Shotgun and Paintbrush: Acker interviews Burroughs


Here is one of the holy grails of interviews, with visionary writer Kathy Acker quizzing the legendary William Burroughs.

They talk about many things: Word as Virus, Scientology, Jesus and the legion of apocryphal stories that followed Burroughs around like carrion crows. This took place in the late ’80s, and both had less than a decade to live, passing away within a few months of each other in 1997. We will not see their like again.

A particularly telling moment, at least to my eyes, comes early on when Burroughs talks about the power of “shotgun” methods — the cut-up method in writing or a spray blast in painting — that introduce a random factor. Yet at the same time, they don’t take away the importance of “careful brushwork.”

It’s an important point: it illustrates how false the line between inspiration and discipline is. Acker and Burroughs grasped that instinctually and their works put the lie to that division. I think many people wrongly draw the lesson from both that simply spewing up one’s subconscious visions makes for good writing or art, while missing the considerable craft they put into honing those thoughts into glistening brain-gems.

Lessons aside, the prime pleasure in watching this interview comes from witnessing two keenly unique minds in a fascinating conversation. The rest is below the jump. Enjoy.

4 Responses to “Shotgun and Paintbrush: Acker interviews Burroughs”

  1. Mer Says:

    Woot!

    “I think many people wrongly draw the lesson from both that simply spewing up one’s subconscious visions makes for good writing or art, while missing the considerable craft they put into honing those thoughts into glistening brain-gems.”

    Yes. A hugely important distinction to make. In my opinion, that conscious attention and craft is what makes both these writers far more enjoyable for me to read than, say, Kerouac.

  2. Vivacious G Says:

    Hey, thanks for this!

    I was just thinking about this today. I am guilty of the “spewing up one’s subconscious visions”, I don’t think it makes good art though. It’s just that I’m extremely shy, so the things I end up showing others are superficial and meaningless. I don’t want anyone to see what’s really going on inside. Something to work on. Maybe.

  3. Poetry News For May 23, 2009 | Poetry Hut Blog Says:

    [...] Here is one of the holy grails of interviews, with visionary writer Kathy Acker quizzing the legenda… and William Burroughs [...]

  4. Burroughs vs Kathy Acker « Another Lost Shark Says:

    [...] Shotgun and Paintbrush: Kathy Acker talks to William Burroughs. [...]