Queer (quotes) :: William S. Burroughs

What Lee is looking for is contact or recognition, like a photon emerging from the haze of insubstantiality to leave an indelible recording in Allerton’s consciousness. Failing to find an adequate observer, he is threatened by painful dispersal, like an unobserved photon. (xvi)

“I glance at the manuscript of Queer and feel I simply can’t read it. My past was a poisoned river from which one was fortunate to escape, and by which one feels immediately threatened, years after the events recorded.  –Painful to an extent I find it difficult to read, let alone write about. Every word and gesture sets the teeth on edge.” (xvii)

The event towards which Lee feels himself inexorably driven is the death of his wife by his own hand, the knowledge of possession, a dead hand waiting to slip over his like a glove. So a smog of evil rises from the pages, an evil that Lee, knowing and yet not knowing, tries to escape with frantic flights of fantasy: his routines, which set one’s teeth on edge because of the ugly menace just behind or to one side of them, a presence palpable as a haze. . . .

My concept of possession is closer to the medieval model than to modern psychological explanations, with their dogmatic insistence that such manifestations must come from within and never, never, never from without. (As if there were some clear-cut difference between inner and outer.) I mean a definite possessing entity. And indeed, the psychological concept might well have been devised by the possessing entities, since nothing is more dangerous to a possessor than being seen as a separate invading creature by the host it has invaded. And for this reason the possessor shows itself only when absolutely necessary. (xix)

. . . This occasion was my first clear indication of something in my being that was not me, and not under my control. I remember a dream from this period: I worked as an exterminator in Chicago, in the late 1930’s, and lived in a rooming house on the near North Side. In the dream I am floating up near the ceiling with a feeling of utter death and despair, and looking down I see my body walking out the door with deadly purpose.

“Raw peeled winds of hate and mischance blew the shot.” (xx)

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control.  So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out. (xxii)


Moor smiled into an inner mirror, a smile without a trace of warmth, but it was not a cold smile: it was the meaningless smile of senile decay, the smile that goes with false teeth, the smile of a man grown old and stir-simple in the solitary confinement of exclusive self-love. . . . He had pale blue eyes and very white skin. There were dark patches under his eyes and two deep lines around the mouth. He looked like a child, and at the same time like a prematurely aged man. His face showed the ravages of the death process, the inroads of decay in flesh cut off from the living charge of contact. Moor was motivated, literally kept alive and moving, by hate, but there was no passion or violence in his hate. Moor’s hate has a slow, steady push, weak but infinitely persistent, waiting to take advantage of any weakness in another. The slow drip of Moor’s hate had etched the lines of decay in his face. He had aged without experiencing life, like a piece of meat rotting on a pantry shelf.

. . . Actually Moor’s brush-off was calculated to inflict the maximum hurt possible under the circumstances. It put Lee in the position of a detestably insistent queer, too stupid and too insensitive to realize that his attentions were not wanted, forcing Moor to the distasteful necessity of drawing a diagram.

Lee tipped his chair back against the wall and looked around the room. Someone was writing a letter at the next table. If he had overheard the conversation, he gave no sign. The proprietor was reading the bull-fight section of the paper, spread out on the counter in fron of him. A silence peculiar to Mexico seeped into the room, a vibrating, soundless hum. — Joe finished his beer, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stared at the wall with watery, bloodshot blue eyes. The silence seeped into Lee’s body, and his face went slack and blank. The effect was curiously spectral, as though you could see through his face. The face was ravaged and vicious and old, but the clear, green eyes were dreamy and innocent.

Moor went on and on, following the circular route of the true hypochondriac, back to tuberculosis and the urine test. Lee though he had never heard anything as tiresome and depressing. Moor did not have tuberculosis or kidney trouble or undulant fever. He was sick with the sickness of death. Death was in every cell of his body. He gave off a faint, greenish steam of decay. Lee imagined he would glow in the dark.

He froze in front of a restaurant like a bird dog: “Hungry . . . quicker to eat here than buy something and cook it.” When Lee was hungry, when he wanted a drink or a shot of morphine, delay was unbearable.

He nodded to Lee. Lee tried to achieve a greeting at once friendly and casual, designed to show interest without pushing their short acquaintance. The result was ghastly. — As Lee stood aside to bow in his dignified old-world greeting, there emereged instead a leer of naked lust, wrenched in the pain and hate of his deprived body and, in simultaneous double exposure, a sweet child’s smile of liking and trust, shockingly out of time and out of place, mutilated and hopeless. — Allerton was appalled. “Perhaps he has some sort of tic,” he thought. He decided to remove himself from contact with Lee before the man did something even more distasteful. The effect was like a broken connection. Allerton was not cold or hostile; Lee simply wasn’t there so far as he was concerned. Lee looked at him helplessly for a moment, then turned back to the bar, defeated and shaken.

Had he ever met Lee? He could not be sure. Formal introductions were not expected among the G.I. students. Was Lee a student? There was nothing unusual in talking to someone you didn’t know, but Lee put Allerton on guard. The man was somehow familiar to him. When Lee talked, he seemed to mean more than what he said. A special emphasis to a word or a greeting hinted at a period of familiarity in some other time and place. As though Lee were saying, “You know what I mean. You remember.” — Allerton shrugged irritably and began arranging the chess pieces on the board. He looked like a sullen child unable to locate the source of his ill temper.

Lee watched the thin hands, the beautiful violet eyes, the flush of excitement on the boy’s face. An imaginary hand projected with such force it seemed Allerton must feel the ectoplasmic fingers caressing his ear, phantom thumbs smoothing his eyebrows, pushing the hair back from his face. Now Lee’s hands were running down over the ribs , the stomach. Lee felt the aching pain of desire in his lungs. His mouth was a little open, showing his teeth in th half-snarl of a baffled animal. He licked his lips. — Lee did not enjoy frustration. The limitations of his desires were like the bars of a cage, like a chain and collar, something he had learned as an animal learns, through days and years of experiencing the snub of the chain, the unyielding bars. He had never resigned himself, and his eyes looked out through the invisible bars, watchful, alert, waiting for the keeper to forget the door, for the frayed collar, the loosened bar . . . suffering without despair and without consent.

After that, Lee met Allerton every day at five in the Ship Ahoy. Allerton was accustomed to choose his friends from people older than himself, and he looked forward to meeting Lee. Lee had conversational routines that Allerton had never heard. But he felt at times oppressed by Lee, as though Lee’s presence shut off everything else. He thought he was seeing too much of Lee. — Allerton disliked commitments, and had never been in love or had a close friend. He was now forced to ask himself: “What does he want from me?” It did not occur to him that Lee was queer, as he associated queerness with at least some degree of overt effeminacy. He decided finally that Lee valued him as an audience.

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