Australian Critics of Scientology
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William S. Burroughs dead at 83

Emerald, David Gerard, 03 Aug 1997

From: (David Gerard)
Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: William S. Burroughs dead at 83
Date: 3 Aug 1997 19:12:56 +1000
Message-ID: <>

On 3 Aug 1997 07:35:21 -0000,
Emerald <> wrote:

:    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (August 2, 1997 11:45 p.m. EDT) -- William S.
:    Burroughs, the stone-faced godfather of the "Beat generation"
:    whose experimental novel "Naked Lunch" unleashed an underground
:    world that defied narration, died Saturday. He was 83.

Damn, damn, damn. If anyone was ever gonna live forever it was
gonna be him. Ah well.

:    Burroughs died at 6:50 p.m. in Lawrence, Kan., at Lawrence
:    Memorial Hospital, about 24 hours after suffering a heart attack,
:    said Ira Silverberg, his longtime New York publicist.
:    "The passing of William Burroughs leaves us with few great
:    American writers. His presence in the American literary landscape
:    was unparalleled," Silverberg said.

Hey, and don't forget his status as Slacker Role Model - bummed around,
went deliberately downwardly-mobile, didn't get around to doing his
Great Work until forty-five, and lived off his parents until he was
*fifty*. And STILL changed the face of Western culture. You should do
so well ;-)

:[Burroughs was in Co$ briefly in the late 1960s.  He went "clear"
:before leaving and writing several scathing critiques of the cult.]

Here again is the thing on Burroughs' time in Scientology, from the
book 'Literary Outlaw'. You MUST get this book - it's the best-written
biography I've *ever* seen ... a real page-turner. It's mentioned on
Martin's book list:

   Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. Morgan,
   Ted. (It has a pile of stuff on Burroughs and Scn and, truth be told,
   was something that helped bring me to this newsgroup - Burroughs is
   into some, er, rather silly ideas, but he does turn them to good
   creative effect. The biography is fantastically well-written and a
   real page-turner. And it's more or less authorised, but Burroughs is
   old enough that he doesn't have much to lie about any more.
   Recommended highly. - David Gerard.)

My copy was published by the Bodley Head, London, and is ISBN 0 370 31586 3.


Burroughs lamented the loss of another member of the core group, and remembered their days together in East Texas. At that time, however, he was consumed by a new passion - Scientology. The teaching of L. Ron Hubbard attracted him as a fresh area of psychic investigation, which


also might help him where psychoanalysis had failed. Hubbard's basic premise was that words heard in an unconscious or semiconscious state - a state induced by infantile trauma, anesthesia, or drunkenness - were recorded by the subject. These recorded words he called "engrams," which loaded you down with emotionally crippling although suppressed memories. For instance, words heard during an operation would, when repeated, cause pain and anxiety. The system of therapy was for the subject to be "audited" on an E-meter - a machine like a lie detector that measured galvanic skin response, when psychic stress created changes in the electrical resistance of the skin. The needle moved when there was a "reading," which indicated anxiety in response to a question. When you came to a painful incident, you kept running it (repeating the question) until you got a floating needle, showing that the subject was no longer disturbed by the incident. In other words, you repeated the material until it lost its emotional charge and became neutral.

Still suffering from a childhood trauma that he had never been able to unravel, Burroughs thought Scientology auditing was of great benefit. It could do more in ten hours than psychoanalysis could do in ten years. After taking the beginner's course at the London headquarters, 37 Fitzroy Street, he took the "clear" course in mid-January 1968 at St. Hill, a fortress-like compound lacking only a moat and drawbridge, in East Grinstead, about fifty miles from London.

This was a two-month solo audit course, eight hours a day, five days a week - it was as grueling as a full-time job. At the end you were supposed to be "clear," that is, rid of your engrams.

The auditing sessions were so emotionally charged that at the first one, Burroughs blacked out. It started rather formally, with the male auditor facing the subject saying: "Pick up the cans, please. This is the session." As he held the two metal cans, the auditor asked questions and watched for movements of the needle.

"If you were talking to an army colonel, what would you talk about?"

"I couldn't talk to any army colonel I ever saw."

"Fine, thank you. All right. If you were talking to an army colonel about that, what would you say exactly?"

"I would tell him he is too stupid to find his own balls."

"Fine, thank you. And if you were talking to the President, what would you talk about?"

"Drug hysteria."

"Fine, thank you. And what would you say, exactly?"

"What are you trying to do, turn America into a nation of rats? Our pioneer ancestors would piss in their graves."


"And if you were talking to the Pope, what would you talk about?"

"Birth control."

"Fine, thank you. And what would you say exactly?"

"Sure as shit, they will multiply their assholes into the polluted seas."

"That's it, we'll take a break now," the auditor said, giving him an orange drink. He said that Scientology had the answers he was looking for. Step by step he could become an Operating Thetan (a higher degree of clear).

