The Overflowing Void: On Shabazz Palaces & Burrough's Naked Lunch

in life •  2 years ago 

William Burroughs often gets short shrift in our contemporary histories of the psychedelic movement. Yeah, he was a junkie – but he also tripped into the Amazon to join in ayahuasca ceremonies back in 1953 (that’s nine full years before R. Gordon Wasson met and spread the word of magic mushrooms). Burroughs’ yagé voyages inspired his visionary later works, including Naked Lunch, in which the dark side of the psychedelic world breached the Western mind as lurid, gruesome, pornographic metropolitan post-fiction. Linear ego-narratives established by the novel melt in ayahuasca visions into “ecodelic” imbrication, folded fractal boundaries blurring former “self” and “other” – opening the tightly woven bud of personality into the ecological surround…not death, exactly, since those categories separating life and death dissolve, and where before the isolated mind was lonely in a quiet cosmos, shining cities blossom forth from empty space, the alien intelligences plain as day but now no longer “alien” because no longer simply separate from whosoever’s noticing.

The Interzone of Naked Lunch – which Burroughs wrote as both an international arena, and as space in which the law has been suspended – is a perfect name for the hyperspace where spirits fill each cubic centimeter endlessly, all dancing through the psychonaut’s transfigured body, silencing attempts to number angels dancing on a pinhead, morphing like a coral reef of evolutionary magma. Here’s the secret of the Void: that emptiness is FULL, the silence screaming, even barren landscapes teeming, and our city slicker consciousness is just so used to it we tune it out like cosmic background radiation, baseline buzzing chaos out of which all relevant phenomena arise. (We’re fish, all unaware of water: mind is everywhere and we are made of it; but looking, it is nowhere to be found.)

The best of psychedelic music videos evoke this space, and cultivate this way of seeing. Their rapid-shifting oddness overwhelms attempts to tell coherent stories of the action, thus exposing story as a process and the little self as just a theory automatically articulated by subconscious modules of the mind. So, who’s aware of this attempt to turn the free-association of a waking dream into a mythic plot? The more we look, the less we know – the ground becomes transparent, and (like Magic Johnson dribbling on a giant slice of pizza flying through the cosmos) we no longer need the world to make the kind of sense we used to think it must…

Michael Garfield is an evolutionary biologist and science writer, painter, guitarist, and the host of Future Fossils Podcast. Enjoy his extensive free archives at Patreon.


“The physical changes were slow at first, then jumped forward in black klunks, falling through his slack tissue, washing away the human lines…In his place of total darkness mouth and eyes are one organ that leaps forward to snap with transparent teeth…but no organ is constant as regards either function or position…sex organs sprout anywhere…rectums open, defecate and close…the entire organism changes color and consistency in split-second adjustments…

“The room seems to shake and vibrate with motion. The blood and substance of many races, Negro, Polynesian, Mountain Mongol, Desert Nomad, Polyglot Near East, Indian races as yet unconceived and unborn, combinations not yet realized pass through your body. Migrations, incredible journeys through deserts and jungles and mountains (stasis and death in closed mountain valleys where plants grow out of genitals, vast crustaceans hatch inside and break the shell of body) across the Pacific in an outrigger canoe to Easter Island. The Composite City where all human potentials are spread out in a vast silent market.” – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch, 1959

Suggested additional reading on the Interzone:

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Good jerb, I would never do what I just watched you do, so I gave you an upvote 😀