Ticket That exploded, The

by William S. Burroughs
(1961)
   This is the second installment in William S. Burroughs’s cut-ups trilogy. Burroughs described the plot of the book as follows: “The Ticket That Exploded involves the Nova conspiracy to blow up the earth and then leave it through reincarnation by projected image onto another planet. The plot failed, so the title has both meanings.” Stylistically, the book takes the cut-up method that Burroughs developed with Brion Gysin in The soft macHine and extends it by creating collages of image and sound, a technique that Burroughs developed in collaboration with Ian Sommerville and British filmmaker Anthony Balch. The first version of the book was published by Olympia Press in Paris in 1961. A revised version, meant to be more accessible, incorporated more of the Sommerville/Balch material and was published by Grove Press in 1966. The opening chapter recalls Burroughs’s South American trip and is based in part on his days in Panama with Bill Garver. By the time Garver returned to Mexico City, Burroughs had decided that his old friend was self-serving and even “vicious.” Burroughs introduces the idea of the “reality film” being directed by behind-the-scenes characters. The director is B.J., and a screenwriter pitches him an idea that is based closely on the novel’s reality: A virus has enslaved humanity, and renegades are trying to break through the control lines. The screenwriter periodically will break into the novel to heighten the “pitch.”
   Hassan i Sabbah was the head of a group of assassins who operated out of a mountain castle in Northern Persia in the 11th and 12th century. Legend has it that when his assassins successfully completed a mission, they were treated to rest and relaxation in the sumptuous and sensuous “Garden of Delights.” Burroughs uses the Garden of Delights as a metaphor for the many sensual traps and addictions that entice the unwary traveler on life’s path. Inspector Lee is involved in a plot to find a similar group of assassins in 1962, and he must pass through the garden to experience its temptations and thus inoculate himself against the “virus.” The district supervisor gives him his “orders”—a series of antiorders that require him to avoid joining any group and also to look for his orders in a “series of oblique references.” These take the form of “cut-up” knowledge that is similar to the cut-up style of the book, as the book itself points out: “This is a novel presented in a series of oblique references.” Lee is ordered to investigate the suicide of the roommate of a man named Genial. He discovers that Genial subliminally influenced his roommate’s death with a series of clever tape-recorded messages. Burroughs’s knowledge of such tape effects is attributed to Ian Sommerville in the opening of the book. The subliminal message is discovered to be just the surface of a larger plot—“a carefully worked out blueprint for invasion of the planet.” This is in fact the larger plot of the novel (and of the trilogy as a whole). The deconditioning methods of the “Logos” group (based on Scientologists) are described but are ultimately rejected as a means of breaking through the “control” of the invaders.
   A separate storyline shows Brad and Iam (based on Ian Sommerville) on Venus (the home planet for the invasion) trapped in a semen dairy-which has human males for cows. Iam arms them with a camera gun, and they blast their way out. The plot returns to Inspector Lee’s appointed meeting with Genial, who cannot speak with Lee until Lee pays the screenwriter a fee for his dialogue. He finds Genial detained by police over a passport issue, a scenario very close to Burroughs’s detainment for similar reasons in Puerto Assis. The chapter ends as do many in the book—with a cutup re-creation of the preceding events. Many of the characters in the book are actually the same character. Here Bradly and Lykin are exploring the green boys’ planet, and this scenario turns out to be a dream of Ali (later identified as the God of Street Boys and Hustlers). A second dream awakens Ali. The characters are constantly moved forward and backward in time and space. Ali, for example, “flashes” back on the passport episode involving “Genial.” In Panama, Ali is fitted with a pair of gills by a shopkeeper, who points to the sky: In Burroughs’s cosmology, human beings must evolve as they once did from fish into lunged mammals by evolving yet again into a creature that is capable of space–time travel.
