Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.

A New Testament

A New Testament

Some years ago I had the opportunity to publish a section of this novel[*] in the Black Mountain Review (No. 7). I felt then (and continue to feel), that it was an extraordinary piece of work. At that time I also saw the book in manuscript in a form substantially different from the one which Olympia Press published in 1959. It had a more discursive manner, being in fact three books, one of which had been published in the United States as Junky (under the pseudonym, William Lee) and the other two having the titles Queer and In Search of Yage .

These books, then, made a trilogy progressing into the observation of a despair, with all possible terms of degradation, of commitment to sensation as an alternative logic to organizational 'goodness' or 'purpose.' The present book does that too, but in a form so much more telling in itself that it is immediately remarkable in that way also. For example, this book has no 'historical' logic of any significance. It follows a more real apprehension of life, as significant (or insignificant, the same) memory of detail, of frustrate invention upon the mock taboos of society, of humor used to weigh possibility, of echoing loneliness and repetition. This novel pictures society by coming from it—just as the image of The Rube comes from the cover of a Saturday Evening Post , with the catfish in hand, and recurs as innocence converted to use out of the pressure of needs the society itself has taught. The dirty words, so to speak, which the book contains are not the simple "shit," "fuck," "cock,"

Outburst , no. 1, 1961.

* William Burroughs: Naked Lunch .


and so on, that society has made use of from time immemorial—or rather they are here played upon for what they are, for any of us, the power of fantasy, of an ultimately successful touching, carrying with it all the fearful load of suggestion that any ad for a brassiere can demonstrate. It is that "fuck" here is fuck, not the guffawing punch-line to a giggling joke, but horror, ultimate in its free term. If we had the money (say it), what wouldn't we do . . . The inventions Burroughs plays upon the organizational man, the square gone rigid with logically coherent method , the sunken man or woman with the "condition" ("You think I am innarested to hear about your horrible old condition? I am not innarested at all."), the forms of authority or societal control taken to satiric limits of fantasy so naked it cannot remember the way any longer to another term or situation:

Old violet brown photos that curl and crack like mud in the sun: Panama City . . . Bill Gains putting down the paregoric con on a chinese druggist.

"I've got these racing dogs . . . pedigree greyhounds . . . All sick with the dysentery . . . tropical climate . . . the shits . . . you sabe shit? . . . my Whippets are Dying  . . ." He screamed. . . . His eyes lit up with blue fire. . . . The flame went out . . . smell of burning metal . . . "Administer with an eye dropper. . . . Wouldn't you? . . . Menstrual cramps . . . my wife . . . Kotex . . . Aged mother . . . Piles . . . raw . . . bleeding. . . ." He nodded out against the counter. . . . The druggist took a tooth-pick out of his mouth and looked at the end of it and shook his head. . . .

"Wouldn't you?" Which, and why? The vacuum that is the condition, the nightmare without sound except that it is —and waits, patiently enough. Which control do you choose?

Burroughs says: "There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing  . . . I am a recording instrument . . . I do not presume to impose 'story' 'plot' 'continuity' . . . Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function . . . I am not an entertainer."

The terms of this book are responsible in that they make the responsive areas of intelligence and sensation their logic—beyond any hierarchy of social purpose, good men and bad, evil seen as a side issue (beside the side issue of the nominal 'good'). Its form is an increasingly narrow range of recall, of stories told and retold, in shortening phase, so that they end as an echo of a page, paragraph, sentence, phrase, word: Wouldn't you?


There is no way to explain need except to state it. You can solve what you will as you will. We assume that to prevent such issues as Burroughs derives content from, we need only cut them out, away from ourselves. So much of the world has been tidied up in this manner that it is probable that very few people either want to, or can, recognize the anguish their own faces make clear. But Burroughs has written from all the evidence of his own body and mind their testament as well as his own.

(Note written for Grove Press, which plans to publish Naked Lunch this year.)


A New Testament

Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.