Talk:William S. Burroughs

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How does a man who attended Harvard at 18 drop out nearly ten years later to attempt to join the Navy and/or OSS? The intro needs a re-work.

Insearchfortruth's edits[edit]

Can we please have a discussion here about the recent edits by Insearchfortruth? I take issue with this user's refusal to explain his edits with an edit summary, and his (or her) removal of material. The addition of sourced material, obviously, is not a problem, but in the absence of an explanation, his wholesale changes look suspect to me. All I want is some kind of explanation of the changes being made, in keeping with Wikipedia policy and precedent. Is that too much to ask? ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 02:10, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Here is my examination of the edits:

First, as far as the quote from Queer is concerned, I went back through the page history and found that the quote was added by an anonymous user, using a dodgy webpage as a source. Later, the source was changed, but the quote was never checked for accuracy. So, there is one mystery solved.

As for the rest... The long quotes about homosexuality in the '50s are unnecessary and do not add to the understanding of the topic, which is Burroughs.

This passage, in particular, is unnecessary:

In any case, although Burroughs started writing before the shooting of Joan Vollmer, the fact remains that he did not become a full time writer but after the shooting and that this event marked him, and one could argue his work too, for the rest of his life.[1]

Unless you are actually quoting Morgan, that should go.

Some minor points should be made about the linking of dates, which is no longer done, spelling, and the formatting of refs. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 16:01, 21 October 2008 (UTC)

  • Response to the (apparently now removed) reference to Morgan. I am completely baffled as to why you feel that should go. It's sourced and it takes people directly to the page where Morgan makes this statement. Have you never written a university thesis? There is noi requirement that we directly quote anybody. If we take their information and we source it, then that's good enough. I'm putting that one back, although I am improving the wording and of course am adjusting it to fit into the new format as the section originally containing it has been substantially changed. I think it's a fair comment, and it's sourced, and other sources can be found to support it, not the least of which is Burroughs' own words such as his introduction to Queer and I think even in Last Words though don't quote me on that. 23skidoo (talk) 13:03, 22 October 2008 (UTC)
  • On the other hand, I do support RepublicanJacobite's removal of the digression regarding homosexuality taken from Queer which was completely off-topic. This is an article on William S Burroughs not an article on homosexuality. 23skidoo (talk) 18:50, 22 October 2008 (UTC)
  • I agree with both of User:23skidoo's points. -- Gyrofrog (talk) 14:52, 30 October 2008 (UTC)


  1. ^ Morgan, Ted, Literary Outlaw, pp. 197-198

Let's discuss it[edit]


There was no vandalism in the editing I made, I just added missing information. Why do you insist in misquoting the introduction to Queer[1]? Your "quotation" reads like this:

"I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan's death... I live with the constant threat of possession, for control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invador [sic], the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out"

Whereas the original text reads: "I live with the constant threat of possesion, and the constant need to escape from possesion, from control" You can read the original text in the following address

It seems to me there is a great difference between "living with a constant threat of possession for control" and "living with a constant threat of possession and a constant need to escape from possesion, from control"

All changes I've made are supported by quotations taken from reliable sources, that is, from sources previously cited. insearchforthruth (talk) 04:25, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Much of the info being added is from Russell, Jamie, Queer Burroughs which is a book of literary criticism of a particular slant; How about sticking to biography and leave criticism in the criticism section which you deleted? Opiumjones 23 (talk) 11:27, 21 October 2008 (UTC)

Hi again Opium:

I don't agree that the book I quote is just about literary criticism. Most of it uses biographical information about Burroughs life (i.e. homosexuality), not only in relation with his literary work but also in relation to the context this information belongs to. Also , I don't think it is proper to include moral judgements about the writer's life, such as the one that is made about his relationship with his son. I agreed to remove the jugment I had made about his being responsible or not of "taking care of his family". So I guess we must keep on the collective editing.insearchforthruth (talk) 14:00, 30 October 2008 (UTC)

Article Length[edit]

The details of this article surpass 'encyclopedic'. Many of the anacdotes/details are unnecessary and are more suitable for an actual biography (most likely their original source anyway).Pirchlogan (talk) 18:41, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

Ali's Smile: Naked Scientology[edit]

Hello. Has anyone else here noticed that the article for "Ali's Smile: Naked Scientology" features background information that suggests Scientology influenced Burroughs while writing the Ticket that Exploded, and Nova Express? I know alot about Burroughs (probably not as much as some of the people here) but I've never come across anything that implies Scientology had any direct influence on anything other than his essays on the subject and the short story Ali's Smile. And I remember nothing related to Scientology in the books. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:48, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Dolophine and Adolph Hitler[edit]

For those interested in Methadone; I have traced the origin of a common fallacy regarding the naming of this drug to William Burroughs.

