Tuesday, 29 March 2016

My Education


William S. Burroughs My Education (1995)
This was Burrough's last book to be published whilst he was alive, and as with 1987's Western Lands you can kind of tell he was cramming for his finals, so to speak. The text comprises descriptions of dreams Burroughs' set down immediately upon waking - presumably over a long period given the quantity - worked into something which is at least as much a novel as any of the others, if more obviously autobiographical due to the general composition of many of the dreams.

For the least couple of decades I've tended to regard dreams as excursions to an actual place, namely the Precolombian Mexican underworld as described in T.J. Knab's autobiographical and ethnological A War of Witches. Knab describes indigenous Nahua belief in our entire world existing in replica down there, and how we visit this land of the dead in dreams, even meeting other dreamers as well as those who have passed on. Here I suppose I should stress that I don't subscribe to this idea as something literal so much as a useful understanding, one which lends our dreams a more interesting narrative than the traditional combination of cheese before bedtime revealing stereotypical desires to shag your own mother or whatever.

Anyway, with this in mind, My Education is both fascinating and surprisingly touching as autobiography. Whilst there's always a lot of the man in his writing, this time we additionally meet the people and things which I guess must have meant something to Burroughs, at least beyond the more familiar subjects of guns and bumholes. We meet Ian Somerville, Brion Gysin, and - oddly - Mick Jagger several times, and even Burroughs' parents; and we are taken to the places he lived, over and over, and are left with a feeling that it all adds up to something, even if what that might be eludes conventional description. My Education feels somewhat akin to setting a house in order prior to departure, as I suppose it possibly was, although this could simply be my reading of it. Whatever the case, the narrative reveals a gentle, likeable Burroughs in a way that his previous works have tended not to, without necessarily appearing out of character.

Very good.

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