friends became the center of our artistic activities, rather than the public world of publishing, media, universities and literature.
DJB: The collaboration lowered your inhibitions, in terms of the way you expressed the creative urge?
Allen: Well, no. If you’re just writing for yourself and your friends, then you don’t have to develop inhibitions. People develop inhibitions from the commercial or social situation, they’re not born with them. So in this case, since we didn’t expect to succeed and we were just having fun with each other, we just never developed those inhibitions. So as a result, we never developed the manner or style of counterfeit literariness that is characteristic of most university or academic poetry or prose. You know that Burrough’s scene, the routine about the talking asshole in Naked Lunch? Well, it wasn’t necessarily meant to be published. I mean, at that time it was considered impossible, so it wasn’t thought of in that realm at all. It was thought of as being just intelligent humor between friends.
DJB: Speaking of Naked Lunch, what did you think of the way that you, Burroughs and Kerouac were portrayed in the film adaptation?
Allen: Well, Kerouac was a good deal better looking than the character in the movie. Martin was somewhat of a wimp. I don’t mind that because I’m a wimp, but I can read ‘The Market Section’ – which was what he read over the couple fucking – much more vividly than the poet in the film. Four days before I saw the film I was teaching a graduate course at CUNY entitled, ‘Literary History and the Beat Generation.’ I didn’t know that scene was in the film, but I read ‘The Market Section’ to the students when we were discussing Naked Lunch to give them a sense of Burroughs as a panoramic poet. It’s one of the most beautiful passages in Burroughs, and the seed of all of Naked Lunchbasically, as it intersects the past and future. “In expeditions arrived from unknown places, leave for unknown places with unknown purpose. Followers of obsolete trades….Carriers of viruses not yet born.” This is the interplanetary time-zone market. The guy who played Burroughs did well, except when it came to doing the routines like the talking asshole or the “Hespano Suiza” auto blowout. Burroughs always did that much more uproariously and with fascinating vigor that you’d roll around on the floor laughing. The guy in the movie did it in a relatively dignified monotone, so that you don’t get any of the gregarious wildness.
RMN: Did you like the movie otherwise?
Allen: I thought that Burroughs’ plot was better than the movie plot. The movie plot begins with the Kafka figure being assassinated by two detectives who come to hassle him. Then, in the book, when he rebels against the authority figures, the whole long novel scene turns out to have been an hallucination. So it paralleled many mystical experiences, where you suddenly realize that everything before was maya or samsaric delusion. Burroughs empowered himself, so to speak, by rebelling against Law. It was a very important point that Burroughs was making, but that point is not made in the movie. On the other hand, Burroughs approves of cut-ups, that’s his genre. So he enjoyed it, because it’s an improvisation on his work, in his own style, that he might well have done himself. The bug powder comes from a book called The Exterminator, so they made combinations ofNaked Lunch and this other work plus Queer. Burroughs says a very funny thing. He quotes John Steinbeck when asked, “What do you think of what they’ve done to your book?” and he says, “They didn’t do anything to my book. My book is up there on the shelf.” (laughter) So I think he liked the idea of them cutting up and improvising on his texts. I went to visit Burroughs about three weeks ago. We made thirteen 90-minute tapes, which are being transcribed for an interview for a Japanese magazine, so we went to the movies and saw the picture.
DJB: That was the first time either of you had seen it?
Allen: It was only the second time he’d seen it and it was the third time I’d seen it. I liked it more watching it with him because I began to see that the hooks which interpolate the movie make a little more sense than I’d thought. It may make complete sense, but I haven’t been able to figure out the very end. Is that reality, or is that unreality?
RMN: That was left unanswered.