ce399 | research archive (esoterica)

Burroughs and the Mayans

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 14/07/2010

The Mayan Codices as the Beat Da Vinci Code to the United Snakes of America

Searching Google Books for more info about William Burroughs’ fascination with Mayan culture, I ran into the very informative and very well written book The Bop Apocalypse by John Lardas, published 2001. Because Crystalpunk is your friend I have typed some relative sections from screen into Word. Notice the way the Mayan influence on Burroughs is here related to his shooting of Joan Vollmer as well as to the Beat interest in Mexico in general.

During the early 1940s and late 1950s, Mexico held a special place in the Beats’ imagination. It was a place for introspection and decadence, where myth and reality converged in stifling heat and the haze of marijuana smoke. The Beat’s initial attraction was largely because of Burrough’s interest in Mayan codices, but as they read Sprengler’s description of Mexican history the country began to assume a mythic hue. They began to see the vast, ancient terrain as casting a prophetic shadow on contemporary America. In ‘Decline’, Sprengler spoke of the “Violent Death” of Aztec and Maya civilizations, which were overwhelmed by the “expansion power of the Western Soul”. These societies were “not starved, suppressed or thwarted”, he wrote, “But murdered in the full glory of [their] unfolding, destroyed like a sunflower whose head is struck off by one passing”.

Mexico became an experiential landscape where ideas were worked out, happenstance yielded new ideas, and mythic renderings were put to the test. Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg each made extended visits to Mexico in order to conform their Sprenglerian understanding of cosmic reality. Imaging themselves to be participants in an apocalyptic drama, Mexico either supported the utopian promise of America or sounded its death knell. In both cases, Mexico became a source of self-validation. As the Beats searched for America in Mexico, what each found depended largely on what he sought. Mexico became the ground beneath America, lurking behind its public façade – a referent whose history foretold America’s future. Kerouac and Ginsburg viewed the inhabitants of Mexico as a fellaheen remnant who had survived the decline of civilization and were now living in a post-apocalyptic age. They understood Mexican Indians, like the nomadic shepherds of Arabia from whom Sprengler derived the term, as a people without history, possessing neither past nor future, but only the immediacy of the present. These people, by virtue of the cosmic potency of their blood, embodied the source and ground of all life.

Burroughs believed that Mexicans had been forever corrupted by their historical experience – not only by the “expansion power of the Western Soul” but also by the totalitarian legacy of Mayan civilization and its ritual calendar. He has initially fled to Mexico in 1949 in order to avoid drugs and weapon charged in New Orleans. He found the environment corrupt politically, but the country was nonetheless a hospitable place to pursue his interests.

His studies of the Mayan language and codices deepened his appreciation for the ways and the means of control in Mayan culture. As Eric Mottram has pointed out, Burroughs became fascinated with how Mayan priests wielded absolute power over the public, albeit indirectly, through religious rituals. In naked Lunch, he referred to a clarity of vision achieved “when you cross the border into Mexico.” “Something falls off you”, he wrote, “and suddenly the landscape hits you straight with nothing between you and it, desert and mountains and vultures”. In a 1951 letter to Kerouac he attempted to disabuse of his “idyllic” and romantic conception of Mexico: “It reflects two thousands years of disease and poverty and degradation and stupidity and slavery and brutality and psychic and physical terrorism”. For Burroughs Mexico was in a perpetual state of corruption and degeneration that was already underway in the United States.

In Mexico, Burroughs envisaged the future of America, a depraved atmosphere of corruption and random violence. “Murder”, he wrote, “is the national neurosis of Mexico”. Burroughs soon encountered that neurosis. In September 1951, he and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer went to a friend’s house in order to sell a cache of guns. After some drinking and negotiating, Burroughs and Vollmer decided to perform a “Wilhelm Tell Act” with a .380 automatic. Tragically, he missed the highball glass balanced atop Vollmer’s head and shot her instead. Burroughs was devastated by Vollmer’s death and attempted to rationalize it by claiming to have been possessed by a spirit of external control.

