William S. Burroughs
introduction - by allen ginsberg prologue junky glossary
Bill Burroughs and I had known each other since Xmas 1944, and at the beginning of the `50s were in deep. correspondence. I had always respected him as elder & wiser than myself, and in first years' acquaintance was mazed that he treated me with respect at all. As timewore on & our fortunes altered -- me to solitary bughouse for awhile, he to his own tragedies and travels -- I became more bold in presuming on his shyness, as I intuited it, and encouraged him to write more prose. By then Kerouac and I considered ourselves poet/writers in Destiny, and Bill was too diffident to make such extravagant theater of self. In any case he responded to my letters withchapters of Junky, I think begun as curious sketching but soon conceived on his part -- to my thrilled surprise -- as continuing workmanlike fragments of a book, narrative on a subject. So the bulk of the Ms. arrived sequentially in the mail, some to Paterson, New Jersey. I thought I was encouraging him. It occurs to me that he may have been encouraging me to keep in active contact with the world, as Iwas rusticating at my parents' house after 8 months in mental hospital as result of hippie contretemps with law. This took place over quarter century ago, and I don't remember structure of our correspondence -- which continued for years, continent to continent & coast to coast, and was the method whereby we assembled books not only of Junky but also Yage Letters, Queer (as yet unpublished), andmuch of Naked Lunch. Shamefully, Burroughs has destroyed much of his personal epistles of the
mid-'50s which I entrusted to his archival care -- letters of a more pronouncedly affectionate nature than he usually displays to public -- so, alas, that charming aspect of the otherwise Invisible Inspector Lee has been forever obscured behind the Belles Lettristic Curtain. Once the manuscript wascomplete, I began taking it around to various classmates in college or mental hospital who had succeeded in establishing themselves in Publishing -an ambition which was mine also, frustrated; and thus incompetent in worldly matters, I conceived of myself as a secret literary Agent. Jason Epstein read the Ms. of Burroughs' Junky (of course he knew Burroughs by legend from Columbia days) and concludedthat had it been written by Winston Churchill, it would be interesting; but since Burroughs' prose was "undistinguished" (a point I argued with as much as I could in his Doubleday office, but felt faint surrounded by so much Reality . . . mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors . . . my own paranoia or inexperience with the Great Dumbness of Business Buildings of New York) the book was not ofinterest to publish. That season I was also carrying around Kerouac's Proustian chapters from Visions of Cody that later developed into the vision of On the Road. And I carried On the Road from one publishing office to another. Louis Simpson, himself recovering from nervous breakdown at Bobbs-Merrill, found no artistic merit in the manuscripts either. By grand chance, my Companion from N.Y. StatePsychiatric Institute, Carl Solomon, was given a job by his uncle, Mr. A. A. Wyn of Ace Books. Solomon had the literary taste & humor for these documents -- though on the rebound from his own Dadaist, Lettriste & ParanoiacCritical literary extravagances, he, like Simpson, distrusted
the criminal or vagabond romanticism of Burroughs & Kerouac. (I was myself at the time a nice Jewish boy with onefoot in middle-class writing careful revised rhymed metaphysical verse -- not quite.) Certainly these books indicated we were in the middle of an identity crisis prefiguring nervous breakdown for the whole United States. On the other hand Ace Books' paperback line was mostly commercial schlupp with an occasional French Romance or hardboiled novel nervously slipped into the list by Carl, while...