April 24, 2010

Michel Houellebecq vs. William Burroughs (Quotes)

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Oil on Canvas: “William S. Burroughs 3″

Michel Houellebecq — the misanthropic, caninophilic French novelist — and William Burroughs both deploy thorough visions of the world. They proffer more or less elaborate cosmologies, ethics, and particularly critical assessments of humanity. And both view the act of writing in general, and their own writing in particular, as an active force doing some kind of battle, performing some kind of negotiation, with the powers of stupidity, evil, greed, and banality. Both understand the human universe as being at the mercy of non-human laws — for Houellebecq, it’s all species, biology, physics; for Burroughs, it’s biology, physics, magic.

But whereas Houellebecq sees a world of absolute bleakness, Burroughs sees a world of plenitude — filled with shit and bile and semen and stupidity and cruelty but full nonetheless. If Houellebecq offers a world heading to zero, Burroughs offers a world of infinite complexity.

On Society

Houellebecq
I don’t like this world. I definitely do not like it. The society in which I live disgusts me; advertising sickens me; computers make me puke.

Burroughs
America is not so much a nightmare as a non-dream. The American non-dream is precisely a move to wipe the dream out of existence. The dream is a spontaneous happening and therefore dangerous to a control system set up by the non-dreamers.

The Future of Humanity

Houellebecq
Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movements of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure ‘Victorian fictions.’ All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact, and radiant.

Burroughs
Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.

Youth and Dreams

Houellebecq
Adolescence is not only an important period in life, but that it is the only period where one may speak of life in the full sense of the word.

Burroughs
As a young child I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.

Influence

Houellebecq
I’ve lived so little that I tend to imagine I’m not going to die; it seems improbable that human existence can be reduced to so little; one imagines, in spite of oneself, that sooner or later something is bound to happen. A big mistake. A life can just as well be both empty and short. The days slip by indifferently, leaving neither trace nor memory; and then all of a sudden they stop.

Burroughs
I am not one of those weak-spirited, sappy Americans who want to be liked by all the people around them. I don’t care if people hate my guts; I assume most of them do. The important question is whether they are in a position to do anything about it. My affections, being concentrated over a few people, are not spread all over Hell in a vile attempt to placate sulky, worthless shits.

Sex

Houellebecq
In a perfectly liberal sexual system, some people have an exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude.

Burroughs
There is nothing more provocative than minding your own business.

Love

Houellebecq
Love binds, and it binds forever. Good binds while evil unravels. Separation is another word for evil; it is also another word for deceit.

Burroughs
Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller. What there is. LOVE. TC mark

Article complied by Daniel Coffeen.

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