In his novel Junkie, the author, when recounting his stay in the federal narcotics facility of Lexington Kentucky, states that as an inmate he was treated with "a synthetic horror, named Dolophine, appropriately named after Adolph Hitler".

Proir to this mention in Junkie literature holds almost no mention of the drug variously known as Polamidon; Poladone; Methadone; Physeptone ... Since this mention the fable is repeated time and again. Hence William S Burroughs, wittingly or not, promulgated this long lived urban myth.

In actuality the brand name Dolophine was coined by an American company when it purchased the patent for free;as spoils of war. The drug was originally patented by a German company, with the original name Polamidon. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:34, 19 November 2009 (UTC)

Main photo[edit]

The current main photo of Burroughs is a poor choice with bad composition, no character revelation, and barely even captures his appearance. I'm not savvy on what makes a photo legitimate for this Wiki, but if anyone know of a better photo that can be used, please upload. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:49, 5 February 2010 (UTC)

I tried but my attempt failed. Courtesy of user RepublicanJacobite --Алый Король (talk) 17:31, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
You changed the picture twice, both times with no edit summary, which indicates a lack of respect for your fellow editors. I simply ask that you provide a reason for changing the image. This response to a 21-month-old talk page comment is hardly adequate. ---RepublicanJacobiteTheFortyFive 17:35, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
So, User:Алый Король, provide a reason... I happen to agree that the picture you added today is/was a vast improvement over the birthday pic. 2¢. --Seduisant (talk) 17:42, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
The picture that I added better than current because image depicts a writer in a good angle (captures his appearance) without imposing shadows, without strangers in the background. I really think that its obvious and dont understand why I should explain it to someone --Алый Король (talk) 18:24, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Edit summaries are requested so that other editors can see what changes you have made and why. Their use shows respect for your fellow editors. It should never be assumed that something is "obvious." See WP:EDSUM ---RepublicanJacobiteTheFortyFive 00:42, 29 October 2011 (UTC)
ok, I will know. And what about replacing image? Everybody wait for your permission? :) --Алый Король (talk) 06:47, 29 October 2011 (UTC)

While this should obviously be debated civilly, I do agree that the new image is a vast improvement. Sir Richardson (talk) 21:31, 28 October 2011 (UTC)

Book up for deletion[edit]

One of the reasons why I've stopped editing very much on Wikipedia is the elitist view of a lot of people as to what justifies an article. And the fact people seem to be content with having an incomplete encyclopedia. Anyway, for anyone who cares, I have had to created an Articles for Deletion discussion on The Adding Machine: Collected Essays because someone else attempted to have it deleted without debate. I support keeping it. The debate is here for anyone who wants to support the article, or not. 23skidoo (talk) 20:24, 30 April 2010 (UTC)

Triple Bypass[edit]

Could someone add a line about his triple bypass surgery? Not essential, but still just as vital as some other facts. No? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Torsrthidesen (talkcontribs) 16:18, 6 May 2010 (UTC)

Not without a reference. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 01:48, 24 May 2010 (UTC)
Added reference! Sorry for forgetting it the first time! Friends? --Torsrthidesen (talk) 01:13, 25 May 2010 (UTC)
I filled in some missing information on your ref., but the source looks solid. Something from one of the biographies would be even better. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 01:35, 25 May 2010 (UTC)

Category "Gay writers" rather than "Bisexual writers"[edit]

The only women W.S. Burroughs ever bedded with were a few female prostitutes in his youth (when he was too shy and self-conscious to dare approaching a male partner) and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer (they were more friends than lovers). Burroughs was a self-confessed misogynist and always stressed his primary and overwhelming preference of male sexual partners over female ones. He never defined himself as a bisexual man but rather as a gay man and boy-lover. Putting him in the "Bisexual writers" category only because he slept with a few women in his early life seems totally inaccurate and misleading. To be categorized as bisexual would call for a regular bisexual behaviour throughout life, which was not at all his case.—Ana Bruta (talk) 18:48, 3 August 2010 (UTC)

