Electronic Revolution

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William S. Burroughs

The Electronic Revolution


In the beginning was the word and the word was god and has remained one of the mysteries ever since. The word was God and the word was flesh we are told. In the beginning of what exactly was this beginning word? In the beginning of WRITTEN history. It is generally assumed that spoken word came before the written word. I suggest that the spoken word as we know it came after the written word. In the beginning was the word and the word was God and the word was flesh ... human flesh ... In the beginning of WRITING. Animals talk and convey information but they do not write. They cannot make information available to future generations or to animals outside the range of their communication system. This is the crucial distinction between men and other animals. WRITING. Korzybski, who developed the concept of General Semantics, the meaning of meaning, has pointed out this human distinction and described man as 'the time binding animal'. He can make information to other men over a length of time through writing.

Animals talk. They dont write. Now a wise old rat may know a lot about traps and poison but he cannot write a text book on DEATH TRAPS IN YOUR WAREHOUSE for the Reader's Digest with tactics for ganging up on digs and ferrets and taking care of wise guys who stuff steel wool up our holes. It is doubtful if the spoke word would have ever evolved beyond the animal stage without the written word. The written word ist inferential in HUMAN speech. It would not occur to our wise old rat to assemble the young rats and pass his knowledge along in an aural tradition BECAUSE THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF TIME BINDING COULD NOT OCCUR WITHOUT THE WRITTEN WORD. The written word is of course a symbol for something and in the case of hieroglyphic language writing like Egyptian it may be a symbol for itself that is a picture of what it represents. This is not true of an alphabet language like English. The word leg has no pictorial resemblance to a leg. It refers to the SPOKEN word leg. so we may forget that a written word IS AN IMAGE and that written words are images in sequence that is to say MOVING PICTURES. So any hieroglyphic sequence gives us an immediate working definition for spoken words. Spoken words are verbal units that refer to this pictorial sequence. And what then is the written word? My basis theory is that the written word was literally a virus that made spoken word possible. The word has not been recognized as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host... (This symbiotic relationship is now breaking down for reasons I will suggest later.)

I quote from MECHANISMS OF VIRUS INFECTION edited by Mr. Wilson Smith, a scientist who really thinks about his subject instead of merely correlating data. He thinks, that is, about the ultimate intentions of the virus organism. In an article entitled VIRUS ADAPTABILITY AND HOST RESISTANCE by G. Belyavin, speculations as to the biologic goal of the virus species are enlarged ... 'Viruses are obligatory cellular parasites and are thus wholly dependant upon the integrity of the cellular systems they parasitize for their survival in an active state. It is something of a paradox that many viruses ultimately destroy the cells in which they are living..."

And I may add the environment necessary for any cellular structure they could parasitize to survive. Is the virus then simply a time bomb left on this planet to be activated by remote control? An extermination program in fact? In its path from full virulence to its ultimate goal of symbiosis will any human creature survive? Is the white race, which would seem to be more under virus control than the black yellow and brown races, giving any indication of workable symbiosis?

'Taking the virus eye view, the ideal situation would appear to be one in which the virus replicates in cells without in any way disturbing their normal metabolism.' This has been suggested as the ideal biological situation toward which all viruses are slowly evolving...'

Would you offer violence to a well intentioned virus on its slow road to symbiosis?