William S. Burroughs and the Biosphere, 1974–1997

Burroughs. That first 1974 speech, “Language as a Tool of Control,” addressed the Mayan codices as an example of control of the many by the few. And to those who ask you “Quo vadis?,” tell them: “Ad Astra per aspera!”
With all our best wishes always,
William S. In 1967, John Allen, Marie Harding, and I founded the Theater of All Possibilities, the artistic companion organization to Institute of Ecotechnics, which served as a tool for an experiential understanding of decision-making processes throughout history, a kind of psychological simulation laboratory. This is a war universe. Mysteries of the brain were clarified by studying the effects of gunshot wounds to the head. He delivers a last plea and warning to our species, which is endangered by its own idiotic campaign to destroy its habitat. We paused on the stroll. During this conference, Burroughs announced he had decided on the title of his next book: The Place of Dead Roads, the second in a trilogy, after Cities of the Red Night and before The Western Lands. It is what all military thinkers dream of. In Peyote intoxication everything looks like a Peyote plant. At camp, he had awakened to his amorous attraction to males and had his first (underage) drink at the bar of Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel. William delivered a brilliant speech the following day, and became an honorary fellow of the Institute and a lifelong friend. One definition of magic is “that which works.”
Writers live in a magical universe. Another inspiration behind the trip was J. 1.4 million years ago, a super-eruption blasted massive amounts of tuff from its subterranean storage basin, creating the New Mexico Valles Caldera, 13 miles in diameter. Its circular ring fractures create a bull’s-eye pattern that can be seen from the air. The School for Boys offered a large complex of buildings, all adjacent to federal land. Burroughs was thrilled when our ship, Research Vessel Heraclitus, motored 2,000 miles to the Peruvian Amazon in 1981, on Institute of Ecotechnics’s expedition encouraged by his old acquaintance and fellow Harvard alumnus Richard Evans Schultes, founder of the science of ethnobotany. The Ecotechnics gang understood this very well indeed. The artistic technique of cut-ups, pioneered by Burroughs’s friend Brion Gysin, reveals the demons lurking between the lines, at the ready. Robert (“Oppie”) Oppenheimer had selected Burrough’s former camp, the Los Alamos Ranch School for Boys, for Project Y, as the site of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. She has co-founded projects which integrate art, ecology, science, and culture. The largest in scale and most public of our projects was the Biosphere 2 ecological laboratory in Arizona. — Interview with Conrad Knickerbocker, Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction No. Mission’s project is to establish a gay libertarian society in the jungles of Madagascar. Burroughs the writer created the universe in which he wished to live. He sought more effective methods to heal human psyches than the medical establishment could offer him personally. Burroughs Reader, “even the most hallucinatory inventions of his imagination are grounded in hard, clear, powerfully analytic and authoritative thought.”
Planet Earth Conference, 1980, France. “Mr. Much as the armchair-bound Jules Verne inspired many scientists, explorers, and inventors, Burroughs’s work inspired the Theater of All Possibilities. Ecotechnics’s Planet Earth conference, 1980. ©Institute of Ecotechnics 1980, 2016
Some media portrayed Biosphere 2 as a prototype refuge anticipating a global apocalypse. Dr. Ink and spray paint on file folder, 30 x 48 cm. — “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”
In our 1991–’94 ecological systems laboratory experiments in Arizona, Biosphere 2, eight people were sealed in a mini-world. Using these techniques, he worked to deconstruct the cultural impulses that threaten to unleash anthropogenic ecological catastrophe. By the way, we are not connected with any state, church, or foundation money and are strictly independent. 
