More on Burroughs’ Color Walks from Michael Taussig
May 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Michael Taussig on Burroughs’ color walks:
“That was in 1964. Brion Gysin was his painter pal in those days and when you look over Gysin’s work, playing with color in relation to written words, let alone Burroughs’s own color work, as in the 1960s scrapbooks and the 1980s paintings, it suddenly hits you that there is a tight connection between the mad desire to cut out, on the one hand, and this fascination with color, on the other.
As when, in his homage to Gysin, Burroughs invokes the idea of going on “color walks”—which are a good deal more than color-coded walkways through Tangier or New York or Paris: red on Wednesdays, blue on Fridays, or whatever. A delightful idea, to be sure. But that is only the beginning because the idea here is that the very notion of a code is to be cut out, meaning that color is invoked so as to loosen the restraint of coding and that there is something about color that facilitates this, as if colors love to betray themselves like yellow means gold, awesome and holy, but also treason and cowardice, and it has a long history in the Christian West of marking adulterous women, Jews, Muslims, prostitutes, heretics, witches, and executioners.
Could we not say, therefore, that with the color walk we are alerted to the singular and beautiful fact that color itself walks?
This would make color even more of a ﬂâneur than Burroughs,who liked to call himself el hombre invisible in his walks through the market in Tangier in the late 1950s. What was invisible in Tangier became color in Paris, thanks to Gysin’s paintings painted in Tangier. Maybe people have to lose themselves first and become invisible as long-term residents in a third world country before being readied for the color walk? But then Burroughs was continuously marginal in utterly realistic as well as in utterly romantic ways. He was queer. He was a heroin addict. He loathed America. And he had weird ideas about most everything, especially writing. Being marginal can mean you switch on and you switch oﬀ because you are either too conspicuous or invisible. Too invisible, that’s the point, at which point you emerge as color, walking color at that.
And, remember, the original insight for the color walk lay in Gysin’s playing with letters, letters that form words. Here color and the decomposition of written language signs go hand in hand. What also happens when Smoker comes in from the cold is that the old writer in the boxcar by the junkyard is once again able to write. As colors pour from tar, he unblocks. He pours. The cat purrs. And guess what? All his stories are animal stories. (“Of course,” adds Burroughs.) The old writer ﬁnds them in an illustrated book. There is the Flying Fox with his long black ﬁngers and sad black face, just like Smoker. There is a Fishing Bat peering from under its shell. There is the Black Lemur with round red eyes and its little red tongue, the beautiful Ring-Tailed Lemur hopping through the forest as if on a pogo stick. “So many creatures, and he loves them all” (WL, p. 248).
The old writer caresses these pictures.
After all, “I have been a cut up for years,” the writer told us. “I think of
words as being alive like animals. They don’t like to be kept in pages. Cut the pages and let the words out.” Now the words and the animals become united in the stories the old writer found welling up inside himself as colors pour from tar.”
Michael Taussig, What Color is the Sacred
More here: Color: William Burroughs Walking on Color