It is odd to say the least, for a writer like William S. Burroughs – a man who makes a living by skillful use of a tool called “language” – to say that language is the problem, “from which all human ‘problems’ stem”.
This is just one of the many startling concepts in this small, gorgeous novel. Along with the idea that time, as a tool, is a non-beneficial concept.
WARNING: If you are a devout Christian, I would stay away from this book. It may be upsetting.
I must say I fell in love with the novel before I even opened it. The form I have is a tiny hardback with mysterious black-and-white pen and ink drawings. Like peering into the Madagascarian jungle, I have no idea what I’m looking at. I only know that it’s beautiful, and somehow…it’s alive.
Burroughs blends fantasy and fact so skillfully that, like a person taking LSD, you’re not sure whether what is happening is real. And what is real, anyway?
The story is full of delicious irony. The white man’s ship which comes to the island paradise of Madagascar is called The Pandora. The explorer and supreme commander of the utopia is called Captain Mission. And in the stone temple of extinction and lost chances lie not only weird and wonderful flora and fauna, but also deadly diseases.
Some of My Favorite Bits
Pan is Dead: “Captain Mission did not fear Panic, the sudden, intolerable knowing that everything is alive. He was himself an emissary of Panic, of the knowledge that man fears above all else: the truth of his origin. It’s so close. Just wipe away the words and look…”
Environmentalism: “When we see the planet as an organism, it is obvious who the enemies of the planet are. Their name is legion. They dominate and populate the planet. The deceived and the deceivers who are themselves deceived. Did Homo Sap think other animals were there just for him to eat?”
Make Your Enemy Your Friend? “What does your virus do with enemies? It makes enemies into itself. If he hasn’t caught it from the first cheek, turn the other cheek. There are few things more difficult than loving your enemies. So anyone who can do it will gain heavy power. Loving an enemy is an inhuman practice, placing the practitioner far above-or far below- the human level.”
What the Heck is a Lemur Anyway?
According to Burroughs, these gentle forest spirits, the Lemur People, are related to primates. Ie, us. That doesn’t mean they’ve received any special consideration, of course. We shoot them because of the Ugly Thing That Lives Inside us, our drive to perpetuate the species. Homo Sap.
We all know that Man is ruthless, Man is violent. But Burroughs drives the point home in a completely new setting. The knowledge doesn’t beat you over the head, it sneaks up on you and then beats you over the head.
That’s what I call writing genius. (So does the blurb on the back of the book, which I met, as usual, with the utmost skepticism. But this time, “they” were right.)
Pirates and Primates
The best part of the book, for me, was the Afterword, which turned over the body of the work and let me see the bones. Turns out Burroughs based this story on the adventures of a 17th-century pirate captain, who founded the utopian colony of Libertatia. And then it turns out that this legend comes from the (very) creative non-fiction book A General History of the Pyrates by “Captain Charles Johnson”.
Wikipedia thinks Johnson may have been a nom de plume for Daniel Defoe. (Since Google turns up several published editions of the book with Defoe’s name right on the cover, I would have to say this is more than likely. Lol)
In the novel, since Mankind will not restrain himself, Mother Nature eventually does it for him and her solution is vast and terrible. Not to mention final.
To prove, Dear Reader, that you are not an “enemy of the planet”, may I humbly suggest that you join Burroughs and myself in donating to the cause? According to the writer,
They’re calling it Duke Lemur Center now, and here for you modern individuals, is the website:
As I heard on NPR recently, Right Time For Right Action Is Now.
Thanks to my friend Juliet for recommending this book!