Tuesday, 10 June 2014

William Burroughs: The Soft Machine/The Ticket That Exploded/Nova Express - The Restored Texts

Oh no, not more versions of Burroughs novels...how many do we need? Three more now, anyway. Penguin's new restored texts of The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express contain introductions by Oliver Harris and extensive notes. Yes, notes like the one which tells you that "two Negro secret servicemen" from Nova Express was taken from Washington newspaper reports regarding the appointment of the first non-whites as members of the presidential bodyguard (December 1961). Fascinating, yes? No? Perhaps you're not that deeply into Burroughs.

I held an Ace copy of Junkie just the other day at the ICA's book fair. Imagine if I'd broken the spine? I could have made a dealer cry. I couldn't have stolen it because there were guards on every floor. I wondered why until I started checking the prices of the books for sale. Most were astronomical. Some were just expensive because they were hand-made one-offs by artists you've never heard of, well I hadn't.

As I recall, Junkie was valued at more than I would ever pay, even if I won the lottery. But Burroughs, as you probably know, is very collectible. Who would buy it? I suppose there are rich people who collect Burroughs just as they collect any other examples 'outsider' culture. They don't deserve Burroughs. His rare books should be given free to junkies slumped in doorways who don't realise their value and take them to a second-hand bookshop where they're given 50p for each by staff who also don't know their value and sell them to me for £2.50. I then sell them to rich buyers for thousands.

Without having read these new versions yet I did notice that the new edition of The Ticket That Exploded starts with the "see the action, B.J.?" chapter whereas this Olympia version begins with 'winds of time'. Something's afoot. I look forward to finding out what and why.

It looks as if Harris has done some great detective work in tracking sources and untangling the twisted paths of all the various versions. So, yes, if you're a fan, you will want these. The covers are great too, finally applying the collage technique his cut-up novels warrant. There's loads more relating to William Burroughs on this site so click the label and have a look.

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