According to Ted Morgan's biography Literary Outlaw, along with other accounts, this is not entirely true. Burroughs was indeed shy and self-conscious about approaching women, but this didn't stop him from occasionally bedding them (as he did on one occasion during his Beat Hotel period around the time of the publication of Naked Lunch - hardly a youthful dalliance). Additionally, even in middle age and, occasionally, his later years, Burroughs spoke of the attraction that he felt to women, even considering entering into relationships with them, even if these plans were not carried out. Perhaps Burroughs was more oriented toward his attraction to men than toward his attraction for women, but I feel that it is worth maintaining that he could likely be classed as a bisexual, for the simple reason that he, at least to some degree, seems to have felt both sorts of attractions at various points throughout his adult life. --Kurtzhair117 (talk) 01:27, 30 August 2012 (UTC)

Issues with the lead[edit]

There are two wrong or misleading sentences in the lead section:

(1) "He found success with two confessional novels: Junkie (1953) and Queer (published 1985), being cited as one of the first people to use the terms self-referentially." -- It is misleading to say he "found success" with Queer when it was only published at the end of a long career.

(2) "...he is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), in which he popularized the literary cut-up technique." -- Naked Lunch is not a cut-up novel. The article itself says he didn't learn the cut-up technique from Gysin until after Naked Lunch was published. Jd4v15 (talk) 20:59, 19 September 2010 (UTC)

Both of those are good points, and I agree that they should be changed or removed. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 22:27, 19 September 2010 (UTC)
OK, I updated the lead as above (and tried to clean up some bad grammar along the way). I also removed the line about WSB being one of the first people to use the term "queer" self-referentially, because the reference was to a video that has been removed from YouTube. If someone can find another source for that and add it back into the article, that would be great -- it's definitely worth mentioning. Jd4v15 (talk) 20:02, 20 September 2010 (UTC)

Heavy metal[edit]

I removed the following from the article and bring it here for discussion:

Burroughs is cited as one of the possible origins of the term heavy metal, referring to heavy metal music. The Soft Machine (1963) includes a character known as "Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid", followed by 1964's Nova Express,<ref>''Nova Express'', p. 112</ref> in which the term is used as a metaphor for addictive drugs.

As it stands, this is not adequately referenced to remain in the article. This allegation has been made for years, but a reference beyond a page number in a Burroughs novel is needed for verification. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 22:07, 9 December 2010 (UTC)

Category question[edit]

I hope this is not considered inappropriate (ie trying to corral "votes" either for or against), but the category Category:People self-identifying as substance abusers is being discussed for deletion. I think editors interested in the burroughs article would have important thoughts on the matter. I think he should be categorized as such, but I dont assume any editor here would feel the same. I post here simply because he is the highest profile self identifying substance abuser i can think of, whose use bears heavily on his notability.Mercurywoodrose (talk) 16:52, 22 May 2011 (UTC)

Carl Weissner[edit]

Recently, a sentence was added to the legacy section indicating that Burroughs was a profound influence on the German writer Carl Weissner. Is Weissner especially notable? No source is provided for this supposed influence, so I have to wonder how accurate the claim is. Weissner is mentioned a few times in the new volume of Burroughs' correspondence, and Burroughs seems to have written two letters to his during the late '60s. Clearly, there was some collaboration, but this does not seem adequate to cite the claim that is currently being made. Does anyone know more about Weissner? ---RepublicanJacobiteTheFortyFive 17:28, 24 February 2012 (UTC)

RJ, how's your German? Mine's quite bad, but there's a Carl Weissner article on the German wiki (, which mentions Burroughs, Bukowski, Ginsberg, et al., as influences (or something). Might be worth dumping the article into a translation engine when you have time. --Seduisant (talk) 19:18, 24 February 2012 (UTC)
Uh, my German is terrible. I was actually kicked out of German class. My guess, though, is that if Weissner has a German Wiki article, he's notable enough to be mentioned here. But, it still needs a source. Maybe I can figure out something from the Deustsche article, if someone else does not do so first. Cheers! ---RepublicanJacobiteTheFortyFive 03:26, 25 February 2012 (UTC)

broken beat link: Waits[edit]

We could use this link instead in External Links:

G. Robert Shiplett 17:46, 16 May 2012 (UTC)

Betempte's recent edits[edit]

In a long series of additions, Betempte used selective quotes from Ted Morgan's biography of Burroughs, Literary Outlaw, in an attempt to show Burroughs in the worst possible light, in order to support the scurrilous claims Betempte himself added to the lede. This is not objective editing as I understand it. There seems to have been a clear intent to paint Burroughs as a right-wing sociopath and hypocrite. ---The Old JacobiteThe '45 02:35, 29 August 2012 (UTC)

Censorship: Yeah, "The Truth Hurts?"[edit]

