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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

CUT-UP FICTION Robin Lydenberg, Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs' Fiction, University of Illinois Press, $24.95

Immortality, William Burroughs has often remarked, is the only goal worth striving for, and eternity means an after-life of readers and - inevitably - critics. Thus Joyce, positing 'that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia' as commensurate to the task of Finnegans Wake, observed that he had 'put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality'. The international industry of exegesis that has monumentalised the likes of Joyce or his Oedipal son and successor Beckett, has so far conspicuously eluded Burroughs, whose enduring cult status is made up of sensationalist notoriety crossed with serious scholarly neglect. Robin Lydenberg's book, the most recent of a mere half-dozen critical studies devoted to Burroughs, addresses this failure in terms of his experimental work's antagonism to what she calls 'the humanistic literary establishment'.

As Lydenberg's incisive overview of critical attitudes demonstrates, it has rarely been understood to what extent Burroughs' texts terroristically 'undermine the very forms they use, the very interpretations they serve to invite'; if not ignored on account of their subject-matter, they are regularly translated back into precisely the terms they deconstruct. Lydenberg's premise, that there is 'an unbridgeable gap between traditional literary criticism and William Burroughs' fiction,' accounts for her disinterest in coralling Burroughs into Academia Incorporated by trying to make that gap disappear, and making her subject appear as James Joyce mark 2. Using aleatory ...


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