Tags: burroughs maya qoutes beats mexico

Burroughs and the Mayans [What the Academics say]

Jennie Skerl’s 1985 book was one of (if not the) first books in which Burroughs was taken as subject for serious academic study. I have not made up my mind as to what Crystalpunk thinks of it. But here is what she writes about Burroughs’ use of Mayan imagery in ‘The Soft Machine’. The book’s cover has a great picture of Burroughs holding several ancient (mayan?) artefacts.

The priest-rulers are associated with the power imagery Burroughs uses for his Mayan and Minraud fantasies. Puerto Joselito is Burrough’s reinterpretation of Frazier’s ‘The Golden Bough’ and a critique of religion in Reichian terms. It is both an homage to and a reinterpretation of ‘The Waste Land’.

The theme of power is given its most detailed treatment in ‘The Mayan Caper’, a historical fantasy on Mayan civilization (seventh routine). ‘The Mayan Caper’ is the single most significant section of the ‘The Soft Machine’ because of its central placement in the text, because it is the longest sustained narrative, and because it gives the most straightforward exposition of how a control system can be dismantled. The Mayans are presented both as the historical beginning and the epitome of “civilization”: a social order in which a few control the many through manipulation of word and image. Literacy only makes the system more sophisticated. The Mayan priest-ruler class controls the mass of peasants through their calendar, a word-and-image system that orders time, space, and human behaviour. The calendar is the basis for the Mayan’s agricultural economy, their hierarchical system of classes, and their religion. The priests exert total mind control and thus have total mastery over the peasant’s bodies. The power imagery associated with the Mayans is the same as that of the Minraud people in the Nova mythology: religious sacrifice, insects, ants, centipedes, scorpions, crabs, lobsters, claws, white heat, and the city. The first part of the ‘I Sekuin’ routine, which immediately follows ‘The Mayan Caper’, makes the link to Minraud explicit and again emphasizes the importance of the Mayan fantasy as the classic type of all control systems.

Tags: burroughs maya quotes

The Mayans as the Keepers of Ancient Knowledge from the Cities of the Red Night [History with Burroughs]

Every Burroughologist knows that the ‘Cities of the Red Night’ comes from a different word-pile than the earlier cycle of books (roughly from ‘Naked Lunch’ to ‘The Job’). Quoting from an online excerpt it shows that the fascination with Mayan timekeeping was permanent with Burroughs. However, the Mayans are now part of a worldwide plot.

The Cities of Red Night were six in number: Thamaghis, Ba’dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana and Ghadis. These cities were located in an area roughly corresponding to the Gobi Desert, a hundred thousand years ago. At that time the desert was dotted with large oases and traversed by a river which emptied into the Caspian Sea.

The largest of these oases contained a lake ten miles long and five miles across, on the shores of which the university town of Waghdas was founded. Pilgrims came from all over the inhabited world to study in the academies of Waghdas, where the arts and sciences reached peaks of attainment that have never been equaled. Much of this ancient knowledge is now lost.

The effects of the Red Night on Receptacles and Transmigrants proved to be incalculable and many strange mutants arose as a series of plagues devastated the cities. It is this period of war and pestilence that is covered by the books. The Council had set out to produce a race of supermen for the exploration of space. They produced instead races of ravening idiot vampires.

Finally, the cities were abandoned and the survivors fled in all direction, carrying the plagues with them. Some of these migrants crossed the Bering Strait into the New World, taking the books with them. They settled in the area later occupied by the Mayans and the books eventually fell into the hands of the Mayan priests.

The alert student of this noble experiment will perceive that death was regarded as equivalent not to birth but to conception and go in to infer that conception is the basic trauma. In the moment of death, the dying man’s whole life may flash in front of his eyes back to conception. In the moment of conception, his future life flashes forward to his future death. To reexperience conception is fatal.



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