23 October (1955): William S. Burroughs to Allen Ginsberg & Jack Kerouac


Below, William S. Burroughs writes to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac from Tangier, discussing writing, withdrawal, and sexual violence. “Letter A,”  referenced in the post-script, was comprised of “the beginning of Chapter II of the Interzone novel,” which was an early version of  Naked Lunch.


October 23, 1955, Tangier

“Letter C”

Dear Allen and Jack,

Kiki just brought me your letter—no date on it. Now, Al, I’d cut off my right nut to see you, may I fall down and be paralysed and my prick fall off, but I don’t want to give you the impression I’m like on my way to Frisco, because it ain’t necessarily so like a lot of things you’re liable to read in my letters. To begin with I got no loot. I wrote you from the withdrawal doldrums. Actually, Tangiers is looking up—What I mean is I don’t know what the fuck I will do when I get out of here and that is pact, I mean a fact. There’s a war here I want to dig, also Perganum harmala which is same thing as Yage used by Berbers, also Barrio Chino of Barcelona that Genet writes about, and the rest of Spain for which I feel an affinity; may make overland trip to Persia with Charles Gallagher. May visit Ansen in Venice, would like to dig Yugoslavia, and the queer monasteries of Greece… Also figure to start at one end of Interzone and screw my way through to the other. I am tired of monogamy with Kiki. Dryden speaks of the Golden Age, “Ere one to one was cursedly confined.” Let’s get on back to that Golden Age. Like the song say, “A boy’s will is the wind’s will”…Besides which my mind is seething with ideas to make a $—some of them not exactly legit. The Nice Night Nurse just gave me a bang and it is hitting me right in the gut, a soft, sweet blow. I call her “The Nice Night Nurse” to distinguish her from the bitch who gave me a shot of plain water a few nights back. I suspect her to be a schmecker but it’s hard to tell with women and Chinamen. Anyhoo I don’t want her ministering to me no more.

(Just went to the head again. Still locked. Locked for six solid hours. I think they are using it as an operating room.) I am getting sexy, come three times last night. The Italian school is just opposite, and I stand for hours watching the boys with my 8-power field glasses. Curious feeling of projecting myself, like I was standing over there with the boys, invisible earthbound ghost, torn with disembodied lust. They wear shorts, and I can see the goose pimples on their legs in the chill of the morning, count the hairs. Did I ever tell you about the time Marv and I paid two Arab kids sixty cents to watch them screw each other—we demanded semen too, no half-assed screwing. So I asked Marv: “Do you think they will do it?” and he says: “I think so. They are hungry.” They did it. Made me feel sorta like a dirty old man…Frisco sounds like kicks and I would love to dig all of you, I mean you, Allen, and Jack, you, and sweet Neal… You letter thawed out my bleak, wind-swept psyche. At times lately I come on downright mean. Jump all over the Arab servants. I am the most unpopular patient in this malodorous trap. Talk about hospital smell… You ain’t had it till you sniff a Spanish hospital… You all shame me with your Buddhistic love and sweetness, torn as I am by winds of violence and discord… This violence has nothing to do with you, Allen.

Glad to hear you are getting some $ on your work. No one deserves it more. What is the HOWL Allen read? The reading sounds really great. Wish I could have been there. So I should bring Kiki with me? I’ll find plenty young boys around there. Come now, Allen, what’s this you’re hinting at? Who are these important people who are mad at me? Dirty VIPs. It’s about time you wised up to Trilling. He’s a type can’t and won’t do you any good anyway. He’s got no orgones, no mana, no charge to him. Just soaks up your charge to keep the battery of his brain turning out crap for the Partisan Review. Publishing in those obituary pages is really the kiss of death, the very fuck of death. That pornography reads real nice. I’d like to see it all. Now look, sweetheart, you are my agent so see what you can do with this Interzone deal. You will have about a hundred pages in next two months. Twenty percent… But I have wandered off the point, out of contact, fallen into a great gray gap between parentheses… Sit back and look blankly at the letter. No I can’t neither be no fucking monk… Really I am dubious of the Land of the Free, not over-keen to walkabout long Stateside in those great boy-less spaces…but quien sabe? I may decide on Frisco. Of course, if I latched onto some gelt, I would sure come to visit en route to South America…

