Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Regarding Trauma: William Burroughs on Courage

Whenever I worry that, for whatever reason, I might fall apart completely, or when I know someone who’s falling apart, I always think of these lines.


You never have real courage until you have lost courage. Lost it abjectly, completely... bolted, crawled. And there is no exhilaration equal to courage regained. That is why it is almost always fatal. How can you top it? And if you haven’t got anything left to top, what are you waiting around for?

Never fight fear head-on. That rot about pulling yourself together, and the harder you pull the worse it gets. Let it in and look at it. What shape is it? What color? Let it wash through you. Move back and hang on. Pretend it isn’t there. Get trivial. And what will they serve at this faculty party? Some lethal acidic punch no doubt, just the thing to bring on my hiatus hernia. A dreary parade of faculty parties and office parties to remind you that acute fear and boredom are incompatible.

There are many ways to distance yourself from fear. Keep silence and let fear talk. You will see it by what it does. Death doesn’t like to be seen that close. Death must always elicit surprised recognition: “You!

The last person you expected to see, and at the same time, who else?

When De Gaulle, after an unsuccessful machine-gun attack on his car, brushed splintered glass off his shoulder and said, “Encore!,” Death couldn’t touch him. You don’t say, “Oh, You again!” to Death. Death can’t take that.

Francis Macomber and Lord Jim: courage lost. They both bolted. Courage regained: Death.


William Burroughs, The Western Lands, p. 246

1 comment:


This comes to mind: I like how Max von Sydow confesses his chess-playing strategy -- as if to a priest -- in the midst of the 1957 Bergman film The Seventh Seal, only for Death to reveal himself as the priest who is receiving the confession. Bergman (a knight returning from a crusade) is playing a chess match with Death -- win and he lives. But with his strategy thus revealed, it is in effect the actual death knell, but on the other hand, it frees him on some level, and the film ends on a macabre yet liberating dance of "crack the whip" -- von Sydow and his colleagues surrendering to "the dark angel". Burroughs' words are magical. Ah, where to start. Faculty: hah. Faculty parties: hah. As if. I may be mistaken, or just wishful thinking, but I think that von Sydow says "You!" when Death reveals himself as the priest. Whether he said it or just thought it, that's the brilliance of the moment, in that film. I agree about courage; think first, no matter what.

Yrs BA

Moderation word: ounke (a combo of "ouch" and "unka" w/Boer kookete?)