After the break, they began an exercise called Overts and Withholds. Burroughs talked about Kiki, his Tangier boy, and said that when Kiki went away, he felt dead. The auditor asked him to return to the incident and tell him everything, like what Kiki was wearing.

Burroughs got as far as "it was" when the room went dark and he lost consciousness. The last thing he felt was the hair on the back of his neck rising like a cat's. The needle was slamming around on the machine. When he came to, he heard the auditor say, "A Rock C slam" (a strong reaction).

As Burroughs continued the sessions, he saw that sometimes there were release points to readings that neither he nor the auditor understood. They were things buried in his unconscious that he didn't know he knew, but when they surfaced the auditor got a floating needle. When the auditor got a read on a question about hieroglyphs and asked what it meant, Burroughs said, "The emerald beginning and end of word," and the auditor got a floating needle. On another reading, the release point was the phrase "Why, it's just an old movie." Yet another release point was Scobie, the character in the Graham Greene novel The Heart of the Matter, with his rusty handcuffs on the wall.

As rewarding as the auditing process was, Burroughs was distressed by other aspects of Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard, whom no one ever saw, was idolized, particularly by the young female members, who came on at breakfast with thinly disguised sexual dreams about the Great Non-Presence, like young nuns dreaming about their bridegroom Jesus Christ. Burroughs was sharing a house with seven other ScientoIogists, and they would all pile into a car in the morning and drive like hell, because if you were late you would be put into a condition of Liability, which meant that you had to wear a gray armband and you were not allowed to wash or shave. You had to go around collecting signatures to be absolved of Liability. Also, the attitude toward non-Scientologists was militantly hostile. They were seen as the enemy, and were referred to by Hubbard in his taped lectures as WOGs, the old colonial acronym for Worthy Oriental Gentlemen.


What most disgusted Burroughs, however, were the Sec Checks, a sort of Orwellian thought police. You would be called in for a Sec Check and be asked the following questions on the E-meter: "Are you here for any other reason than what you say you are?" "Do you have any doubts about Scientology?" "Are you connected to a suppressive person [anyone in disagreement with Scientology]?" "Do you harbor any unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard?" Burroughs got a reading on that one, and when the question was repeated he weaseled out of it by saying, "Yes, I can't help resenting his perfection." You learned to say the right thing. But it was humiliating, like a return to kindergarten, and going to Sec Checks reminded him of a line in Celine: "All this time I felt my self-respect slipping away from me, and finally completely gone, as if officially removed."

Returning to Duke Street on weekends, he used postcard photographs of L. Ron Hubbard as targets for his air pistol, but while cocking the pistol the hammer snapped on his thumb and nearly broke it. Boy, ol' Ron was spittin' back the curse. Ian and Alan Watson were still in the flat, but Ian had found a job in computers and was in a much better frame of mind.

In June, as one of those under suspicion of harboring unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard, Burroughs took the dreaded Joburg, a series of 104 questions about every conceivable form of criminal activity. Each question had to be cleared (floating needle), and it took three weeks and eighty hours of auditing, because there were too few auditors and too many applicants. Burroughs ran all the material flat until there wasn't a tick left.

Of course, on a question like "Did you ever fuck your mother?" you got a protest read, and then if you got a second read they would ask you what that meant, and you might say, "Well, I've had this fantasy." You worked through that, and if you still got a read, it started to look bad.

Burroughs was asked, "Have you ever concealed a body?"

"Of course not."

"There's a read here."

Burroughs saw himself hiding a body in an alley in some sort of ancient Egyptian setting. "I think it's Whole Track [all past lives]," he said. The auditor rephrased the question: "In this life, have you ever concealed a body?"


"That is clear."

"Did you ever commit forgery?" the auditor asked. He said he had not. "There's a read," the auditor said. He suddenly remembered that


he'd forged narcotics prescriptions. The machine knew things the mind had forgotten.

After taking the advanced clearing course in Edinburgh, Burroughs left Scientology, impressed by the auditing techniques but disgusted by the authoritarian organization and the stupidly fascistic utterances of L. Ron Hubbard. The aim of Scientology, complete freedom from past conditioning, was perverted to become a new form of conditioning. He had hoped to find a method of personal emancipation and had found instead another control system. Scientology roped you in and bound you. It was like a state, with its own courts and its own police, its own rewards and penalties, and its own ludicrous jargon.

Returning to his Duke Street flat in July 1968, Burroughs was pleased to find that Alan Watson had left for the south of France with some rich queen. What a relief it was to find him gone. You didn't know how someone dragged on you until he wasn't around. The trouble was that Ian had moved out, too, to a mean overpriced hovel in the heart of London's smogland, at 55 Red Lion Street, way on the wrong side of the British Museum. Burroughs wondered what he could do to get Ian back. It was the sexual attraction between Alan and Ian that made it difficult, like interfering in a boy-girl affair.

