'Nothing is true...'

This is the place to talk about everything Burroughs.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by RealityStudio » Sat Oct 11, 2008 2:34 pm

johnny wrote:one could say that afterward he became a philosopher himself.
Right on, Johnny.
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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by terminal_fool » Sat Oct 11, 2008 2:54 pm

johnny wrote:one could say that afterward he became a philosopher himself.
True, one could see him as such. At least I did early on, although he differs in
many ways. Some philosophers like say Heidegger, create a vast ideological
system utilizing their own vernacular and symbols. Always dependent on the
correct use of language yet recognizing its pitfalls, they seldomly stray into
fictional storytelling, although they do achieve great literary heights depending
on their eloquence.

Could we say WSB is more literary than philosophical? There are those who
are great at combining the two, and that's why I love reading Nietzsche, who
I believe is the last of the great poet philosophers. I would have loved it if
Burroughs had been more rigorous as far as his philosophical views went.
His ideas are in no way diminished by his main focus to write works of fiction,
in fact they are substantiated by it, but sometimes I feel philosophical analysts
rely too much on his fiction than on any critical work. Perhaps I'm asking for
too much.

Although I sense a strong ideological foundation undulating throughout much
of Burroughs' work, I recognize his true powers lie in his literary compositions.
There's been many times when I've read him and felt something stir within
me, something I can't pin down and describe in verbal terms. It is not elation,
nor anger, frustration, or depression. All I know is that he can conjure up some
bizarre reactions out of me, some of which seep into dreams and nightmares.
No philosopher ever did that.

Aren't the connections between Marshall McCluhan even more obvious, at least
according to some critics? I've never read him to be able to say. Isn't he just as
interested in the way media is used on the masses? Whether Burroughs read
any of them beats me but there's many a philosopher one can compare
him with: Derrida, Foucault, Sartre, even to other deep writers like Camus.

I hope someday one of us can muster the energy to tackle those comparisons
and post them for the rest to enjoy.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by Graham Rae » Sat Oct 11, 2008 6:25 pm

All philosophy is fictional storytelling: it's the philosopher telling you the narrative-led worldview fiction they perceive generated by their own nervous systems, by their neurons and synapses, and one man's truth is another man's fiction.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by jacksalmon » Thu Oct 16, 2008 6:21 am

having read a fair bit of old friedrich...id have to say that comparing him with bill is totally missing the point...on a purely instinctive level i always felt that FN was "hiding" something when he wrote..and at least wittgenstein saw that language as a tool isnt really up to the job of describing la condition humane...never managed to get hold of the spengler stuff so cant comment on that...

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by RealityStudio » Thu Oct 16, 2008 8:31 am

jacksalmon wrote:having read a fair bit of old friedrich...id have to say that comparing him with bill is totally missing the point...on a purely instinctive level i always felt that FN was "hiding" something when he wrote..
That's interesting. I could see the argument that, say, Zarathustra is a roundabout way of expressing ideas -- does allegory conceal as much as it reveals? And on a personal level Nietzsche was evidently a reserved person, thus in a sense his work conceals his private life. But at the same time Nietzsche's philosophy seems much more personal than the work of most prior philosophers... Why do you think you get this sense that he was hiding something?
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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by terminal_fool » Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:57 am

Nietzsche has been described as sort of ill all the time, rarely
eating, possibly inflicted with syphillis, and usually alone. Wsb got into
narcotics and alcahol, had at one time contracted syphillis, was usually
sick of one thing or another, always looked like some concentration camp
prisoner. I admire their work ethic despite their frail lives. People were much
tougher in the old days. I can't imagine working under such abject conditions
but somehow they managed to, and what's amazing is that they put out
incredible work.

what did Burroughs say? a writer cannot hide anything, it's all in their books.
maybe i got the quote wrong.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by Paul Sempschi » Sat Oct 18, 2008 7:59 am

Nietzsche, for me, seems like a very angry man. I know he had his heartbroken quite badly early on and seemed to take solice in locking himself up and belting out these books, whose tone comes off as 120 page screeching sessions.
He hated everyone. He hated the people who he disagreed with, he hated the people who (would) agree with him. He resented people who didnt take 'art' seriously but then he goes out and attacks truth, while showing the benefits of illusion and false-hood! He hated pity but was against anti-semetism. He spent the best years of his (philosophical life) paradoxically tearing down everything while warning about the 'Abyss' and the oncoming age of Nihilism/Deconstructionists.
Though I dont think he was necessarily contradicting himself, I think he was just a man who felt his philosophy and perhaps put a great deal of emotional investment in his Zarathustra personna of the 'untimely man', as a means of rationalizing personal and popular rejection. While, I would say that Burroughs didnt necessarily feel his writing but masturbated to it. At times it served as a pacifier, that allowed him to rewrite the trauma of Joan and other, lesser embarassments (this is palapable in Place of Dead Roads) while solidifying his most perverse, Nightmarish fantasies.

