To Joan Vollmer (first letter)

I’ve been hesitantly thumbing through Burroughs’ biography the last couple of weeks and it’s making me sick.  I haven’t thought this much about the Beats since my teen years. He killed you and it disgusts me.  It disgusts me that I’ve known about your murder since my adolescence but I’m only disgusted by it now.   I’m disgusted with myself for considering the significance of the work as I write this — and for ever being intrigued, encouraged or inspired by it.  What is a counterculture anyway?  Does it come down to being both disgusting and disgusted?  How can it not be of the thing it hates — what it rejects?  I agree with what Ferlinghetti wrote several years ago (decades after that bullet entered your head):  One must strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident.  He was older and more experienced than your gang.  He’d fought in the war and knew firsthand that the order of empires is never actual – that our humanity is unfinished business. You would’ve liked him.
It’s as if the present moment is taking countless steps backward, in desperate need of a return and reversal of the Trinity detonation.  Anything hidden is appearing again in the process.  Illusions of progressive change are evaporating.   The nuclear age exposed what has always already been in place, begging for death:  the insatiable want of immediate control and gratification inherent to Man.
Shadows continue fusing with the surface of everything.  Each of us is incessantly generating variations of Howl, On The Road, Naked Lunch (wittingly or not).  When and how does the digital panopticon end?  Are we already dead?  Will the fantasy of frontier culture ever conclude?  Can the seemingly intractable, romantic-colonial exoticization of everything be stopped?  Will spectacles of transgression, outrage, hedonism, confession, addiction and resistance exhaust themselves?  The privilege of rejecting privilege, the objectification of experience, the hopeless entanglement of self-interested performance with remembrances of genuine concern, the sublimating, unspoken violence of patriarchy — will they all self-destruct?
I don’t think you wanted him do it Joan (or that you let him do it anyway).  It’s the same old story, going back to those initial omissions and inclusions triggering historical record. You were erased but I can trace you now in your absence.  Did you believe, as the drinking and pills entirely replaced your intuition, that such tragedies only exist within the inventions of literature, that somehow Art, Life and Man are not of each other, that our humanity isn’t up for grabs?
jeremy