Your letter has a warming, heartening, relaxing effect on me… Yes I would like to see old Garver again before he dies. Tell Neal from me to drop the bang tails. You can’t beat it. Dream hunches are not supposed to be used that way. You understand, Neal? You know what horse is going to win, but you can not use that knowledge to make money. Don’t try. It’s like fighting a ghost antagonist who can hit you but you can’t hit him. Drop it. Forget it. Keep your money…

I am progressing towards complete lack of caution and restraint. Nothing must be allowed to dilute my routines. I know I used to be shy about approaching boys, for example, but I can not remember why exactly. The centers of inhibition are atrophied, occluded like an eel’s ass on The Way to Sargassogood book title. You know about eels? When they reach full maturity, they leave the streams and ponds of Europe travelling downstream to the sea, then cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Sargasso Sea—near Bermuda—where they mate and die. During this perilous journey they stop eating and their ass holes seal over. The young eels start back for the fresh water ponds and streams of Europe. Say that’s better than Ignorant Armies (“Dover Beach” by Arnold) as a title for my Interzone novel:

Meet Me in Sargasso, I’ll See You in Sargasso, The Sargasso Trail.

Death opens the door of his old green pickup and says to The Hitchhiker: “You look occluded, friend. Going straight through to Sargasso?”

Ticket For Sargasso, Meet in Sargasso, On the Road to Sargasso. What I want to convey, though, is the inner pull towards Sargasso: Sargasso Yen, Sargasso Time, Sargasso Kicks, The Sargasso Blues. I can’t get it. This is all trivial, doesn’t convey those eels wiggling across fields at night in the wet grass to find the next pond or stream, thousands dying on the way… If I ever buy a boat, I will call it The Sargasso…Sargasso Junction, Change for Sargasso, Sargasso Transfer, Sargasso Detour. Basta. Do you know about lampreys? When they mate they tear each other with their suction cups so that they always die afterwards. Either a prey to other fish, or to virginal lampreys, or infiltrated by fungus.

 Some of this letter I am transcribing into Letter A which is the beginning of Chapter II. Material often overlaps. You are free to choose, add, subtract, rearrange if you find a potential publisher. This is Sat., and the letter can’t go off before Monday. I will be adding to it. May come up with the Sargasso title. So thanks for your letter and goodbye for now… See you in Sargasso… One of the Sargasso titles might do for my story about Tiger Ted…


Yesterday I took a walk on the outskirts of town. Environs of the Zone are wildly beautiful. Low hills with great variety of trees, flowing vines and shrubs, great, red sandstone cliffs topped with curiously stylized, Japanese-looking pine tress, fall to the sea. What a place for a house on top of those cliffs!

I used to complain I lacked material to write about. Mother of God! Now I’m swamped with material. I could write 50 pages on that walk, which was a mystical vision comparable to your East Harlem Revelations. That letter where I come on sorta whiney, like: “Tangiers has nothing for me and it’s all your fault I’m here anyhoo.”… Well, Al, ‘taint necessarily so. Beginning to dig Arab kicks. It takes time. You must let them seep into you… Well like I say, could write a book on that walk. Instead I will select one moment:

I went in an Arab café for a glass of mint tea. One room 15 by 15, a few tables and chairs, a raised platform covered with mats stretched across one end of the room where the Arabs sit with their shoes off playing cards and smoking kif, the inevitable picture of Ben Youssef, The Deposed Sultan—You see his undistinguished pan everywhere like those pictures of my fran Roosevelt—pictures of Mecca done in the hideous light pinks and blues of religious objects, profoundly vulgar like the final decadent phase of Aztec mosaics—Pawing through this appalling mass of notes and letters, looking for something, I run across one of your old letters, Al, and the following jumps out at me: “Don’t be depressed. There’s too much to do.” And that is a fact. So much I am flipping. You’re a fucking genius, Al…