The connection? Both revelled in ambiguity.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by terminal_fool » Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:05 am

^^^ well put. But isn't Nietzsche at times in complete rapturous joy?
Or was that part of his madness as well?

I can't imagine Burroughs ending a friendship on bad terms the way
Nietzsche ended his with Wagner simply because he didn't like his views on
certain things.

I wonder what they would've said to each other had they met....

Bill: I heard you got the clap.

Nitch: It's horrible.

Bill: I've got just the thing to ease the pain. he he.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by terminal_fool » Tue Oct 21, 2008 6:03 pm

In The Shadow section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Part Four
Z begins to walk but is suddenly annoyed by the fact that his mountains are no
longer the sanctuary he once thought they were. Too many people have
confronted him along his way to reach the higher man, of these one who calls
himself his shadow. At first Zara ignores the stalker and runs away until finally he
stops and turns around to demand why he's being followed.

The Shadow admits he is being an annoyance but he says it is only because of
his great admiration for Zara. Having now lost his home and his goals, he is
worried though that his persuit of Zara has led him into a world of uncertainty.
He doesn't understand why he feels depleted after so much insight....

"With you I haunted the remotest, coldest worlds like a ghost that runs
voluntarily over wintery roofs and snow. With you I strove to penetrate
everything that is forbidden, worst, remotest; and if there is anything in
me that is virtue, it is that I had no fear of any forbiddance. With you I broke
whatever my heart revered; I overthrew all boundary stones and images;
I persued the most dangerous wishes: verily, over every crime I have passed
once. With you I unlearned faith in words and values and great names. When
the devil sheds his skin, does not his name fall off too? For that too is skin.
The devil himself is perhaps--skin.

"'Nothing is true--all is permitted': thus I spoke to myself. Into the coldest
waters I plunged, with head and heart. Alas, how often have I stood there
afterward, naked as a red crab! Alas, where has all that is good gone from
me--and all shame, and all faith in those who are good? Alas, where is that
mendacious innocence that I once possessed, the innocence of the good
and their noble lies?

"Too often, verily, did I follow close on the heels of truth: so she kicked me
in the face. Sometimes I thought I was lying, and behold, only then did I hit
the truth. Too much has become clear to me: now it no longer concerns me.
Nothing is alive anymore that I love; how should I still love myself? 'To live as
it pleases me, or not to live at all': that is what I want, this is what the saintliest
want too. But alas, how could anything please me any more? Do I have a goal
any more? A haven toward which my sail is set? A good wind? Alas, only he
who knows where he is sailing also knows which wind is good and the right
wind for him. What is left to me now? A heart, weary and impudent, a restless
will, flutter-wings, a broken backbone. Trying thus to find my home--
O Zarathustra, do you know it? ---tyring this was my trial; it consumes
me. 'Where is--my home?' I ask and search and have searched for it, but I have
not found it. O eternal everywhere, O eternal nowhere, O eternal--in vain!"

Thus spoke the shadow, and Zarathustra's face grew long as he listened.
"You are my shadow," he finally said sadly. "Your danger is no small one,
you free spirit and wanderer. You have had a bad day; see to it that you
do not have a still worse evening. To those who are as restless as you, even
a jail will at last seem bliss. Have you ever seen how imprisoned criminals
sleep? They sleep calmly, enjoying their new security. Beware lest a narrow
faith imprison you in the end--some harsh and severe illusion. For whatever
is narrow and solid seduces and tempts you now.

"You have lost your goal; alas, how will you digest and jest over this loss?
With this you have also lost your way. You poor roaming enthusiast, you
weary butterfly! Would you have a rest and home this evening? Then go
up to my cave. Up there goes the path to my cave.

"And now let me quickly run away from you again. Even now a shadow seems
to lie over me. I want to run alone so that it may become bright around me
again. For that, I shall still have to stay merrily on my legs a long time. In the
evening, however, there will be dancing in my cave."

Thus spoke Zarathustra.

