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the Complete Review
the complete review - interviews



The Job

by
William S. Burroughs


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Job



Title: The Job
Author: William S. Burroughs
Genre: Interviews
Written: (1974)
Length: 224 pages
Availability: The Job - US
The Job - UK
The Job - Canada
Le Job - France
Der Job - Deutschland
  • The Job - Interviews with William S. Burroughs by Daniel Odier
  • Originally published in French in 1969, as Entretiens avec William Burroughs
  • Expanded to include:
    • Playback from Eden to Watergate (first published in Harper's, 1973)
    • Electronic Revolution 1970-71 (first published in 1971)

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Our Assessment:

B : good introduction to Burroughs' ideas and his mind

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       The Job isn't a straightforward set of interviews. For one thing, this edition expands on the French original by including later pieces, such as Playback from Eden to Watergate (1973). For another, Burroughs inserted previously written material throughout where he felt it best addressed Odier's questions. As he notes in his brief Foreword:

The result is interview presented as a film with fade-outs and flash-back illustrating the answers.
       Odier covers most of Burroughs' areas of interest. Drugs, sex, Burroughs' word-experiments (especially cutting up and pasting together texts), and a variety of scientific and pseudo-scientific theories are discussed at length. Examples -- stories and texts created by Burroughs -- offer a number of sometimes quite far-flung (or perhaps far-fetched) variations on the themes.
       Burroughs' answers to the questions posed of him are often surprisingly sober and reasonable -- especially about drug use (and specifically addiction). One can question his belief in why there are strict drug laws (though it's a fun theory, as are all his anti-government rants), but he is also very aware of the issues surrounding drug use (and addiction) and the individual, and he explains his thoughts well.
       Of particular interest are also his responses to questions about writing in general. He admits to refusing to be present at the Boston Naked Lunch-trial, certain that he wouldn't have been much help -- and quite opposed to the way the case was presented:
I was left with the impression that the whole thing was an absolute farce. The defense was trying to demonstrate that Naked Lunch has social significance, and this seems to me quite beside the point
       It might also surprise some to find that Burroughs does not wholeheartedly endorse pushing language and writing to all limits, holding, for example, that Finnegans Wake "represents a trap into which experimental writing can fall when it becomes purely experimental."
       Burroughs' explanations of cutting and pasting texts (and tape recordings) are also interesting, though this is one aspect of his experimentation that has largely been superseded (or soon will be), as the computer now allows such cutting and pasting in many more variations, much more quickly. (Odier actually asks Burroughs about computers, but at that time doing anything with them was, of course, terribly cumbersome and "very complicated".)
       It is also amusing to read Burroughs' complaint (from 1969 !) that "so many novels now really come under the head of journalism, they try to accurately describe just what people actually do." His anti-Tom Wolfe attitude is, of course, always most welcome.
       Some of Burroughs' "science" is of interest -- particularly his word-virus ideas:
My basic theory is that the written word was actually a virus that made the spoken word possible.
       It is a neat idea, and Burroughs' offers a good explanation of this -- and the consequences thereof.
       He also displays interest in other fringe science -- Wilhelm Reich and L. Ron Hubbard, for example. Perhaps not entirely critical enough, he is still fairly careful in his opinions, believing there are at least aspects to some of these theories that must be more closely examined.
       Throughout, there is Burroughs' wonderful contempt of government and the concept of nationhood -- with some sensible explanations about these as well (and a few that are completely over the top).
       There are some ugly things as well, notably Burroughs' misogyny ("The less the two sexes have to do with each other, the better, I think.)
       And there are also some very nice things, such as the brief introductory piece where he considers the last great frontier -- space travel, "the step into regions literally unthinkable in verbal terms". Burroughs recognizes the obvious, that: "anyone who prays in space is not there". Here, as in all his writing, he tries to "consider techniques of discovery", of giving in to space (or silence or the world) and not clinging to prayer or such things.

       Offering his answers to questions on many different topics, as well as longer asides displaying his writing-approach to these questions, The Job is a good introduction to William Burroughs' thought and work. There is some repetition, and some lack of focus, but it still serves as a good, approachable introductory text.

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Links:

The Job: William S. Burroughs: Other books by William Burroughs under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction at the complete review
  • See Index of the most unusual books under review

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About the Author:

       William Seward Burroughs II was born 5 February 1914 and died 2 August 1997. He is the author of such noted works as Junky and Naked Lunch and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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