I draw some dirty looks from the table of Arabs and stare at them till they drop their eyes and fumble with kif pipes. If they insist to make something out of it, I’d as soon die now as anytime. It is as my kidney, you dig one of them slipped around behind me. I always carry a knife myself, and I would get the best price I could in the blood and flesh of my opponents. I’m not one to turn the other kidney. The metaphysic of interpersonal combat: Zen Buddhist straightaheadedness applied to fencing and knife fighting; Jiu-Jitsu principle of “sinning by giving in” and “Turning your opponent’s strength against him,” various techniques of knife fighting, a knife fight as a mystic contest, a discipline like Yoga—You must eliminate fear and anger—and see the fight as impersonal process. Like primitive drawing depicts parts of an animal the artist can not see—spinal column, heart, stomach—though he knows they are there. See Arts of the South Seas by Ralph Linton—so the knife fighter sees the inner organs of his opponent—heart, liver, stomach, neck veins—that he is attempting to externalize and delineate with his knife. Or you can conceive it as cool and cerebral as chess, a game involving the barter of pain and blood in which you try to get for your boy, your golden body, the best deal possible. Jiu-Jitsu proverb: You give your muscles—Let him knock you around—You take his bones. In knife fight you must be ready to give without hesitating your left arm and your face. You take a liver, a stomach, a carotid artery…

Not that I ever look for or want any kind of a fight, and a man has to be out of line to seek a fight with me—It almost never happens—The knife-fight potential was simply one facet of that moment sitting in the café looking out at hill opposite, stylized pine trees on top arranged with the economy of a Chinese print against blue sky in the tingling, clear, classic, Mediterranean air… I was completely alive in the moment, not saving myself, not waiting for anything or anybody. “I have told no one to wait.” This is it right now… Some French writer said: “Only those who love life do not fear death.”

So don’t ever worry about your boy Willy Lee, Al. I quote from one of your letters: “You lose sight of life, lose vigor, become dependent and listless, become a drag, sink, lose blood, junk up, crawl off threatening to die.” Sounds like an advertisement describing the victim of a sluggish colon. “And then I took Ma Lee’s Orgone Yeast! WOW!”

Actually I am so independent, so fucking far out, I am subject to float away like a balloon…

Today’s walk was different. More incident, less revelation. Actual fight in another café. Minor fracas. Hitting each other with their heavy rubber-soled sandals. No knives, no broken glasses, no blood. Nothing tasty. The proprietor, a young kid, left when the fight started… The fight just suddenly stopped for no reason. Well that’s Africa, son… The proprietor came back with another kid, walking with arms around each other’s ribs, and gave me a dazzling smile when I got up to pay for my tea…

On the walk I was thinking: All complete swish fairies should be killed, not as traitors to the cause of queerness, but for selling out the human race to the forces of negation and death. Kill the nanny beater too:

“Let petty kinds the names of parties know

Where ‘er I come I kill both friend and foe.”

How do you know when a man is “complete fairy”…”De carne tumefacta y pensamiento in mundo Maricas de los ciudades…Madres de lodo, enimigos sin sueño del Amor, Que dais a los muchachos gotas de sucia muerte con amargo veneno.” Garcia Lorca, “Ode to Walt Whitman.” Translates: “You fucking fairies of the cities”—He has just said he don’t object to queers as such—“with rotten flesh and filthy thoughts. Mother of mud, sleepless enemies of love, who give to boys drops of dirty death with bitter venom.” Hear! Hear!… They never would be missed… And how do you know anybody is in that class? They know. They are self-condemned. You can see it in their eyes. A judge in Interzone who will listen to no evidence, doesn’t want to know what a man is accused of. He just looks into his eyes and acquits or passes sentence… Complete lack of quantitative orientation leads to a sort of divine madness. So be it.

Saw an Arab boy incredibly delicate and fragile, writes like thin brown sticks…

When you see Eddie Woods give him my love and ask what he hears from Marker. I don’t hear from him in six months.

Well I gotta get back to Interzone novel. Imshay Allah—God Willing—I complete Chapter II today and start on narrative chapters. I tell you, sifting through those letters and notes for usable material is a labor of Hercules. Two weeks I am hung up on this selection chapter. Every time I try to terminate it, another routine pounces on me. I will keep a sort of diary of my cure. I mean the above is my page for today. Maybe I should be a columnist yet. Sell me to a newspaper, Al. You’re my agent.