Saturday, July 21, 2007

Miller And Burroughs

Henry Miller is often considered a grandfather of Beat literature. Anyone reading William S Burroughs will likely make the assumption that Miller had in some way influenced works such as Naked Lunch. This possible connection has been recently explored in great detail over at RealityStudio.org, a dynamic and comprehensive site dedicated to Burroughs. Henry Miller And William Burroughs: An Overview manages to cobble together a surprising amount of related detail to form a portrait of two men who, if not bound by any true personal contact (or interest, for that matter), were connected in spirit, like literary ancestors on the same genealogical tree.

"If you place Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch side by side, the books do seem to exhibit a secret rapport, like the telepathy of twins. Both are “pornographic,” non-linear, autobiographical, and bristling with black humor. The hunger that is the driving force in Tropic of Cancer parallels the addiction in Naked Lunch: Miller is always looking for a meal, Burroughs is always desperate for a shot."

Burroughs always denied being influenced by Miller; doesn't even seem to have read him, or, if he did, had little effect. Miller admired the "ferocity" of Burrough's writing, but had trouble relating to it or getting through an entire book. The two authors met only once, at the Edinburgh Writers Conference in 1962.

Burroughs: "I met him at the Edinburgh Literary Conference in 1962 at a large party full of literary people all drinking sherry in the middle of the floor and he said, 'So you’re Burroughs.' I didn’t feel quite up to 'Yes, maître,' and to say 'So you’re Miller' didn’t seem quite right, so I said, “A long-time admirer” and we smiled. The next time I met him he did not remember who I was but finally said, 'So you’re Burroughs.'" (quoted in the essay, from an interview with Victor Bockris).

The essay is a fascinating read which also touches on things like the physical inaccesibility of Miller's work to Beat authors such as Jack Kerouac. Also presented on the website is a copy of the brief letter typed by Burroughs in support of Miller's Nobel Prize campaign, in which he called Miller a "uniquely qualified candidate" of "great intrinsic merit."

This RealityStudio essay is followed by a letter from Ian MacFadyen, in which he offers an in-depth exploration of the similarities in the language and themes of Miller and Burroughs.

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