This brings to mind Burroughs' vampiric persuit of Ginsberg. On the surface it
appears as though the roles have been reversed for it was Burroughs the
teacher following Ginsberg the student. But wasn't Bill too after some ultimate
form of knowledge? In his eyes their union would yield what he thought would
be a higher intelligence. He finally got the message after being coldly rejected
and went on his way.

Through their correspondence and Ginsberg's constant urging and reminding of
his greatness, Bill hewed his craft and style which he eventually evolved into a
powerful voice. Ginsberg had been his primary correspondent and audience,
erroneously making him believe that through him lied the truth.

Maybe my contrasting comparison does not work here. What do you guys think
of the Nietzsche quote though?

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by Proclus » Wed Oct 22, 2008 6:01 pm

A few notes on the phrase “Nothing is true—everything is permitted” [NIT-EIP], which recurs frequently in Burroughs’s work.

Burroughs’s immediate source for this phrase is stated by WSB himself in Minutes to Go, p. 61: “’Nothing is true—all is permitted.’ Last words Hassan Sabbah. The Old Man of the Mountain quoted from ‘The Master of the Assassins’ by Betty Bouthoul.”

However, Barry Miles has made a mistake in his explanation of the origin of this phrase in WSB’s work.

In Miles' The Beat hotel [Grove, 2000] he (slightly mis-)quotes the passage from Minutes to Go and then claims:
Bouthoul does quote Hassan’s last words in her book but these are not the words. The phrase: ‘Nothing is true—everything is permitted’ is the title of Chapter 13 of her book. The suggestions that these were his last words comes from the fact that the line itself is a Cut-up from her book. It was a new meaning discovered using the technique. (p. 204)
The NIT-EIP phrase is indeed a chapter title in Bouthoul’s book but Bouthoul does in fact quote this phrase as HiS’s last words elsewhere in her book :

[HiS is on his deathbed, with 3 of his chief lieutenants keeping watch] :
Au milieu de la nuit, Hassan les pria de le laisser seul: “Adieu, dit-il, et souvenez-vous que mon esprit veille. Tant que vous serez dignes de lui, dignes de le comprendre, il vous conseillera…”, et plus bas encore il souffla à Buzurg-Humid: “Souviens-toi…souviens-toi : rien n’est vrai, tout est permis…” A la fin de la nuit Hassan mourut.”

[In the middle of the night Hassan asked them to leave him alone. “Good bye,” he said, “and remember that my spirit watches. As long as you are worthy of it, worthy of understanding it, it will counsel you…,” and lower still he whispered to Buzurg-Humid, “Remember…remember….nothing is true, everything is permitted.” At the end of the night, Hassan died.]
So neither the NIT-EIP phrase itself, nor its attribution as HiS’s last words, is the result of a cut-up. This mistake has unfortunately propogated to other secondary literature--it was repeated by John Geiger in his biography of Brion Gysin (p. 146).

A note on the bibliography of Bouthoul's book:

It was first published in 1936 under the title Le grand maître des Assassins. A second, revised edition was published in 1958 under the title Le vieux de la montagne:

Le grand maître des Assassins / B. Bouthoul. -- Paris: Armand Colin, 1936. -- 230 p. -- (Ames et visages)

Le vieux de la montagne / Betty Bouthoul. -- 2e. éd. -- Paris:
Gallimard, 1958. -- 308 p.

Which of these editions (or perhaps both?) was read by Burroughs & Gysin, I wonder? --though its reissue in 1958 may explain why they seem to have been reading it around that time (it presumably would have been in the new-book shops then).

The phrase "Rien n'est vrai, tout est permis" is the title of ch. 13 in the 1st ed., and of ch. 12 in the 2nd.

HiS's deathbed scene, where "Rien n'est vrai..."etc. is presented as his last words, occurs at the end of ch. 15 in the 1st ed. (p. 196) [perhaps why Miles overlooked it--it's not in the chapter of the same title], and at the end of ch. 12 in the 2nd (p. 243), and is the same in both editions.

