Permit me to return to my earlier claim that the epithets (“racist,” “sexist”), which the Bison-edition preface-writers feel compelled to invoke, as they excuse Burroughs for his being politically incorrect, stand in ritually for something else, a more deeply seated anxiety. The problem, for Burroughs’ nervous critics, is not, as honest examination of Burroughs’ text will demonstrate, that Burroughs retails in demeaning representations of women, exaggeratedly male representations of men, or – God help us – in mean-spirited portrayals of despised Philippine guerrilla-rebels under the imagery of evil winged reptiles. He perpetrates none of this. The problem is that Burroughs makes a compelling case for pre-politically correct images of the masculine and the feminine – especially the feminine – that have deep roots in the Western tradition, as Beowulf or La morte d’Arthur teaches us. The preface-writers, being despite themselves aficionados of that modern version of medieval epic, the planetary romance, know this instinctively, but because they all have contracts with a university press, they act reflexively to suppress the intuition. The PC preface-writers are afraid of Dian the Beautiful and Oo-aa, who has “seven brothers” or “eleven brothers” or perhaps “thirteen,” all ready to defend her reputation.[ii]
Modern, politicized, conformist codes, and “organization” thinking, drastically limit individuation and autonomous judgment. That Burroughs wrote muscular prose, not without art, goes some way in explaining his persistence as a “good read” sixty years after his death and nearly a century after his first publication. In addition to telling a ripping yarn, however, Burroughs had a moral perspective that grew more acute, as the decades of the Twentieth century ticked away and modernity increasingly revealed its ugly tendencies. Burroughs witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor and became a war correspondent in the Pacific Theater. At the very end of his life he began a new interplanetary series in which the recurrent anti-war theme of his previous work came to the fore.
Recently my son, age fourteen, complained to his mother and me about his boredom in the eighth-grade reading class. What was the assignment, we asked. It was a well-known novel by C. F. Hinton, the basis of a “Brat-Pack” movie of the early 1980s, full of adolescent neurosis and truly cliché depictions of how mean-spirited bourgeois-types in a small midwestern town oppress and revile their working-class neighbors. Hinton definitely fails to qualify as a writer of masculine narrative. Her story telling foolishly turns adolescent misery and self-exculpation back on themselves by affirming them. That is the worst possible gesture, and a pandering gesture, as far as it concerns outgrowing post-pubertal angst. Hinton’s male characters, in particular, lack articulateness and not one of them can envision the way out of his largely self-imposed impasse. They should all have read Tarzan of the Apes or The Warlord of Mars. In the 1960s, the temporal locus of Hinton’s novel, anyone could have had either title in the Ace edition – from the turning vertical display-rack at the local drugstore – for thirty-five cents.
Hinton provokes me to one more word about the supplementary charge of “escapism,” as laid against Burroughs by his tepid apologists. Of course Burroughs’ stories are “escapist.” The way to judge them is to measure them against what they design to escape. In the 1920s it was the Babbitt-type sub-existence. In 2009 it is PC emasculation and the brutal Islamifying of Western societies in their nihilistic syncretism.