also intrigued to have here found a mention of New Worlds magazine and specifically Barrington Bayley, to whom Burroughs credits some innovation or other. I don't know much about Bayley, beyond having enjoyed The Four-Colour Problem. I had an impression of him essentially being the English Burroughs tribute act, but it's nice to think that there may have been some two-way exchange of ideas between these writers.

Actually, apropos of nothing and seeing as we're here, I can't help but notice that almost everyone with whom Burroughs ever shared a cup of tea and an iced bun turns up in one of his books except for Porridge, despite them having been such amazing bezzies and all that. Curious.

But anyway...

Get it out of your head and into the machines. Stop talking stop arguing. Let the machines talk and argue. A tape recorder is an externalised section of the human nervous system. You can find out more about the nervous system and gain more control over your reaction by using a tape recorder than you could find out sitting twenty years in the lotus posture.

So we are recordings of ourselves, or something along those lines. This is one of those books you really need to read for yourself, because what it says is fairly important - once you've divined it from the entrails - and there's no point trusting to the version in summary of what is, after all, only a review.

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