   A good part of the “do you love me” chapter cuts up the trite lyrics of popular love songs. In 1964, Burroughs told Eric Mottram, “I feel that what we call love is largely a fraud—a mixture of sentimentality and sex that has been systematically degraded and vulgarized by the virus power.” Burroughs thus believed that love was a virus and that the “original engineering flaw” in human beings was the duality of nature created by the “word” (which established self-consciousness) and the dual sexes: “The human organism is literally consisting of two halves from the beginning word and all human sex is this unsanitary arrangement whereby two entities attempt to occupy the same three-dimensional coordinate points.” This duality is the source of the planet’s conflicts and wars, and this flaw has left us open to invasion by intergalactic parasites. “Operation Rewrite” is meant to fix this flaw in human nature, but there are too many viruses that are “addicted” to the human condition, and they mightily resist being thrown out of their hosts. These “Gods” are “vampires.” The nova police are called in because the “addicts” keep breaking into the Rewrite office. The basic “nova” techniques are described, the primary one being to create insoluble problems on a planet by stocking it with incompatible inhabitants. The members of the Nova Mob are listed for the first time. The leader of the Mob is Mr. Bradly/Mr. Martin, also known as “the Ugly Spirit.” (It is important to note that Burroughs later identified the “ugly spirit” as the entity that invaded him and caused him to shoot his wife, making the Nova Mob a metaphor, at least in part, for Burroughs’s own addictions and making “nova” the mistakes and tragedies that stem from these addictions.) In this myth for the new space age, our planet can be taken over because of a “blockade” on thought that was engineered by the Venusians, but partisans from Saturn cut through the word and image lines (again, a reference to Burroughs’s cut-up technique in the novel). While the blockade was in effect, alien parasites invaded human beings through “coordinate points” that were defined by the individual’s addictions. Heroin addicts, for example, were invaded by “heavy metal junkies” from Uranus. The planet is freed by shutting down the coordinate points, and the “ugly spirit” is dragged kicking and screaming from Hollywood, Time magazine, and Madison Avenue.
   This book is self-referential, meaning that it is often about the writing of the book itself, and in one chapter Burroughs demonstrates his own cutup technique, cutting up classic literary texts with his own texts.
   The “substitute flesh” chapter cuts up images. Both the image and the soundtrack have to be cut up to free human beings from the control of the reality film. The main subject of the chapter is the Garden of Delights. The garden has a sex area for which Bradly is prepared by being photographed, measured, and then by having his image intercut with that of thousands of sex partners. The sex area of the garden is intended to negate the allurements of sex, for sexual frustration and sentimentality only feed the viruses living inside us. The chapter ends with a description of how sensory deprivation tanks can be used to free us of these parasites as well. The tank reveals to us the parasite inside as many participants in tank experiments report feeling a “second” body.
   Lykin is a coordinate point that is used by parasites throughout the galaxy. Bradly’s adventures in the jungle (“in a strange bed”) continue. He encounters a naked young man with a bow and a quiver, who observes Bradly’s disheveled appearance and surmises that the “blockade” has been broken. The young man expects more of Bradly’s type to arrive. His attitude is not one of “contempt,” but the tone is that of British colonialism. In the fake journal “all members are worst a century,” an explorer and his “boy” Johnny encounter a virus that causes sexual delirium. Burroughs wrote several versions of this story that were based on an account that he heard in South America of a grasshopper with a sting that acted as a powerful aphrodisiac: If “you can’t get a woman right away you will die.”
   Dr. Dent’s apomorphine cure for heroin addiction, which Burroughs underwent in London in 1955, is analyzed in an afterward to the British edition of The Soft Machine which is entitled “A Treatment that Cancels Addiction.” Apomorphine was thus part of Burroughs’s arsenal of methods that are used to vanquish “control” of any sort. Here, apomorphine breaks the control lines of the Venusians, the Mercurians, and the Uranians: “Good bye parasite invasion with weakness of dual structure, as the shot of apomorphine exploded the mold of their claws in vomit.” The fight in the Control Room is replayed from the point of view of Burroughs’s Tangier companion Kiki, the street boy who is aided by Ali (from the liberating planet of Saturn). Kiki is advised that “retreat” is the better part of valor in some battles with evil forces of Minraud and that space–time travel allows retreat. Such “time travel on association lines” leads Burroughs back into his St. Louis boyhood days when Bill and John build a crystal radio. Bill asks John, “Is it true if we were ten light years away we could see ourselves here ten years from now?” The scene demonstrates this possibility by cutting in moments from 10 years in the future, which are then played out in a linear scene. Only afterward does the reader realize that he/she has been given a glimpse into the future in the previous pages.
