Paul Bowles Photographs: How Could I Send a Picture into the Desert

Paul Bowles

An adroitly subversive collection of “souvenir snapshots” taken by Bowles in El Aougherout, a small village in North Africa, from the 1940s through the 1960s, centering on various aspects of daily life: the marketplace, the region’s proud male inhabitants, its gorgeous landscapes and architecture, the winding streets and beaches, personal friends and literary peers. The reader may find that a subtle yet vivid internal “hum” develops after perusing the entire sequence of photos in one sitting; an exotic/erotic undertone (the ominous mountains and desert backdrops, the back alleys, those two strapping youths in swimsuits mugging for the camera… ) not unlike that produced by much of Bowles’ fiction. Replete with a detailed introductory essay by Bischoff and a lengthy, informative interview culled from the author’s conversations with Bischoff between 1989 and 1991. Clearly a painstaking labor of love on the part of its editor, this book is a revealing, intimate glimpse into the world of a major writer notorious for his reticence working in a non-verbal medium. MDG

Publisher: DAP
Hardback: 256 pages

Total Abuse: Collected Writings, 1984-1995

Peter Sotos

Reads like an elaborate one-note joke whose aim is to shock, a predictable knee-jerk compulsion to sicken—either that, or a tiring exercise in pushing the limits of the First Amendment. Illustrates the basic shortcoming of any conceptual art, no matter what the discipline—it hinges on a punch line and, as such, once you get it the thrill is over (i.e., the joke ain’t funny the second time around—or the third or the fourth or the thousandth). Sotos’ moronic celebrations of the heinous include accolades to Klaus Barbie, necrophiles, child killers and rapists. He even lacks the peripheral saving grace of presenting a vision that’s distinctly “evil”—his words read like mediocre reportage. Difficult to take seriously on any level—even as a one-note joke it’s not funny, merely pointless. A provocateur for the MTV generation; clearly the product of someone with too much time on his hands. MDG

Publisher: Goad to Hell
Paperback: 240 pages

Crimes of Perception

Leonard George

An encyclopedic account of the most significant heresies and heretics that have shaped the conventional world view in Western culture. While emphasizing the heretical currents in Christianity, Judaism and the occult traditions, this volume also includes heresies involved with Eastern Christianity—Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Monotheletism and Bogomilism. The story of heresy, it quickly becomes clear, is one filled with accounts of bravery, stupidity, cruelty, devotion, surrender and awe—”a carnival of human passions,” as George describes it. Some of the more bizarre items include: Abraham Abulafia, the 12th-century Spanish messiah who marched on Rome in order to convert the Pope to Judaism; Abbe Guiborg, ringleader of a Satanic group that conducted magic rituals (including human sacrifices) in an attempt to control King Louis XIV’s love life; and Brother Twelve, the charismatic mystic who established an Aquarian community (complete with personal harem and heavily armed fortress) on the West Coast during the 1920s. With over 600 detailed entries, cross-references, a listing of entries organized by topic and an exhaustive bibliography of suggestions for further reading, Crimes of Perception is an enjoyable, highly readable collection of the major ideas, practices and persons deemed renegade by orthodoxies throughout Western history. MDG

Publisher: Paragon House
Hardback: 358 pages

The Bloody Countess: The Crimes of Erzsébet Báthory

Valentine Penrose

The authentic case history of the bloody crimes of Erzsébet Báthory, the 17th-century Hungarian countess whose chronicle of atrocities suggests a female counterpart to Gilles de Rais. A descendent of one of the most ancient, aristocratic families of Europe (as well as the offspring of centuries of intermarriage), Báthory appears to have been consumed by sadistic fantasies from as early as adolescence. By middle age these desires had escalated to witchcraft, torture, blood-drinking, cannibalism and, inevitably, wholesale slaughter. Taking the folkloric tradition of pure blood as remedy for disease to its psychopathic limits, the countess instigated a cycle of mutilation and butchering of virgin girls—all of whom were processed for the ultimate, youth-giving ritual: the bath of blood—which led to some 650 murders, the bloodless corpses carelessly buried throughout the Carpathian lowlands. Condemned to life imprisonment in a cell in her own castle, the unrepentant Báthory died on August 21, 1614, “without crucifix and without light.” Deftly translated by Alexander Trocchi (of Cain’s Book and Merlin magazine fame) and replete with an appendix containing extracts from her trial, The Bloody Countess is an intriguingly repulsive account of unchecked decadence and irredeemable transgression. MDG

Publisher: Creation
Paperback: 160 pages

The Adding Machine: Collected Essays

William S. Burroughs

A collection of 43 short essays that range in topic from autobiography to social commentary to ruminations on science to literary criticism. Discursive and linear, these reflections offer a rare glimpse into the sensibility of a novelist whose style is largely defined by allegory and the now-famous cut-up method. While the expository presentation may be unique (though Burroughs, it seems, is either incapable or unwilling to disengage from allegory altogether), the disposition isn't; his singular brand of indigenously American Libertarianism—caustic, scatological, hilarious, wistful—is evident throughout: “Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, anymore than a smallpox virus has.” There's a commonsense approach that informs his assessments of fellow writers as well. Of Beckett, he states: “If the role of a novelist is to create characters and the sets in which his characters live and breathe, then Beckett is not a novelist at all. There is no Beckett; it is all taking place in some grey limbo, and there is also no set.” Highlights include “Bugger the Queen,” a scathing attack on British royalty; “My Experiences With Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Box”; and “The Limits of Control.” MDG

