Brion Gysin let the mice in

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Brion Gysin—autoportrait (1935).

“A shaman to me is always a pansexual being,” says the gay Canadian filmmaker. “These guys all came out of that period where queer was really hardcore, it was part of their radical art — and of course it was illegal.” (more)

The filmmaker in question is Nik Sheehan discussing FLicKeR, his 2007 documentary about artist and writer Brion Gysin. Sheehan’s film is available for viewing at Ubuweb although I haven’t got round to watching it yet so I can’t say much about it. (Reality Studio has a review.) Gysin’s life and work is certainly worthy of study, however, his art and writing—which encompassed novels and experimental poetry—often having been overshadowed by his close association with William Burroughs. He gets a raw deal in Ted Morgan’s curiously bad-tempered biography of Burroughs, for example, despite having given his co-conspirator the cut-up technique, collaborated with him on The Third Mind, and so on. FLicKeR‘s title refers to Gysin’s Dreamachine, the first sculpture which needs to be experienced with the eyes closed, being a homemade hallucination engine which works by flickering light and shadow at a rapid rate on the closed eyelids. I made some Dreamachines of my own in the mid-1980s by carefully studying photos in RE/Search #4/5, and they certainly do work. It’s a shame that 78rpm record players are more difficult to find than they used to be since the original template devised by Gysin and Ian Sommerville needs a high speed in order to create the optimum flicker rate. As you might expect, various psychonauts have since created their own variations such as this one for a 45rpm player.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the New Museum in NYC is staging the first US retrospective of Gysin’s work, an exhibition which they happen to call Dream Machine, and which opens on July 7th. The New York Times ran a piece about Gysin in advance of that. Ubuweb has further Gysin materials, such as this Burroughs piece about Gysin’s invention of the cut-up method, and some recordings of the permutated poems. Finally, if you’re wondering about the title of the post, it’s a reference to this.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
Emil Cadoo
The Great God Pan
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

Weekend links 17

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Aladdin Sane (1973). Cover photo by Brian Duffy who died this week.

• Among the obituaries this week: artist Louise Bourgeois; poet and partner of Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky; film director Joseph Strick, a man who dared to film James Joyce’s Ulysses; photographer Brian Duffy.

The dustbin of art history: “Why is so much contemporary art awful? We’re living through the death throes of the modernist project—and this isn’t the first time that greatness has collapsed into decadence.” Admirable sentiments but galleries and dealers have far too much invested in the corrupt edifice to let it collapse any time soon.

• Edinburgh film festival to screen ‘lost and forgotten’ British movies including the director’s cut of Jerry Cornelius film The Final Programme.

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Delectable Bawdville burlesque boy Chris “Go-Go” Harder. Via EVB who have more pics.

Homobody by Rio Safari, “a scrappy diy zine about queerness”. Obliquely related: Lizzy the Lezzie, animations at the Sundance Channel.

• Richard Norris aka Time and Space Machine puts together a psychedelic mixtape for FACT. Fab stuff.

• Diamanda Galás has a message for critics: “Stick to reviewing plant life and leave the Witches alone.”

Brion Gysin: Dream Machine will be the first US survey of Gysin’s work in NYC next month.

• Geeta Dayal’s study of Another Green World by Brian Eno reviewed at Ballardian.

• For type-heads: font anatomy wallpaper by Sigurdur Armannsson.

If it was my home: visualising the BP oil disaster.

Antony Gormley’s Breathing Room III.

The Paris Review has a new blog.

• Bizarre juxtaposition of the week: John Martyn’s sublime Small Hours with, er… The Clangers.

Burroughs: The Movie

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The author at home in his Bunker.

When I was writing last August about Yony Leyser’s new Burroughs documentary William S Burroughs: A Man Within I mentioned Howard Brookner’s 1983 film, Burroughs, a 90-minute study of the writer’s life and work that as a film biography remains definitive. Brookner was fortunate to capture all the surviving Beats (including Ginsberg and Gysin) and also family members like Burroughs’ son, William Jr. (who died shortly after filming), and his brother, Mortimer. If you’re interested in Burroughs and have never seen Brookner’s film it’s essential viewing, so it’s good news that Ubuweb has turned up a blurry copy (which they’ve titled Burroughs The Movie) taken from the BBC’s Arena screening shown after the writer’s death in 1997. As I recall, the beginning is slightly re-edited to make it an obituary piece but the rest of the film is complete.

Update: Ubuweb no longer hosts the film now that a reissue has been announced. The links have been removed here as a result.

Previously on { feuilleton }
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

The Great God Pan

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Pan teaching Daphnis to play the panpipes; Roman copy of a Greek original from the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE by Heliodoros.

“The worship of Pan never has died out,” said Mortimer. “Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn.”

So says a character in The Music on the Hill, one of the slightly more serious stories from Saki’s The Chronicles of Clovis (1911). Saki’s Pan is a youthful spirit closer to a faun than the goatish creature of legend. But being a gay writer whose tales regularly feature naked young men (surprisingly so, given the time they were written) I’m sure Saki would have appreciated the Roman statue above. There’s nothing chaste about this Pan with his “token erect of thorny thigh” as Aleister Crowley put it in his lascivious 1929 Hymn to Pan, a poem which caused a scandal when read aloud at his funeral some years later. The Roman statue was for a long while an exhibit in the restricted collection of the Naples National Archaeological Museum where all the more scurrilous and priapic artefacts unearthed at Pompeii were kept safely away from women, children and the great unwashed. These are now on public display and include the notorious statue of a goat being penetrated by a satyr.

Continue reading “The Great God Pan”

The Final Academy

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The event booklet, designed by Neville Brody.

William Burroughs’ reading in the city of Manchester took place on the 4th of October, 1982, at Factory Records’ Haçienda club, as part of the Manchester “edition” of The Final Academy, a Burroughs-themed art event put together by Psychic TV (Genesis P Orridge & Peter Christopherson) and others. A recent posting on the Grey Lodge is a torrent of The Final Academy Documents, the shoddily-produced DVD made from the low-grade video recordings that captured the event (originally an Ikon Video production from Factory). The DVD is so badly presented by Cherry Red that no one should feel guilty about downloading this.

I’ve always been grateful that a record was made of this event, however poor, since I was in the audience that evening, very conscious of the fact that this was my one and only opportunity to see Burroughs in the flesh. His appearance was the magical part of a scaled-down version of the larger two-day Final Academy that had taken place earlier that week in London. The rest of the event was either strange or underwhelming, not helped by the chilly and elitist atmosphere of Manchester’s newest and most famous club. In the days before “Madchester” and the rave scene (the period that gets excised from the city’s cultural history), the Haçienda was a cold, grey concrete barn with terrible acoustics and a members-only policy that required the flourishing of a Peter Saville-designed card at the door. The place was usually half-empty and the clientèle tended to be students living nearby.

Continue reading “The Final Academy”