“Prisoners of the Earth, come out”: Links and Parallels between William Burroughs’s Writing and Gnostic Thought
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William Burroughs’s works are rarely read in relation to any religious context. I would like to present a correspondence between the vision that emerges from his Nova Trilogy and some of the most popular Gnostic ideas. In the cut-up trilogy, mankind is left alone, trapped in a hostile cosmos ruled by antihuman forces. Through the manipulation of words and images, Demiurge-like agents spread their control over an illusory reality. Like Gnostics, Burroughs envisions the physical world, and also the body, as a prison to the transcendent spirit. To him, one way of escape is through cut-ups. The writer shows that by breaking away from arbitrary notions and a routine mode of thinking, one can attain gnosis — saving knowledge. Burroughs creates his own mythology which, like Gnostic teachings, promotes the ideas of self-knowledge, internal transformation and transcendence.
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