Though apparently unknown to both WSB and Gysin, Nietzsche quoted the phrase a number of times. In addition to the passage from Zarathustra mentioned above, there is also this passage where FN attributes it to directly the Assassins (though not specifically to HiS):
Als die christlichen Kreuzfahrer im Orient auf jenen unbesiegbaren Assassinen-Orden stiessen, jenen Freigeister-Orden par excellence, dessen unterste Grade in einem Gehorsame lebten, wie einen gleichen kein Mönchsorden erreicht hat, da bekamen sie auf irgend welchem Wege auch einen Wink über jenes Symbol und Kerbholz-Wort, das nur den obersten Graden, als deren Secretum, vorbehalten war : “Nichts ist wahr, Alles ist erlaubt”…Wohlan, das war Freiheit des Geistes, damit war der Wahrheit selbst der Glaube gekündigt … Hat wohl je schon ein europäischer, ein christlicher Freigeist sich in diesen Satz und seine labyrinthischen Folgerungen verirrt? kennt er den Minotauros dieser Höhle aus Erfahrung?… Ich zweifle daran [….]
[Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Morale, 3rd essay, sec. 24]

When the Christian crusaders in the Orient encountered the invincible order of the Assassins, that order of free spirits par excellence, whose lowest ranks followed a rule of obedience the like of which no order of monks ever attained, they obtained in some way or other a hint concerning that symbol and watchword reserved for the highest ranks alone as their secretum : “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”—Very well, that was freedom of spirit ; in that way the faith in truth itself was abrogated.
Has any European, any Christian free spirit every strayed into this proposition and into its labrynthine consequences? has one of them ever known the Minotaur of this cave from experience?—I doubt it [….]
[Nietzsche, On the genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann (NY: Vintage Books, 1967): p.150]
[the translator Kaufmann has a footnote at this point:]
The Assassins’ slogan is often mistaken for Nietzsche’s coinage and derived from Dostoevsky ; e.g., by [Arthur] Danto [in, Nietzsche as philosopher (Macmillan, 1965)] : it “must surely be a paraphrase of the Russian novelist he so admired” (p. 193).
In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov we encounter the idea that, if mankind lost the belief in God and immortality, “everything would be permitted.” But what matters to Nietzsche in this section is the first half of his quotation, “nothing is true,” which has no parallel in Dostoevsky. [.…] Incidentally, Nietzsche never read The Brothers K. [….].
The suggestion that NIT-EIP possibly derived from Dostoevsky is a mistake also made by a couple WSB commentators, e.g. Tim Murphy and G-G Lemaire.

Now, "Nothing is true--everything is permitted" (or "Rien n'est vrai, tout est premis," as Bouthoul had it; or "Nichts ist wahr, Alles ist erlaubt," as Nietzsche quoted it) is very specific phrasing, always seems to associated with the Assassins/Ismailis, and thus seems like it should have a specific and traceable literary history.

The farthest back I've been able to definitely trace this phrasing is to a book titled Die Geschichte der Assassinen aus morgenländischen Quellen by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta, 1818), which book is almost certainly the source for both Nietzsche and Bouthoul.

So the NIT-EIP phrase, in this identifiable form, dates back to at least the early 19th century, and i suspect earlier, but most of the earlier sources are in languages I can't read. :(

In any case, it definitely was not the result of a WSB/Gysin cut-up.
Last edited by Proclus on Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by terminal_fool » Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:28 pm

^^^excellent research my friend. :D

could this explain why Nietzsche chose to have Zarathustra live in the
mountains, as a sort of tip of the hat to the legend of the old man of the
mountain or was it perhaps a coincidence?

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by Proclus » Thu Oct 23, 2008 4:39 pm

I think it's probably a coincidence. The Assassins/Hassan i Sabah aren't really that significant for FN's work. This slogan is about the only point of contact.

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by Paul Sempschi » Thu Oct 23, 2008 5:55 pm

Yes, brilliant research Proclus!

Though it's a neat idea that Zarathustra was an adaptation of Sabbah, I think it's more or less a revisionist autobiography or a self-portrait of Nietzsche himself, who went up into the "mountains", in seclusion to find "truth".

Here is a fluffy documentary the BBC produced, it's more of a flimsy introduction of Nietzsche's role in Existentialism but interesting nonetheless:

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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by RealityStudio » Fri Oct 24, 2008 8:08 am

Just want to add my voice to the chorus, Proclus. That's some great research you have there. Bravo.
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Re: 'Nothing is true...'

Post by Jim Pennington » Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:19 am

It seems Gysin wasn't the only person to have read the Bouthoul book - or at least to have cottoned on to the bizarrity of Hassan i Sabbah around about that late-50s time. None other our dear L Ron Hubbard used the story in a Cold War paranoia dissertation called "All About Radiation" . He also talks about 'Control' and 'Brainwashing' ... both very Burroughsian themes though I would hesitate to suggest this obscure text was ever read by Bill as he would surely have appropriated the idea of a weapon called "sleep rain".
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