A Thanksgiving prayer from William S. Burroughs

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/11/26/a-thanksgiving-prayer-from-william-s-burroughs.html


Christ, what an asshole


And a femicidal piece of shit, to boot.


Glad that’s out of the way. Now I can focus on the lighter side of the holiday:


Ah, but he’s our asshole. Shitting out the things we know but are too polite to say ourselves.


Perhaps this is a year to forego tradition?


of all the days to not center white men,let’s not do that today. Gonna listen to this: https://www.indigenousaction.org/livestream-event-13th-annual-no-thanks-no-giving-benefit/


Growing up visiting relatives on the reservation, it was common for Nishnawbe’s to greet each other on this day saying “Sad Day of Mourning.” A reminder of a culture lost and stolen by violent invaders and oppressors.

Burroughs is spot on imo.

Thanks for the link Hylyx.


As an outsider (not a North American) but one who read Burroughs as a teen, and as a long-time reader of the BBS, it’s been interesting to see how attitudes towards this piece and Burroughs more generally have changed. I wondered whether I’d imagined it so checked on a sample of @pesco’s posts and commentary over the last decade, and my hypothesis broadly holds up.

In general, the trend has been towards a more critical view of Burroughs. This has manifested as both fewer positive posts of his works and a greater number of posts focussing on his misogyny and general bastardry. I’m not drawing any conclusions as to why - I suspect it’s a general trend towards a greater critical view of the failings of even those we respect but that feels like wishful thinking. I’m also not making any judgement - I have no standing in this court.

I have no dog in this race and don’t want to be anyone’s devil’s advocate, but it’s been a trend I’ve noticed.


So as not to repeat myself, I’ll just link to my comment on Burroughs from last year, which includes a roundup of my comments from the previous two years.

I don’t believe my opinion of him or his work has changed much in that time, but I suspect greater awareness of his problematic personal life has resulted in the more critical view of him you correctly identify. Which makes sense to me.


Thus my comparison to a literal asshole, as his writings do bear some semblance to night soil. It is supposed to be dirty, filthy, and at the same time it gets it out of our system. He was an antidote to prudery, but not an ideal no matter how much he is glorified. Bill was the first to admit that he was a shitty person, but his writing made shitty humans, well, human again.

I have a sneaking suspicion that reading Burroughs when young can backfire, glamourising the very thing he was trying to make horrific and repulsive. I recently re-read The Naked Lunch, and I do feel a thread of self-loathing throughout the book. The perverted junkie was looking back at his own time in the Interzone with revulsion, and did his best to put that feeling into words.

The Thanksgiving Prayer is something I see in the same vein, as he says “we” and “us”, not “you”. He is every bit as guilty and ashamed as he is accusing. He expresses the uneasy feeling that our myths are hollow in a crude, rip the bandage off style. And it does the job.


Yep. An ad hominem argument is labeled a logical fallacy for good reason. I think it’s perfectly sensible to separate the messenger from the message, and to see no problem with loathing one while admiring the other. Especially when the loathsome messenger is dead and gone, and thus no longer making money from the message.

What I know of Burroughs himself makes me squirm with disgust, but I’ve long loved this video’s well deserved sticking of a dinner fork right in mainsteam America’s preening, self-righteous eyeball.


I, er, was trying to subvert the ad hominem. When I call Buroughs an asshole, I do not mean “person who behaves in an antisocial way”* but as a metaphor for his role as an organ of our social body, charged with discharging the excrement that has built up within us. It’s dirty, it’s never respected, and yet we cannot live without that function.

*Which he did do, in his own words. Billy boy had no illusions about himself being a good person.

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