Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Ghost of Chance

William S. Burroughs Ghost of Chance (1991)
Just to get it out of the way because it doesn't really have anything to do with the book, Ghost of Chance is apparently ideal for the supercool heavy-duty intellectual in your life, according to someone called Elizabeth Young who, according to Wikipedia, was a London based literary critic and author who championed transgressive fiction. It also says that she wrote for numerous papers and periodicals, so I assume this quote must have come from something she had published by either the Daily Mail or People's Friend, because it's probably the most gormless endorsement of Burroughs I've ever read, unless she was taking the piss or something.

Anyway, Ghost of Chance revives Captain Mission from the pages of Cities of the Red Night, and - so it turns out - reality, seeing as we apparently have no good reason to doubt his having existed. Mission was a pirate who seemingly set up a short-lived but generally progressive libertarian colony on an island off the coast of Africa back in the 1700s. Burroughs pins his interpretation to Madagascar whilst using the island's lemur population as a barometer for mass extinction as related to humanity and our bewilderingly shitty conduct. Being Burroughs, we inevitably fly off at a few obtuse angles here and there, notably with a discussion on disease which posits the existence of a Jesus Christ virus which causes one to turn the other cheek and so permit the propagation of evil; and we even get a few nods to Alfred Korzybski, of whom A.E. van Vogt was quite the fan.

Also included is a sequence of illustrations by Burroughs which intersect the narrative with an almost musical regularity, like bursts of white noise. They're abstract, splatters of something like watercolour suggesting repeating patterns without actually containing any. I had a feeling they might have been inspired by dream machine usage and so tried looking whilst rapidly blinking my eyes, and in doing so I found that the images take on an almost three-dimensional sense of movement, which is odd. They suggest crepuscular things half seen against the backdrop of one's inner eyelid, which is similarly how Burroughs' writing works - not so much by telling you what happened and thus imposing a narrative, as by describing blocks of cause and effect which invite the reader to make connections.

This is only what Burroughs did for most of his career, but here the technique particularly benefits from the focus facilitated by a relatively low page count, rendering what seems an unusually direct and punchy statement for old Billy.

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