William Burroughs’ aesthetics


(Artwork by William Burroughs)

In William Burroughs’ theory of art he invokes Pan, the god of panic, whom he identifies with the awareness that everything is alive. He contends that the birth of Christ was the death of Pan. Pan represents the primitive belief that there is no distinction between the reality of ordinary waking consciousness and the reality in dreams, fantasies or vision. After the introduction of Christianity the celebration of Pandemonium was no longer a public event. As Christianity spread, Pandemonium was relegated to mythology. In art pandemonium is allowed back in and then make-believe and illusion run the show. For the artist, like the primitive, no distinctions are drawn between the sense of reality of the imagination and the sense of reality of ordinary awareness. When both are illusion and both are real, then art happens. All art creates what Burroughs calls, “a basic disruption of reality.” He cites Duchamp placing an ordinary object in a frame and making it art, but he wants to reverse the process. He wants to take the frame off the art and let the reality of art be as real as the ordinary. That is apocalypse, letting the belief that everything is illusion overcome the belief in the separation of dream and reality. Art screams out, “The illusion is real, and the real is illusion.” Remove the frame and everything is art. Recognize the illusory nature of the ordinary and art leaps off the walls and becomes a way of seeing instead of something seen.
When art comes out of the frame the assigned categories no longer hold. From this time on the basis of conceptualization is no longer valid. In the apocalypse thinking grinds to a halt and is replaced by silence, the great silence of pure unobstructed observation where everything shows itself for just what it is. Things are revealed outside the conceptualized categories built on previous perception. When art comes out of the frame and off the wall the page is torn in two. The words no longer work; they are no longer functional in the same way. Now words play across the silence like fireworks in the night sky.
This is the last act, the end of everything as we know it. We are born into silence, not the silence of the deaf but the silence of seeing without the imposition of words. Then, what you see in your dreams is as real as what you see any other time, everything is real and alive. When Pan appears even the inorganic is vital and flowing, there is “mineral lust”. In the apocalypse art runs amok, the planet is loosed from its axis, everything is spilled into the void. The fabric of reality is torn, Pan runs wild in the streets, cities are attacked by graffiti artists and household appliances revolt.


(Artwork by Brion Gysin)

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2 Responses to William Burroughs’ aesthetics

  1. Lamont says:

    Michael–There are worlds within worlds, eternities of consciousness in your line: “Recognize the illusory nature of the ordinary and art leaps off the walls and becomes a way of seeing instead of something seen.” Yes, art is being, being is art.


  2. Jeremy Belk says:

    Take the frame off and let art run amok in the streets!


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