I wait for your answer,
Ecce homo sapiens sapiens! These have included an oceanographic research ship, a tropical forestry project, a theater and jazz club, a cultural center and art gallery, a Himalayan hotel. Research Vessel Heraclitus Photo courtesy ©Institute of Ecotechnics 1995, 2016
Burroughs could not bear the idea of pain. Humans, he deduced, are in a state of neoteny, not fully realized but becoming. I think there’s going to be more and more merging of art and science. 36”
One day in 1994 I knocked on William’s door in Lawrence, Kansas. On the drive to the ranch, we stopped and picked up vodka, Coca-Cola, and ice. On that idyllic site, scientists and engineers exercised their genius to build “the gadget,” i.e., Little Boy and Fat Boy. His psycho-neurological quest took him through psychoanalysis, apomorphine, yagé, sweat lodges, Scientology, and the works of Wilhelm Reich, Alfred Kinsey, Richard Evans Schultes, Francis Huxley, and Buckminster Fuller. Fish couldn’t anticipate the disappearance of gills in the transition to land and humans cannot anticipate what it would require, physiologically, to transition to space. […] Now we are like water creatures looking up from here at the earth and the air and wondering how we can survive in that alien medium. I went to pick him up at the airport, but at first I couldn’t find him among the disembarking passengers. Salty Hoffman,
Department of Psychotechnics, Institute of Ecotechnics
Director, Theater of All Possibilities
William Burroughs accepted the invitation to our first Institute of Ecotechnics conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Salty Hoffman, my then-pseudonym). The CO2 cycled 250 to 500 times faster in B2. Neuroscientist Robert Turner, when asked about any conceivable basis for telepathy, responded, “Compassion is greatly understudied.” For Turner, an example of near-telepathic compassion is when we awaken in the middle of the night “knowing” someone has died. Ecotechnics was studying mangroves and coral reefs, and we were indeed a mindful pirate-style crew. Ecotechnics at Synergia Ranch, 1974. He sobbed as he whispered about Joan Vollmer, his wife he had accidentally shot some 25 years earlier. They have large, poignant eyes and stand two-legged, nimbly kangaroo-hopping across the landscape and leaping gracefully from tree to tree, long furry tails held aloft. Humans are not unities, but psychic clouds, multiplicities. The bleak conclusion of many speeches on the state of planetary ecology, he said, inspired the title. His illustrations were chalk marks on the blackboard, really a series of ever-larger phallic symbols, tracing the history of weaponry from the slingshot and the blow gun, to rifles, to the Atomic Bomb. Burroughs beckons us to dream, to travel in inner and outer space, to embrace the voyage of discovery, to realize what it means to be human. He swung it open and exclaimed boisterously, “I’m a Healer, I’m a Healer!” After lunch, he predicted — correctly, as it turned out — that my then-boyfriend would be forever free of the cancer that had plagued him. Paint on paper, 58.4 x 44.5 cm. Photo courtesy Kathelin Gray
 
Mass Extinction
In Burroughs’s novella Ghost of Chance, which was published in 1991, the pirate Captain Mission develops a close relationship with a lemur. — Ghost of Chance
These elegant prosimian creatures live in matriarchal societies.  
Activism 
Shortly before my first meeting with William, the wife of F. There, he also read the 1926 pseudo-memoir You Can’t Win by Jack Black, his fellow Missourian. Hank Truby, the eminent linguist, also spoke.  
Human Spacetime
For years, publishers marketed Burroughs’s novels as science fiction. In 1990, as the construction of the massive 3.15-acre sealed structure of Biosphere 2 was underway, Burroughs visited. War all the time. Anchoring prairie grass root structures were shredded, and in dry years disaster ensued. At the time, we thought that was a ridiculous accusation, even with the bleak predictions of Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome. MAY 20, 2018

I DISCOVERED Naked Lunch when I was 14. Winners and losers. All games are basically hostile. […] I’m concerned with the precise manipulation of word and image to create an action, not to go out and buy a Coca-Cola, but to create an alteration in the reader’s consciousness. Also circa 1914, farmers in the Great Plains began to plow up grasslands for large-scale wheat farms. Burroughs’s vagrant-junky phase began at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; his inner struggles mirrored those of the world at large. Burroughs, a deeply intuitive and compassionate man, was alarmed by the tenuous existence of life on this planet, which was represented by his precious lemurs. What occupied his mind during our trip, besides memories of school life, was the Holocaust, the mechanization of war, and, most of all, the Bomb.  
