Burroughs Month: Hieroglyphs, ROSE, and thought control


Les Liens Invisibles via defacedbook on the tumblr.

The study of hieroglyphic languages shows us that a word is an image … the written word is an image. However, there is an important difference between a hieroglyphic and a syllabic language. If I hold up a sign with the word “ROSE” written on it, and you read that sign, you will be forced to repeat the word “ROSE” to yourself.


via lemonlove on the tumblr.

If I show you a picture of a rose you do not have to repeat the word. You can register the image in silence. A syllabic language forces you to verbalize in auditory patterns. A hieroglyphic language does not. I think that anyone who is interested to find out the precise relationship between word and image should study a simplified hieroglyphic script. Such a study would tend to breakdown the automatic verbal reaction to a word. It is precisely these automatic reactions to words themselves that enable those who manipulate words to control thought on a mass scale.

(Burroughs, William S. Interivew: “Prisoners of the Earth Come Out.”)


Burroughs photographed by Allen Ginsberg, 1953. Coilck to enlarge.

I’m not certain about this. A lot of the time I think in words. At least, I think I do. I read such a great deal and speak to my family and friends and students so much, that I know I find myself wandering the house thinking in full sentences. I’m almost positive of this. I do not consider this style of thought, nor words being the necessary articulators and wives to my thoughts, as inferior to a purer thought absent of words. I understand the function of language and the theories of Mssrs. Lacan and Derrida, with which Mr. Burroughs’ theory would seem to agree and from which it sort of shoots off, but the thought control parts and the ability to divorce one’s own thoughts from words in to a language of pure image is shakier ground for me. I get it, I think. I’m just not sure I agree. Whether I disagree that it is possible, or disagree that it is important, I’m not sure.

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