Cities of the Red Night

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Cities of the Red Night
Hardcover edition by Viking Press
Author William S. Burroughs
Cover artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death
Country United States
Language English
Series Cities of the Red Night trilogy
Genre Novel
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-312-27846-2 (US Paperback)
OCLC 46887518
Followed by The Place of Dead Roads

Cities of the Red Night is a novel by American author William S. Burroughs. It is part of his final trilogy of novels, known as The Red Night Trilogy, followed by The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands, and was first published in 1981. It was his first full-length novel since The Wild Boys a decade earlier. The plot revolves around a group of radical pirates who seek the freedom to live under the articles set out by Captain James Mission. In near present day, a parallel story follows a detective searching for a lost boy, abducted for use in a sexual ritual. The cities of the title mimic and parody real places, and Burroughs makes references to the United States, Mexico, and Morocco.

Plot introduction[edit]

The plot follows a nonlinear course through time and space. It imagines an alternate history in which Captain James Mission's Libertatia lives on. His way of life is based on The Articles, a general freedom to live as one chooses, without prejudice. The novel is narrated from two different standpoints; one set in the 18th century which follows a group of pirate boys led by Noah Blake, who land in Panama to liberate it. The other is set in the late 20th century, and follows a detective tracing the disappearance of an adolescent boy.


In a March 15, 1966 letter to Brion Gysin, Burroughs describes a project he was working on at the time:

My latest literary project is a tour de force. About a Chinese officer in Tibet... a description of his training in Academy 23... and what he finds in the monasteries would make a buzzard crack his carrion... deliberately using places I have never been to.[1]

This project would become the basis of the chapter "We See Tibet with the Binoculars of the People". The phrase "we see Tibet with the binoculars of the people" first appeared in the essay "Ten Years and a Billion Dollars," in The Adding Machine, amongst a group of random phrases selected from Konstantīns Raudive's book Breakthrough. Several of those phrases became chapter titles in Cities of the Red Night.[2]


The cover art for the 1981 Holt-Rinehart-Winston first edition is Pieter Brueghel the Elder's 1562 painting "The Triumph of Death".


  1. ^ Burroughs, William S. (2012). "WSB [London] to Brion Gysin [Tangier, Morocco]". In Bill Morgan. Rub Out The Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974 (First ed.). New York: Ecco. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-06-171142-8. 
  2. ^ Burroughs, William S. (August 1, 1993). "Ten Years and a Billion Dollars". The Adding Machine: Selected Essays (Revised ed.). New York: Arcade Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 9781559702102. 

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