Publisher: Little, Brown
Paperback: 216 pages

The Burroughs File

William S. Burroughs

A collection of short works published by small presses both foreign and domestic, focusing on Burroughs' experiments in language cut-up and photomontage drawn largely from the 1960s. Also includes The Retreat Diaries (1976), a day-by-day assemblage of “bits of dreams and poetry and associations cut in together” recorded on a Buddhist retreat in Vermont; and Cobble Stone Gardens (1976), an alternately bizarre and tender reminiscence of the author's childhood dedicated to the memory of his mother and father. Enhanced by the inclusion of “Burroughs in Tangier” by Paul Bowles (1959) and Alan Ansen's affectionate appreciation “Whoever Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death” (1959), The Burroughs File is an excellent compilation that provides the reader with Burroughs' principal literary output prior to his return to full-length fiction with The Wild Boys (1970). Writing to Ansen, Burroughs states: “Unless writing has the danger and immediacy, the urgency of bullfighting, it is nowhere near my way of thinking… I am tired of sitting behind the lines with an imperfect recording device receiving inaccurate bulletins… I must reach the Front.” MDG

Publisher: City Lights
Paperback: 230 pages

My Education: A Book of Dreams

William S. Burroughs

A dream journal that reads more like a memoir than some random collection of subconscious misadventures, My Education is Burroughs at his most vivid, impacted and vulnerable. Characters include everyone from friends (living and dead) to historical figures to extraterrestrials to his beloved cats. There's an elegiac, wistful tone throughout; the reflections and recollections of a man who, in his long life, has tasted (and endured) the extremes of love and suffering. Inherent in the very activity of dream—being outside of one's own body—is the element of transcendence, and this, too, emerges as a signature theme. While Burroughs has always questioned the limitations of language as they apply to meaning, here he repeatedly focuses that question on how those limits apply to loss. Tragically consistent with its overall mood, the book is dedicated to one Michael Emerton, a 26-year-old suicide; Burroughs writes: “An experience most deeply felt is the most difficult to put into words. Remembering brings the emptiness, the acutely painful awareness of irreparable loss.” Gone is the raging diagnostician of Naked Lunch and Nova Express; it's a kinder, gentler Burroughs within these pages—a long time in coming but well worth the wait. A must-read for anyone interested in the development of Burroughs' ongoing vision; an excellent introduction for the uninitiated. MDG

Publisher: Viking
Hardback: 193 pages

Naked Scientology/Ali's Smile

William S. Burroughs

A bilingual (German/English) chronicle of Burroughs' experiences with and critique of Scientology culled from articles originally printed in the L.A. Free Press, East Village Other and Rolling Stone. “No body of knowledge needs an organizational policy”, writes Burroughs, “Organizational policy can only impede the advancement of knowledge. There is a basic incompatibility between any organization and freedom of thought.” Also includes a letter to the editor of Rolling Stone from R. Sorrell, a representative of the Church of Scientology along with Burroughs' caustically arch response. The volume concludes with Ali's Smile, a satirical allegory on the nature of control with Scientology as its target. What the book makes unmistakably clear is Burroughs' rabid contempt for the lapdog follower, the submissive idiot ever ready and willing to obey the voice of authority. MDG

Publisher: Expanded Media
Paperback: 106 pages

The Yage Letters

William S. Burroughs

A short collection of correspondence (commencing in 1953) between Burroughs and Ginsberg focusing on Burroughs' travels through the Peruvian jungles in search of yage, an hallucinogenic plant used by Amazon Indian doctors for the purpose of locating lost bodies and souls. Most exciting, perhaps, is encountering Burroughs in an epistolary mode; his arch observations and bitchy wit bereft of the allegorical/nonlinear trappings of his celebrated novels (though many of the images in Naked Lunch are in fact taken from notes on the hallucinations caused by yage). Seven years later Ginsberg is in Peru and writes Burroughs an account of his own terrors with the drug, appealing to his mentor for counsel; a request Burroughs responds to somewhat cryptically: “There is no thing to fear. Vaya adelante. Look. Listen. Hear. Your AYUASKA consciousness is more valid than 'Normal Consciousness'? Whose 'Normal Consciousness'? Why return to?” The volume concludes with an epilogue (1963) containing a brief reflective missive from Ginsberg as well as “I AM DYING, MEESTER?,” a disturbingly elegiac cut-up by Burroughs provoked, presumably, by memories of his search for the drug: “Flashes in front of my eyes naked and sullen—Rotten dawn wind in sleep—Death rot on Panama photo where the awning flaps.” For all students of Burroughs as well as those interested in the literature of drug-induced altered states. MDG

Publisher: City Lights
Paperback: 72 pages

Encyclopedia of Black America

Edited by W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift

“A reliable and readable reference that represents in large measure the totality of the past and present life and culture of Afro-Americans,” The Encyclopedia of Black America is a thorough, indispensible survey and summarization of the various major and minor aspects of the history of black Americans. The work of nearly 100 contributors, this volume is an imaginative, balanced accumulation of research, review and coverage presented throughout with scholarship, clarity and reflection. Entries are divided into three categories: articles, biographies and cross references. One drawback, perhaps, is its scale, which necessitates a brevity the editors acknowledge as an unfortunate necessity as the result of space limitations of beyond their control. Nevertheless—and regardless of your specific area of interest—this extraordinary single-volume reference text on Afro-American life and history is an excellent place to begin. MDG

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 921 pages