The Old Jacobite, your subjective bias has deemed the additions to this entry as objectionable. Everyone has the privilege of personal opinion, but not the license to censor information they find unpalatable. The edits I made are in the spirit of presenting a balanced representation of a historic, literary figure. If a Wiki editor can supply sources which contest any information posted, they should then do so---otherwise they should not presume that they are at liberty to delete anything because they do not like it. P.S.: I personally knew those in Burroughs' crowd when he was living in New York City before his departure for the Midwest, and I can say that what was related about Burroughs as a human being in the book "Literary Outlaw," is not exaggerated. Betempte (talk) 22:11, 31 August 2012 (UTC)

Rubbish. It is quite clear that, as I said above, you selectively chose cites from the book to paint Burroughs in a negative light as a creepy old man. There is nothing balanced about that. And, quite frankly, who you knew and where is utterly irrelevant. ---The Old JacobiteThe '45 13:58, 1 September 2012 (UTC)

You are quite right…who I knew is irrelevant. What is valid is that you are opposing the same type of “selective” agenda you yourself are engaging in. You are not alone in defending iconic personages from anything that might impugn their character. People believe what they choose to believe— often a perceived reality which they cling to with an obstinacy that can’t be disabused. This is a mindset that can be termed “rubbish.” Burroughs, as you put it, appears to be a “creepy old man." I think abusing animals for pleasure goes above and beyond what you choose to identify as "creepy." Nevertheless, are his contributions to the literary world any less noteworthy because of his failings as a human being? That’s an issue that needs to be examined, and has been by scholars in all fields of professional achievement. . Betempte (talk) 20:03, 1 September 2012 (UTC)

It goes on[edit]

To: The Old Jacobite, the one who appears to be “That One Most Interested Person” in having no shadow of negativity taint the reputation of William Burroughs through your insistent deletion of sourced material.

There is an overreaching principle involved here—one you seem unable or unwilling to recognize which has ramifications above and beyond the character of Burroughs. The goal of every encyclopedic entry is to present a balanced, comprehensive body of information on a given topic. Wiki editors need to strive to reject any inclinations towards personal bias.

Your hero worship of Burroughs is your own business, but Wiki is not a forum for intruding that prejudice through the policing of content and practicing egregious censorship by deleting material you “don’t like.”

Let’s here some more voices on this “controversy,” of editing practices. Betempte (talk) 20:04, 10 November 2012 (UTC)

You can't seem to make edits without adding your opinion, and selectively choosing facts to buttress that opinion. The political views section you added was highly slanted, and it is obvious your intention was to paint Burroughs in a bad light. It had nothing to do with balance, and my removal of it is not censorship. ---The Old JacobiteThe '45 00:49, 11 November 2012 (UTC)

Of course all edits predicate a selective choice of material—that is my point and exactly what I object to when one editor isolates material so it is confined to their own inflexible mindset. You are consistently committed to censorship, whether or not you acknowledge it.Betempte (talk) 03:46, 11 November 2012 (UTC)


Burroughs was previously included in Category:People self-identifying as substance abusers, which has been deleted. Consensus may be that we dont want that category any more, but I was surprised to see it missing, and, of course, anyone editing here knows that his addiction was of primary significance to his notability. I liked that category, but i dont think there is anything that can be done about it, as it seems to have been AFD'd appropriately.Mercurywoodrose (talk) 16:37, 10 December 2012 (UTC)

I did not realize that this category had been deleted. It was certainly relevant to this author, for whom drug addiction was not only a reality he faced for most of his adult life, but was also a metaphor he explored throughout his work. I noticed that you added the heroin category, which is appropriate, but the more specific category would be better. ---The Old JacobiteThe '45 16:45, 10 December 2012 (UTC)


None of the sources provided here, and none I could find on the Web at large, actually have Burroughs identifying himself as a Scientologist or using that label in regards to himself. His participation in Scientology seems to have been rather casual and not lasting very long, from what I've been reading. Thus, including him in the category for "Former Scientologists" is inappropriate, unless there is verifiable evidence to demonstrate that he did identify with this label. There's a world of difference when you have someone who was an actual adherent for a period of time and labeling themselves as part of the group, and someone who casually dabbles or practices something for a short period of time, e.g. Jerry Seinfeld, who did dabble in Scientology for awhile, but we'd never refer to him as a "Former Scientologist" for the simple reason he wasn't heavily involved, nor ever used that label in relation to himself. Laval (talk) 14:34, 7 August 2013 (UTC)

Band Names, Once Again[edit]