   The chapter “vaudeville voices” is in part of pure “association lines,” as Burroughs calls his literary representation of consciousness. The screenwriter continues his pitch to B.J. and dreams up a plot where writers “write history as it happens in present time.” Burroughs believed that writers (as he said of jack kerouac) could actually write history into being through the influence of their works. Bradly’s adventures in “the black fruit” are continued in “terminal street.” He is walking the streets of Minraud after the Reality Studio has burned, and he is introduced to The Elder (later called The Old Man) who was behind the hoax on Earth. He tells Bradly that his race will have to make “alterations” to itself now that the blockade has been broken. Minraud’s inhabitants live without emotion and include centipedes and scorpions. These creatures personify deep horror in Burroughs’s work.
   In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville catalogs all of the horrors that are associated with “whiteness” in a famous chapter entitled “The Whiteness of the Whale.” The chapter “last round over” is Burroughs’s extension of that idea. Here, whiteness is heroin, yetis, monopolies, anglo-saxons, and Time/ Life/Fortune, Inc. “Drain off the prop ocean and leave the White Whale stranded,” he demands. Now that the control game has been exposed, he wants restitution from all of the “Mr Martins who are buying something for nothing.”
   The rant turns to ridicule of the failed intergalactic con men: “You had every weapon in three galaxies you couldn’t roll a paralyzed flop.” The marks have wised up, and the “collaborators” with the insect trust will be punished. Still, the “marks” brought it on themselves by being weak and easily addicted: “If you have to have it well you’ve had it.” The two parasites that worked to control us were “word” and “sex,” and Burroughs asks just what exactly “word” and “sex” are. Other writers, from Jacques Derrida (the famous deconstructionist) to Norman Mailer (in The Prisoner of Sex) would take up these questions. The con worked for a while because it was pleasurable, rather like the 19thcentury America to which Burroughs always looks back nostalgically. Back then, the Reality Film was never exposed because everyone had a “part” written into it; however, when the roles gave out, the film existed primarily to silence those who began to question the Reality Film (writers and artists). With the con exposed, the controllers rush to leave the planet like passengers abandoning a sinking ship. One of Burroughs’s favorite metaphors is that of the ship’s captain abandoning his ship disguised as a woman. The “marks” now see environmental destruction at the hand of monopolies and “boards” (the “Green Deal”), drug deaths, sexual obsessions, and subliminal messages all as part of the con: “technical brains melted the law—control machine is disconnected by nova police.”
   The Fluoroscopic Kid (one of the defectors from the Nova Mob, along with the Subliminal Kid) lectures about the invisible “Other Half” that is parasitically attached to us: “The body is two halves stuck together like a mold—That is, it consists of two organisms—See ‘the Other Half’ invisible—(to eyes that haven’t learned to watch).” He shows the “marks” the Board Books (control system similar to the Mayan calendar) and challenges them to rewrite them. The Subliminal Kid disempowers the books by “cutting” them up, thereby exposing their naked mechanisms of control. Control can also be exposed (and broken) by simple exercises that are made with the aid of tape recorders. Ian Sommerville demonstrated to Burroughs the ways in which tape loops and feedback allowed participants to gain control over their responses to conflicts and arguments: “Get it out of your head and into the machines.” The recorder experiments make a basic Burroughs point: Recordings can be just as “real” as reality. The defectors from the Nova Mob “silence” Mr. Bradly/Mr. Martin. Silence is the end result of the eradication of the “word” virus. Inspector Lee has been working throughout the book in “Rewrite” to cut in on the messages of the “collaborators”—a metaphor for Burroughs’s role as writer of the novel.
   “Now some words about the image track,” begins the chapter “let them see us.” Just as sound has been manipulated in the Reality Film, so too has image been used to control us. Burroughs discusses slow-motion projection techniques, which he believes create an image more real than flesh and could be used to hoodwink human sensory systems. Burroughs had worked extensively in film experiments by this time, particularly with the filmmaker Anthony Balch.
   The characters in the book (if one can refer to characters in a Burroughs book) make their exit in Shakespearean fashion in “silence to say good bye”: “our actors bid you a long last goodbye.” The final chapter, “the invisible generation,” is a cut-up explanation to wise up the marks.
   Rob Johnson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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