Friday, May 18, 1984

City of words

I should have been spent the day working on the vacation essay for Conflict and Consensus, but instead I sat in the library and read through the Times Literary Supplement for 1963 and 1964 (“Ugh”—a review of Naked Lunch—plus the spate of subsequent letters, including one from Burroughs himself about the review, the book itself, and the pros and cons of publishing such material). I photocopied all this and the famous Burroughs Paris Review interview from 1965, read through another interview with Kerouac (who by then was an alcoholic fiercely guarded by Stella, his wife of one year) and also the chapter “Rub Out The Word” on Burroughs in Tony Tanner’s City of Words.

All this cost me £3 altogether, but was enjoyable. I read some sceptical reviews of Wilson’s The Outsider and The Occult which left me wondering about the absence of any critical faculties in my mind when I read them.

When I got back from campus, I came across Ben Beresford in The Pembroke, talking loudly, insistently, and very obscurely about his messianic destiny. Since Tuesday, he's begun to exhibit all the manifestations of madness. At a nearby table, Ian and George sat drinking, silent and watchful.

Alex kept asking, “Do you want an education?” to anyone who would listen, and said he has secret knowledge that he’ll give to us once we’ve earned it. He sat at the bar talking to everyone and to no one. The landlord—who we’ve got to know—came over to the other bar and demanded to know what Ben was “on’—“Look at his pupils! They’re huge!” But as far as we know, he’s not ‘on’ anything at the moment. Gav thinks he’s having an acid flashback (Ben said the floor was shimmering as though it was moving), but then Gav changed his mind and decided Ben had gone totally mad. Ben talks with a direct, unblinking and earnest stare, yet seems emotionless.

“Do you want an education?”

We rushed from the pub certain of his insanity, and when we neared the Vicarage we could see people stopping and staring across at the Church opposite. We knew immediately that he’d done something dramatic. Across the gleaming white façade of the Church, Ben—we immediately assumed it was him—had spray-painted in large, painfully conspicuous red letters across the base of the crucified Christ:

So what if Jesus
died on the cross
what about the
I don’t give a

On the gate of the Vicarage, he’d pinned a Learner driver symbol and in his room was another 'L', pinned to the window and facing the Oculus building. Pete and I hung about helplessly. Alex’s hippy friends—they of the ‘I’m really wrecked’ glazed appearance, one bearded, one with Mohican and anxious face—turned up but seemed blasé about the whole situation. We suspected them of collusion with the graffiti opposite.

A little later we heard that Ben had sprayed the word “ANNIE” (for Annie Anxiety of Crass we assume) on the Post Office building and showed up there, delivering his spiel to alarmed pedestrians who, frightened for their kids, phoned the police who then came round to the Vicarage asking questions. They discovered that the Church had been broken into, which betrays a clear link with us, because ‘The Means’ keeps going on about opening up the church to the public.

Later, we all went to Inga and Ebbe’s party at Castle Mount Court which was a quiet affair, so we left after an hour or so for another party at 28 Essex Circle. Stu, Gareth and I ended up at the all night café near the Art College.

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