For Ian, Scientology was the last straw. Burroughs was on an auditing binge. He wanted to round up people in the street and chain them to E-meters. It was all he could talk about. He put a sign up in the Indica Book Shop, around the corner from Duke Street, which was run by Ian's friend Barry Miles, offering to do free audits. When he tried to audit Ian, Ian fled, telling Miles, "When Bill turns that Operating Thetan glare on me, I just know it's time to leave." It made his skin crawl to have Bill fixing him with this weird eyelock. He hated the whole Scientology movement, it was spurious and tacky, and Bill's intelligence was being wasted. Bill claimed he was just investigating it but in fact he was hooked. Since he couldn't audit Ian he audited Harold Norse, who was spending a few months in London. Norse told him, "I'm lonely." Burroughs kept running it on the E-meter and discovered that loneliness was a cover, and his real problem was that his boyfriend didn't want to sleep with him.

Burroughs was cultivating people like John McMasters, who had originated many of the Scientology techniques but had broken with Hubbard. He was a compelling speaker who had traveled the world making thousands of converts to Scientology, and he described himself as "the happiest man alive." Once Burroughs and McMasters went out to dinner at a restaurant on Greek Street called La Cucaracha. They had quite a bit to


drink, and Burroughs gave the waiter a pound to sing "La Cucaracha," which brought back fond memories of his days as an exterminator. When the song was over, McMasters leaned over close to Burroughs, as though intent on imparting a deep secret, and said, "Did I ever tell you that in my previous incarnation I was Rudolph Valentino?" Burroughs pursed his lips and said: "Really, John? Most interesting."

The auditing sessions were interrupted that August by an offer he couldn't refuse. Esquire wanted him to cover the Democratic convention in Chicago, along with Terry Southern and Jean Genet. A hard-hitting troika, thought Burroughs, delighted to get out of London.


In 1969, at the time of Culverwell's residence, Burroughs was working on The Wild Boys and The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. In his spare time , he played with his E-meter. When Ian called in March saying that a burst water main had caused traffic to be diverted in front of his building, making an unrelentingly deafening roar, Burroughs told him to run it through the E-meter. The next day Ian told him the traffic had been redirected. Burroughs had great faith in the powers of the E-meter. A thousand blacks with E-meters, he wrote Brion Gysin, could integrate the Bible Belt.


In 1973, Exterminator! was published by Viking, Burroughs having left Grove Press with his editor, Richard Seaver. A collection of short pieces, many of them previously published in magazines, Exterminator! was somewhat disingenuously presented as a novel.

In one of the pieces, "The Discipline of DE" (Do Easy), which had to do with the right technique for doing everything correctly, Burroughs' puritan WASP background came out of the closet. His thesis was that carelessness in small things would be repeated in large ones. In small daily occurrences lay the potential for disaster. Therefore, there was a correct technique for every activity: "Guide a dustpan lightly to the floor as if you were landing a plane." "Don't pull or tug at a zipper. Guide the little metal teeth smoothly along feeling the sinuous ripple of cloth and flexible metal." "Replacing the cap on a tube of toothpaste ... let the very tips of your fingers protrude beyond the cap contacting the end of the tube, guiding the cap into place." "If you throw a match at a wastebasket and miss get right up and put that match in the wastebasket."

Had he continued in this vein, Burroughs could have made a reputation for himself in the self-improvement field. What he was saying, and felt deeply, was that spilling something or breaking something was not just a moment of clumsiness but a symptom of a larger disorder. "Who or what," Burroughs asked, "was this opponent that makes you spill drop and fumble slip and fall?" Groddeck had called it the IT, a built-in self destructive mechanism. Hubbard called it the Reactive Mind. Burroughs had suffered its tragic consequence when the gun he had aimed at a glass had fired low. He now applied great care to every small task. DE, he believed, was helpful in all areas of life. What were illness and disability but questions of neglect? Wyatt Earp had been a practitioner of DE when


he had said: "It's not the first shot that counts. It's the first shot that hits. Point is to draw aim and fire and deliver the slug an inch from the belt buckle."


When Burroughs came to see his son, he found it hard to stay in the room. The presence of death was too overpowering. He lay there puffy and yellow, his face partly masked by the breathing machine. The only thing that might save him would be a liver transplant, but they had no donor. There was talk of "termination." The only heartening note was a visit from Trungpa, who told Burroughs, "To live or die, either one is good ... I think he will live." His was an optimism that no one else was advancing. Trungpa was not a doctor, but he was a spiritual healer with considerable experience in life-and-death situations, and Burroughs clutched at the straw he offered.

Someone at Burroughs' side wanted to read a passage from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an encouragement to the dying to continue on their peaceful route to the Great Beyond. "Dammit!" Burroughs exploded, thinking of L. Ron Hubbard's engram theory. "Don't read that thing to him, he's in a fucking coma and he might listen."

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