Monday, August 18, 2014

Precis 2: Burroughs' Immortality


            William Burroughs’ Immortality serves as a perfect representation of the style of prose that would ultimately serve as a foundation to the beat movement. Burroughs’ blend of satire and dually bombastic and sardonic style of writing lends itself to social critique, serving as a synergistic combination useful in illuminating the irrational and the unjust in society. For example, Burroughs writes “science gives only a tentative answer: the "ego" seems to be located in the mid brain at the top of the head. "Well," he thinks, "couldn't we just scoop it out of a healthy youth, throw his in the garbage where it belongs, and slide in MEEEEEEEE?" So he starts looking for a brain surgeon, a "scrambled egg" man, and he wants the best.” Rhetorically there is a method to Burroughs’ madness. Burroughs calls the credibility of modern science as the pinnacle of consciousness into question.  Effectively he debases empirical science as the answer to all of life’s’ questions by underlining the irrationality and absurdity characteristic of blind faith in the empirically rational. His protagonist a death fearing “trillionaire dedicated to his personal immortality,” serves as a satirical vehicle to shed light on what Burroughs seems to view as childlike motivations of modern captains of industry whose fear and insecurity are projected onto society as greed and social injustice. Effectively Burroughs’ “parable of vampirism gone berserk” seeks first to assert the downfalls of free-market capitalist rule and more importantly to reclaim what he perceives to be a limited concept of immortality.
            This tale of greed and vampirism needs little interpretation as Burroughs asserts “personal immortality in a physical body is impossible,” just as the Buddha defined enlightenment as “the end of suffering” Burroughs overturns the traditional shown to be juvenile and instead lends a negative definition to immortality obligating his audience to redefine immortality beyond the material domain in their own terms. It doesn’t come as much surprise or coincidence then that Burroughs continues on to cite Buddhist literature. Burroughs puts the final nail in the coffin of the traditional definition of immortality when he presents and deconstructs the very ego people wish to preserve with the actualization of their daydreams of immortality. Under the Buddhist school of thought there is “no unchanging ego” as identification with ones’ thoughts means the mind as a tool comes to control its master or as Burroughs calls it “the me machine.” Suggesting disambiguation has occurred, Burroughs makes point to distinguish spirit from ego as he sees the human ego as the identification with ones thoughts, words and actions impeding the emancipation of the spirit prerequisite to his definition of immortality.
            Burroughs goes on to offer his own updated definition of immortality as that of prolonged future, more easily understood as the substitution of preservation of the present for the embrace of evolution. Evolution is to be understood not only on a biological level but also as societal progress from the conditions of today to those better suited to universal human flourishing. Important to this distinction is the introduction of Burroughs’ space narrative whereby he claims “immortality can be found only in space. Space exploration is the only goal worth striving for.” I imagine Burroughs laughing as he introduces such a paradox to a text right as its taking shape, but what I imagine Burroughs to mean here is as space is vacuous, immortality is found in the absence of space and time. Space then is a figurative means of defining the escape from a world of scientificity and material importance and to the arrival of a general unpolluted openness of the consciousness as called for by the states of being and meditations characteristic of Buddhist literature cited earlier in the text.
            It seems then what appears to be a fairly bleak text on a superficial level is actually fairly optimistic. In essence, Burroughs argues if humans can escape the forces that drive their egos and consequently the oppressive forces of society represented and for-shadowed by Mr. Hart who "perpetrates the most basic betrayal of the spirit, reducing all human dreams to his shit,"  then the spirit can be freed, whereby society and the human as vessel of the spirit can be propelled forward towards an evolution more suitable for human flourishing. “I postulate that the human artifact is biologically designed for space travel. So human dreams can be seen as training for space conditions...Art serves the same function as dreams.” Under Burroughs' logic, we humans as biological beings are capable of dreams, which he seems to have identified as the language of the human spirit he wishes to emancipate.  So if humans as biological beings can dream of a utopia just as we learn to walk in our dreams before we walk, our evolution into a new future which welcomes further innovation and consequent immortality as defined by Burroughs is very much possible as we need merely learn from our dreams, the dreams of others displayed through their works of art and conquer the egos which stand in our way. 

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