BURROUGHS, William S. [TLS to Allen Ginsberg with Enveloped Addressed in Burroughs’ Hand, and Typescript of his Essay ON THE E-METER.]
London: np, 1969. One 4to. page typed letter signed “Bill” and dated March 3rd, 1969 from Burroughs’ London address. With one small hand correction and two lines crossed out. Approximately 185 words. A bit faded. Near fine. 4pp. 4to. typescript with Burroughs’ holograph page numbering to upper right-hand corner of each leaf, one line blacked-out, and a handful of type-written corrections. Fine. With envelope addressed by Burroughs to Ginsberg “c/o The Committee on Poetry” at Ginsberg’s Woodstock farm. Rubbing and edgewear, a bit roughly torn open. Very good.
The original letter and typescript published in the Burroughs issue of Allen DeLoach’s Intrepid [Miles C260 “Letter to Allen Ginsberg” and C263 “On the E Meter”], the first serious and comprehensive examination of Burroughs’ post Naked Lunch work. Originally mailed to Ginsberg, the poet presumably later passed these to DeLoach (the items originate with the DeLoach estate) for inclusion in Intrepid #14/15 (provided).
The envelope bears Burroughs’ Duke Street address where “he lived for seven years, first in flat 22, later moving to flat 18, a smaller, cheaper apartment higher in the building. Brion Gysin took over flat 22 […] ” (Barry Miles, William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible 167). Humorously addressed to “Allen Ginsberg, Esq.,” Burroughs was likely referring to both Ginsberg’s frequent run-ins with the law as well as his increasing role as amateur legal advisor to many arrested friends and acquaintances. The mailing was sent “c/o Committee on Poetry,” the non-profit organization Ginsberg had founded a few years earlier for the dual purpose of financially aiding struggling poets and presses (often friends) while simultaneously sheltering Ginsberg’s increasing income from taxation in support of a war he opposed.
Written to Ginsberg during the poet’s retreat to his Woodstock farm after the traumatic events of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (which Burroughs had also attended on assignment for Esquire), the letter touches upon a few personal matters, most notably Ginsberg’s recent auto accident (Burroughs notes: “Glad to hear you’re on the mend”). But mainly, the letter deals with Burroughs’ enclosed essay on Scientology’s E-Meter. Penned with Burroughs’ characteristic orneriness, the letter reads in part:
The scientologists have put me in a condition of ‘treason’ for saying they should publish the clearing course material. When anyone starts telling me what I can and cannot say in published work that is it [sic]. I dont [sic] want any more to do with them. If you read between the lines of the enclosed article you will see what I am saying: all you need is the E Meter.
The essay itself, untitled in this typescript, is a fairly journalistic account of the E-Meter. Burroughs details its history, uses and potential uses, as well as instructions and advice for operation. The typescript contains several minor variations from the published version (grammar, punctuation and in a few instances emphasis). However, the most intriguing difference is one sentence edited from the final version, blacked out but legible in typescript:
However, anyone preparing to use the E-Meter is well advised to take the course of instruction offered at the Scientology Center.
Burroughs’ excising of this sentence, and his apparent discomfort with recommending direct contact with Scientology, reflect his growing unease with the movement.
Burroughs’ interest in and association with Scientology dates to the late fifties:
Burroughs had tinkered with Scientology since 1959, but in 1967 he at last decided to investigate it thoroughly and took a beginners’ course at the London headquarters in the West End. In mid-January, 1967, he took the two- month solo audit course at Scientology World Headquarters […] Burroughs came to regard the E-Meter as a useful device for deconditioning, though he had growing doubts about some of the other Scientology technology, and grave reservations about their policy as an organization. (Miles 172-73)
Again, as Barry Miles put it, “[H]e never had any time for the organized religious side of it and disliked most Scientologists he met” (127).
Burroughs’ eventual fall-out with Scientology was public and acrimonious. Besides Intrepid, Burroughs criticized Scientology in print on several other occasions and in 1972 “attacked” Scientology’s London headquarters via tape recorder and camera (see Miles 140 and 174). Nonetheless, Scientology’s influence on Burroughs’ writing was substantial.
Most prominently in The Nova Trilogy and in particular with The Ticket That Exploded (1962), Burroughs’ ongoing theme of escape from control parallels both the work Burroughs did with the E-Meter as well as his refusal to submit to Scientology’s requirements:
[In] The Ticket That Exploded […] [t]he reader is presented with a choice: either stay in the Garden of Delights, drugged, hallucinating, in a phony, unreal world created by your controllers, or come out of the Garden and see grim reality. Burroughs is in no doubt as to which is preferable. (Miles 134-35)
In 1978 Burroughs published Ali’s Smile/Naked Scientology, a short collection of his most critical writings on Scientology. It remains his most cohesive statement on the matter, and brings to close his efforts begun in Intrepid:
In view of the fact that my articles and statements on Scientology may have influenced young people to associate themselves with the so called Church of Scientology, I feel an obligation to make my present views on the subject quite clear.
The items here offered represent a critical chapter in Burroughs’ life and thinking.
Burroughs’ and Ginsberg’s relationship is, of course, legendary. They met through Lucien Carr in 1944 while Ginsberg was a student at Columbia. Following Ginsberg’s expulsion from that institution (for among other things, being caught in bed with Jack Kerouac), Burroughs served as mentor, psychotherapist, teacher, inspiration, and occasional lover to the younger Ginsberg. During these early and formative years, Burroughs was instrumental in the formation of what would become known as the “Beat” movement. Burroughs’ importance to Ginsberg’s development is reflected in the poet’s famous dedication of his masterpiece Howl: “To […] William Seward Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, an endless novel which will drive everyone mad.”
Likewise, Ginsberg’s involvement with Burroughs’ own writings, especially his most well-known work, was considerable. Early on, Ginsberg helped edit and type drafts of Naked Lunch; he also submitted it to publishers and small magazines on Burroughs’ behalf. Later on, as his influence grew, Ginsberg pushed for the book’s publication, ultimately arranging its placement at Grove Press. And upon publication, Ginsberg was among the novel’s earliest and strongest champions, leading ultimately to the poet’s testimony in support of Burroughs and the novel during the subsequent and much-expected obscenity trials. In 1963, the pair published their only joint book, The Yage Letters, a collection of their correspondence.
Though they never worked so closely or successfully together again, they remained life-long friends and it would be difficult to overstate the importance of their relationship: on their own respective works, the Beat movement as a whole, or on the culture at large. From Marlon Brando to Maynard G. Krebs, the hippies to the yippies, punks to performance artists, the Beats have served as prototype for most every bohemian-counter-culture and literary movement of the last fifty years. And while primary materials from Kerouac (who left much with various intimates) and Ginsberg (who regularly gave away materials for cash-strapped friends to sell) have been relatively obtainable, Burroughs manuscript and typescript examples have long been uncommon in the marketplace. And with Burroughs’ archives now at the New York Public Library (and Ohio), increasingly scarce. In addition, as Ginsberg’s archives were deposited en masse to Stanford, this is perhaps the only letter between these two Beat giants not currently behind institutional walls, and one of only a handful of association items between the “holy trinity” of Beats (Kerouac-Ginsberg-Burroughs) ever to come to market. A truly rare opportunity to acquire a document from one of greatest literary friendships and movements of the 20th Century.