Saturday, November 29, 2008

Will YouTube never fail to surprise me? After having posted William S. Burroughs' "A Thanksgiving Prayer" every November since 2005, I now find that there's a video of the poem, apparently directed by no less an artist than Gus Van Sant. I had already heard the recording of the poem from Burroughs' "Dead City Radio," complete with ironic patriotic music in the background, but had never seen the video. I've updated this year's posting of "Thanksgiving Prayer" with the video version.

Burroughs has been called "the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius," by no less an author than Norman Mailer, who should know genius when he sees it. I first encountered his work in the early 70s; his fevered, hallucinogenic prose fueled my post-hippie paranoia. The blatant homosexuality in his work shocked me, particularly in "The Wild Boys," the first book of Burroughs' that I read, but the overall weirdness and otherworldliness on the prose carried me through those challenging passages. In the ensuing years, I've continued to read Burroughs, most recently "The Western Lands," the last book in his late-period trilogy.

And who better to direct a video of Burroughs than Gus Van Sant? David Cronenberg was arguably the right director to bring "Naked Lunch" to the screen, but Van Sant shares Burroughs' cool, detached, non-plussed state of mind. I've followed Van Sant's career as well, from "Drugstore Cowboy" (featuring Burroughs in a cameo role) to "Paranoid Park." "Milk" is playing in town right now, and I may go see it if I get the chance (or alternately wait for it to come out on DVD). Naturally, Van Sant lives in Portland, my aspirational home - I wonder if he'll ever get around to filming a novel of that other Portland author/auteur, Chuck Palahniuk?

Enough name dropping. You can work your own way through Google and Wikipedia. In the meantime, please enjoy the video above.

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