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Burroughs' strange trip

The author's travels led him to Tangier

October 31, 2002|Susan Carpenter

Literary renegade William S. Burroughs was a unique character, one whose eventual success was fueled by his early failures. These days, he is revered as a drug-addled philosopher and psychedelic literati, but he may never have been known if it weren't for his inability to find a publisher in the 1940s and his subsequent downward spiral into the underworld.

That's where his career truly began -- as a thieving morphine addict traveling from place to place, a lifestyle he later used as source material for his first published book, "Junk." Shortly thereafter, he killed his wife, in what may or may not have been an accident -- an incident he later credited as the true inspiration for his writing and one that prompted his flight to South America.

After spending some time in Ecuador and Peru, where he experimented with the Amazonian psychedelic ayahuasca, Burroughs settled in Tangier in the early '50s. It was there that he met Brion Gysin, who invented, and introduced Burroughs to, the dreamachine.

Gysin was a writer and a painter who thought of his art as spells intended to produce specifics effects on viewers. He designed the dreamachine to take things one step further. Using it, he believed, would paint pictures inside the viewer's head. Although Gysin thought the dreamachine would become "the drugless turn-on" of the '60s, it never achieved that status. Still, it's had its faithful practitioners, among them Burroughs, who used his to cure writer's block.

-- Susan Carpenter

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 07, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 304 words Type of Material: Correction
Book title-- A story on the late William S. Burroughs in the Oct. 31 Calendar Weekend referred to the book "Junk." The correct title of Burroughs' book is "Junky."

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