Vegetable Timespace
This is the most powerful drug I have ever experienced. We see them all around us: the winners and the losers. Untitled, ca. When we staged the Burroughs/Gysin-inspired work Deconstruction of the Countdown, the actors acted as shifting TV channels: is it scientist Winkhorst, or Nova Mob body-snatcher, or Hamburger Mary who speaks? For Burroughs, dreamtime is a veiled clue to the next step in human evolution. His famous answer could belong to a Burroughs character: “The work is going very well. — The Adding Machine 
There are many barriers to human adaptation to space travel, especially long-duration colonies or deep space exploration. A much more productive activity than philanthropy is philecology (Biosphere 2’s John Allen coined the word) — the love of ecology rather than of humans — which is intended to stop humanity’s war on life, the mass extinction of species. And, just over an hour south, in the mining town of Madrid, high-grade coal proved ideal to fuel the huge energy requirements of bomb-building. Diverging from Freud, he came to believe that each individual is a storehouse of alternate identities, which reside in ever-relocating interstices of attention. Dunne, an important aeronautics engineer, inventor, and philosopher, whose 1927 book An Experiment with Time profoundly influenced not only Burroughs, but also Jorge Luis Borges and J. If you wish to see anything in the area, we can take you there. As in other mesocosms, metabolic cycling accelerated. The Prison Scribe, ca. 1990.  
Magic Is That Which Works 
All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or making it uninhabitable. The closest analogy for efficient manned space travel, Burroughs posited, would be the human dream state, or “astral travel.”
Dreaming is a biologic necessity, but Burroughs expands the significance of dreams beyond circadian repose, to the aim and purpose of human individuality and society. 1992. Now, 25 years later, none other than Stephen Hawking has given humanity one generation until extinction. We cultivated different roles to prepare for and execute projects and performances. Photo courtesy Estate of William S. First crew of Biospherians. Early readings of the 19th-century botanist Richard Spruce inspired Burroughs’s expedition to the Amazon. B. Hank Truby, Kathelin Gray, Burroughs, and friends. But it may mean the end of the world.” His research was published in 1974 in Nature. ©Institute of Ecotechnics 1981, 2016. For the first time, he was able to observe them close-up. Burroughs
c/o Grove Press
June 17, 1974
Dear Mr. That is, it produces the most complete derangement of the senses […] I have observed in using both yagé and Peyote: a strange, vegetable consciousness, an identification with the plant. Scientists are already studying the creative process, and I think the whole line between art and science will break down and that scientists, I hope, will become more creative and writers more scientific. — The Yage Letters
Research Vessel Heraclitus, Peru. We’re here to learn, we’re here to go, it’s the same thing. He often slept with the lemur beside him on his pallet and had named the creature Ghost […] As the light drained into the sponge of night, Mission could see for miles in every direction: the coastal rain forests, the mountains and scrub of the interior, the arid southern regions where the lemurs were frisking in the tall, spiny Didierea cactus. Burroughs.  
A War Universe
Burroughs was born in St. 1980, 2016
From “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”:
Say you find an enzyme inhibitor to which 90 percent of Europeans would be vulnerable, which affects only 10 percent of Africans. Burroughs,
Since you are one of the foremost living explorers and scientists of the English language, I write this letter inviting you to New Mexico July 21-28 as a guest speaker of the Institute of Ecotechnics on the subject of lingua-technics, to open a week of study on the subject. Photo courtesy Institute of Ecotechnics. The losers can oftentimes become winners, and the winners can very easily become losers. At the core of Burroughs’s work is his belief in the vital magic, exuberance, and resilience of the biosphere. William faxed us on September 26, 1991, at the commencement of the first experiment:
TO: John Allen, Kathelin Hoffman Gray
and the intrepid Biospherians of BIOSPHERE II
Oracle, Arizona
I salute the eight brave Biospherians who embark today on this noble experiment. Fertility was blown away, along with the hopes and dreams of frontier families. The hopes of the Planet go with you into inner space, for the sake of the dream of outer space. William had consulted his radionics gizmo, which he called the Wishing Machine and used for scrying and for sending healing beams to needy friends and animals. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole. There are many advantages of contemporary life, but, as William pointed out in his 1980 speech, humans are in thrall to “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” who are having their way with Mother Earth​. He identified with the endangered lemurs of Madagascar. In Eureka, Poe anticipates later thought on space, time, and gravity, and expresses the foreboding sense that there is an end to the world, that time is actually running out. He was a self-described “cosmonaut of inner space” and an enthusiast for (outer) space travel. Both subjects fascinated Burroughs. Sherwood Rowland, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, had asked her husband about his day in the lab on the connection between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion. Courtesy Estate of William S. By writing, the writer makes such a universe possible. Background is the backdrop of Deconstruction of the Countdown, Theatre of All Possibilities’ play based on the writings of Burroughs and Brion Gysin. We didn’t return to the subject again — that is, not until 1982, but that is another story. Louis, Missouri, in 1914, a few months before the start of the War to End all Wars, which only set the stage for many further wars, industrial-scale extinction of legacy knowledge in libraries, architecture, and brains. Our actors’ work and approach to understanding historical decisions were based on the observation that the unified “I” is a myth. That massive seismic shake-up set off an extended philosophical discourse on Leibniz’s views of theodicy and the nature of evil. The afternoon is open for whatever comes up. [Norwegian geneticist, Carl] Larsen admitted that “more genetic research was needed before ethnic weapons became a practical reality,” but again, this was ten years ago […] evolution is a one-way street. — The Third Mind
He spoke at two Ecotechnics’s conferences. The themes of Black’s book found their way into William’s subsequent oeuvre: opium addiction, petty criminality, straight-talking. W. The Club issued one of its flags for the Biosphere 2 experiment. Truby worked with dolphins, studying interspecies communication, and was also an expert in subvocal speech. Burroughs belongs squarely in the literary genus of Poe, both equally inspired by Amazonian explorer/scientists. Dr. Skeletons littered pristine jungle. He kept a dream journal, which became a key practice for Burroughs, who shared Dunne’s interests in telepathy and synchronicity. His 1980 speech at Ecotechnics’s Planet Earth conference in Aix-en-Provence, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” concerned the evolution of weaponry. Edgar Allan Poe suggested a link between space and time in his poetic essay Eureka (1848), which he dedicated to the geographer, explorer, and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who, along with botanist Aimé Jacques Bonpland, were the first Western scientists to investigate the pharmacopoeia of Amazonas. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games. His early experience with Freudian analysis convinced him that his psyche contained many characters. The Closing of Biosphere II is a turning point in human history, and a step in the right direction towards the development of mankind’s potential. As Ira Silverberg writes in his introduction to Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs, what would you like me to call you?” “Please call me William.” “William, I have read your books and I must know: What is your attitude toward women?” Stock still and looking straight into my eyes, he replied, “I killed the only woman I ever loved.” He took a sharp inbreath, then tears began to stream from his eyes. I held and comforted him. His passion for ecology and science fueled his interest in language as a control system, in experimental ontology, and in the “magic” of nonlinear/multiple causalities. Dunne paid particular attention to the correlation between dreams and everyday occurrences. This was before he had written about the incident, in his introduction to Queer. In 1934, wind deposited 12 million pounds of dust in the vicinity of Chicago. In World War II, far-flung battles trashed sea bottoms with junk from sunken aircraft carriers and bombers. Exporting wheat to Europe was seen as a means of warding off the threat of communism. It was a symbiosis of biospherics, technics, and culture. Just before the Anschlüss, Burroughs fled Vienna in 1937 (Freud in 1938), marrying his friend Ilse Klapper and saving her from the Holocaust. This accelerated after World War I, with government support. Science and technology, in thrall to profiteers, accelerated the War on Nature and led to the zero-sum ecological processes that are upon us. There’s a cosmic joke here. Los Alamos is the site of one of the world’s supervolcanoes. Code-cracking funded the evolution of computation. Aerosols from the soil of 97 million acres darkened the skies as far away as Washington, DC. Water in the B2 ocean and marsh cycled 1,000 times faster than in natural biomes, so results came quicker, cycles became easier to study. Topsoil, soaring from his homeland in the Great Plains, trailed him like a sorcerer’s inky cape as he headed off to Harvard in 1932. 1991. Oh, wait, he must be that Southwest geologist, a bit too-perfectly outfitted for the role. It is easy to understand how the Indians came to believe there is a spirit in these plants. This would include a morning jam with the members of the Institute and a lecture on a subject of your choice in the evening in our geodesic dome. This venture into Time was recognized by the Explorers Club, which has issued flags for expeditions that have furthered the cause of exploration and field science since 1918. — “The War Universe”
