Ali's Smile: Naked Scientology - Background

Background

Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs was an avant-garde author whom several important critics consider the most important American writer since World War II. Sometimes called the "Godfather of Punk literature", he adopted a persona that Matt Theado, a scholar of the Beats, describes as "a tormented but supremely curious person who explored the dark side of the human consciousness." Burroughs often probed contentious social and political problems with "a cold-blooded, almost insectlike presence" that influenced popular culture as well as literature.

Burroughs believed that readers needed to take an active part in reshaping their own reality through reading. For example, works such as the controversial novel Naked Lunch (1959) dealt with his concerns regarding "the battle against control," and Burroughs wrote that others "might see the control that governments, religions, greedy human beings, and their own cravings for drugs, sex, or power often hold over them". Theado writes that Burroughs saw words as "instruments of control that allow evil forces to impose their will over people", and he attempted to use words themselves to combat this problem. He wrote in a way that would allow both him and his readers to redefine words and to create new levels of meaning, thereby liberating them from social control.

His concerns about social control and language led Burroughs to write at length about Scientology. He had been interested in Scientology since the early 1960s, having been introduced to the concepts of its founder L. Ron Hubbard by artist Brion Gysin. Burroughs's early novels emphasized the power of Scientology to combat a controlling society. For example, in both The Ticket That Exploded (1962) and Nova Express (1964), Scientology, along with the cut-up technique, silence, and apomorphine, allows the characters to resist social control. These works reflected Burroughs's initial belief that Scientology could be an instrument of liberation from social control, much as he used his own cut-up style of writing. He sought to use cut-ups "to expose the arbitrary nature and manipulative power of all linguistic systems," and connected cut-ups to the theories of the self expounded by Hubbard's Dianetics. As religious studies scholar John Lardas explains, "the cut-up method was the evangelical counterpart of Scientology in that it was intended to alter a reader's consciousness".

In 1967, Burroughs became more serious about Scientology, taking several courses and becoming what the Church of Scientology calls a "clear" in 1968. In his works, Burroughs represented the process that Scientologists refer to as "clearing" memories as a step towards becoming an active rather than passive member of society. Scientology thus appealed to Burroughs because it "confirmed his belief that consciousness is akin to a tape recording that can be rewound, fast-forwarded, or even erased". Burroughs believed that Scientology's practice of auditing had helped him resolve some traumatic life experiences, and "came to regard the E-Meter as a useful device for deconditioning". However, he had "growing doubts about some of the other Scientology technology, and grave reservations about their policy as an organisation". He became frustrated by the authoritarian nature of the organization, and as biographer Ted Morgan writes, "... had hoped to find a method of personal emancipation and had found instead another control system." In a similar vein, Burroughs was both intrigued by Scientology's study of language, but felt distaste for the way it was being utilized:

They have a great deal of very precise data on words and the effects produced by words – a real science of communication. But I feel that their presentation has been often deplorable and that as a science, a body of knowledge, it is definitely being vitiated by a dogmatic policy.

By 1970, Burroughs had severed connections with the Church of Scientology. He was eventually expelled from the organization and declared to be in "Condition of Treason". He became increasingly disenchanted with the group and wrote a series of critical articles published in Mayfair. Burroughs also forced one of their headquarters to relocate by publicizing photos of it.

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