Edward Desautels, over at the Maximum Fiction blog, argues that a recent BBC report about the new William Burroughs documentary, completely misses the point of Burroughs’ writing:

The report was built around an interview with the filmmaker, Yony Leyser. What struck me about this interview is how the interviewer from the BBC kept coming back to an assertion that Burroughs was “disturbed,” and he repeated several times the fact he’d “killed his wife.” The interviewer also dwelled on Burroughs’s drug use and homosexuality. He said nothing about his writing. Sadly, Leyser, rather than meeting this assertion head on, tried to stake a defense on the old saw that “many geniuses are disturbed.”

While Desautels' complaint might at first seem local, insofar as it is aimed a particular report and a particular representation of a particular writer, it actually points to a larger cultural issue. The way that we represent authors, even today, so long after the death of said author, is in terms of a one-to-one relationship between their psychology (as we imagine it) and their work. Thus, a complex writer like Burroughs can be reduced to his drug addiction and so-called “disturbances.” Desautels is right to call out the BBC report for its pyschologizing simplicities, but the real work lies in changing the way we think about the way authors think.

Originally Published: December 16th, 2010