The 18th-century Lisbon earthquake and subsequent tsunamis reminded European society that humans are powerless in the face of geogenic catastrophes. Since the inhibitor could tell friend from foe, no matter how intermingled, it is the super-selective military weapon. The Atomic Heritage Foundation
New Mexico Valles Caldera
On William’s 1974 trip to the conference in Santa Fe, I had the opportunity to drive him to the site of Los Alamos School for Boys. WSB w Dr. Burroughs top row third from right. Burroughs’s novels describe a planet relentlessly under attack by sadomasochists and Imps of the Perverse. That is its nature. We can afford up to $200; there are about thirty people full time at the Institute and perhaps as many more would attend the event which will not be open to the general public. Photos courtesy ©Institute of Ecotechnics. Paint and photo collage on cadillac paper. Dreams are akin to life-giving subterranean water reservoirs. Burroughs arrived in Vienna in 1936 to study medicine, and occupied a flat not far from Freud’s, but never encountered him. In 1989, after decades of interest in lemurs, Burroughs traveled to North Carolina to visit the lemur sanctuary at Duke University Primate Center. — Private conversation, 1997
¤
Kathelin Gray is a director, producer, curator, and writer. Some years later, the opportunity finally arrived to meet the author:
William S. Timber barons log the remote forests of Madagascar, homeland to these kind, playful, curious primates. While babysitting, I excavated a copy hidden behind Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare and read as the kids slept. This adventure narrative spins out to include drugs, paranoia, origins of disease, and the devastation of the planet. Burroughs
James Grauerholz
Burroughs at Biosphere 2, 1990. Such a radical exposé of power. On the walk to his room, he combed the landscape for a stick to use as a dowsing rod and commented that later he wanted to visit the pigs who were squealing in their wallow nearby. The Last Rocket Out, 1992. Some of the 60 species sing ghostly arias reminiscent of whale songs; others exuberantly dance with a fetching two-step. He wanted to revisit adolescent memories in the landscape of his summers in Northern New Mexico. The 20th century’s World Wars, climaxing with the Bomb, were the first catastrophes created by mankind on the scale of geologic events, occasioning even more desperate and penetrating investigations of human nature. Priestley. They gambol, leap, and whisk away into the remote Past before the arrival of Man on this island, before the appearance of man on earth, before the beginning of time. The objective was to study the complex interactions of natural systems on Planet Earth as well as anticipate what would be necessary to maintain long-term regenerative life systems in space. ©Institute of Ecotechnics 1974, 2016
He always asked about the progress of Ecotechnics’s projects, and visited several of them. A society without a dream is doomed. The first step towards Space exploration was to examine the human artifact with biologic alterations in mind that would render our [human artifact] more suitable for Space conditions and Space travel. Great droughts began while Burroughs attended high school. In Ghost of Chance, he included a fundraising appeal for the Duke Center. I like to think that this novella was partly inspired by our Research Vessel Heraclitus, which — circa 1989, at the time Burroughs wrote the book — was docked in Belize, a historic safe haven for pirates. Burroughs encouraged us to pursue a “mythology for the space age.”
Man is an artifact designed for space travel. Once you lose your gills you can never get them back. The War on Nature had begun with the development of agriculture in Sumer, yet in the 20th century, the perversity of the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and two World Wars ramped up quickly and inexorably to the greatest human catastrophe ever devised, the Bomb. To do his bit to put the brakes on manmade disasters, Burroughs conducted a no-holds-barred deconstruction of received psychologies and power structures. Paul Rotmil, Karolinska Institute; Rotmil worked on smallpox eradication. William always asked for updates on our ship’s activities, eager to hear news of our epic voyages. War accelerated the development of science and technology. Photo Jose Ferez Kuri Photo courtesy Kathelin Gray
Biosphere 2 was a bonsai Earth, a world in a bottle. The Pajarito Plateau of Los Alamos was the perfect place to build a weapon of mass destruction: its natural wonder stood serene, remote from dense population centers. Australian aboriginals’ ancestral dreamtime is not an abstraction, but a very real parallel reality. For this, we will pay your round trip transportation, accommodations here at our ranch and a fee. Then the car had a flat tire, which he changed, much to the subsequent amazement of his buddies.