The "Band Names" section makes the unsourced claim that the Mugwumps took their name from the novel Naked Lunch. The Mugwumps article, however, mentions this as only one of several possible (and sourceable) origins. It should be noted that the word Mugwump was not invented by Burroughs, nor was Naked Lunch the first novel in which the term appeared. For instance, in Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (published in 1912, 47 years before Naked Lunch), there is a character (Dean Rupert Drone, I believe) who becomes fascinated with the word and the sort of person it might describe. (talk) 17:48, 21 August 2013 (UTC)

It's an old term, and you're right, it predates Burroughs. See Mugwump. Although this doesn't settle where the band got its name. -- Gyrofrog (talk) 19:08, 21 August 2013 (UTC)
Considering that the Mugwumps were a counterculture band, it is far more likely that they got their name from Naked Lunch rather than the older, and more obscure, novel. ---The Old JacobiteThe '45 01:43, 22 August 2013 (UTC)

Harold S. Schroeppel ?[edit]

I have again removed the paragraph which stated:

Burroughs was a fan of Harold S. Schroeppel [35] and passionately studied the manuscripts that were made available from the Institute for Advanced Perception. The teachings were known as the Lessons in Advanced Perception. Copies of these manuscripts, dated February 1960, along with four pages of notes exist in the William S. Burroughs archives at Ohio State University.[36]

The citation provided by the adding editor for Burroughs being a passionate fan is Harold S. Shroeppel's obit. It, however, makes no mention of Burroughs. Therefore the sentence fails verifiability. The third sentence simply describes item #482 of William S. Burroughs papers at Ohio State University library (described in the source as "Contains ms of H.S. Schroeppel, "Lessons in Advanced Perception" from Feb 1960; also 4 pp of ts notes by WSB"). Again nothing there verifies the initial sentence. And the inclusion here of this single item from among 566 items, 55 boxes and thousands of WSB papers -- without any reliable source as to its importance -- is Undue Weight for this biography.

The paragraph should not be restored until a reliable source is provided which establishes its validity. Per WP:CHALLENGE, the burden of evidence lies with the editor who adds or restores material, and can be satisfied only by providing a reliable source that directly supports the material. CactusWriter (talk) 01:55, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

I agree with CactusWriter, this information should not be restored without a much better reference. ---The Old JacobiteThe '45 04:31, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

Vollmer/Mexico Edits[edit]

I broke my own rule about editing a page on authors I know a lot about and took to editing the section on Vollmer and their time in Mexico, which is a pivotal point in Burroughs life and I felt needed a little TLC badly. I have added four or five additional references (that monster paragraph in between is actual on one reference that follows), fixed some redundancies, added some detail and fixed some broken chronology. If an objective set of eyes would give it a once over I'd appreciate it. All the original references and text are still there, just re-sequenced so they flow better.

I also noticed I added the Queer quote that also appears later in the biography. It and the Ginsberg quote seemed to go well with the dangling sentence that was sitting there in the original section, however, as another talk page person mentioned it might just be better to excise the entire paragraph. I'm leaving that one up to wiki-consensus. --Modemx (talk) 03:18, 7 February 2015 (UTC)

An improvement IMO. Well done. (talk) 09:45, 7 February 2015 (UTC)

External links modified[edit]

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External links modified[edit]

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Names in the lead[edit]

Some input on the recent changes to name placement (re. William Lee). The manual of style doesn't seem to address the situation. The closest I see is "For people who are best known by a pseudonym, the legal name should usually appear first in the article, followed closely by the pseudonym", but he's not best known by the "William Lee" pseudonym. My recommendation would be to move the "William Lee" mention up top, right after the legal name, but use the phrasing "also briefly known by the pen name William Lee". Otherwise it implies that Burroughs was a legal name not used for his writing career. My two cents. Willondon (talk) 00:31, 24 January 2017 (UTC)

Burroughs, Mexico, Privilege-- opportunity for scholarship[edit]

I agree with Modernx (2015) about Mexico playing a larger role than recognized in WB's life. But in April 2017, the teaching in California classes filled with Mexican American kids; listening to the anxiety generated by the Wall rhetoric on both sides; considering an alternate final for the DACA student who must fly back to Mexico to renew his green card lest he be deported; I wouldn't call it "Mexico" that played a role in WB's life, but the way rich Americans could use it as a lawless colonial playground seventy years ago. In 2017, in a different America more conscious of post-colonial obligations, the stories make me wince in a new way. Is there any literature out there on Burroughs's supposed literary talent being simply an example of rich/white/Harvard privilege in general? It's time. He's protected in so many ways. Profhum (talk) 07:28, 4 April 2017 (UTC)