Alongside Ginsberg and Kerouac, William S. Burroughs was the opiate-lubricated voice of The Beat Generation. His novels depict drug addiction, wild sexual fantasies and sensational nihilistic tales of gangsters and zombies. In The Ticket That Exploded – first published in UK by John Calder in 1968 – Burroughs splices together the clichéd genres of science fiction and spy thriller with descriptions of graphic violence and explicit pornography to create a provoking, acerbic and witty comment upon the modern media age.
And yet, despite its attention to intergalactic subterfuge, neon-lit sex palaces and alien copulation, the poetic prose and fragmentary form of Burroughs’s novel, and its concern with disseminating generic cliché, seem to bear similarity to the stylistics of Joycean modernism. The Ticket That Exploded showcases Burroughs’s cut-up and fold-in technique of literary composition, which involved creating a new text by fragmenting and then splicing together multiple narratives. This was a method Burroughs also applied to audio and visual media, and indeed he hoped that his writing would have the “same effect on the reader as a lurid action photo”.
This splicing process is not limited to the structural elements of the book, but manifests in its content, which explores the limits of physicality and individuality. Burroughs uses images of violent bodily decay and sexual union to explore the
extremities of being and questions the singularity of the self in an age in which sound recordings and images can be endlessly replicated or played back, doctored and spliced. Selfhood becomes virtually non-existent in the text, where the body is itself an object to be continually disjointed, consumed and reused. The landscape of The Ticket That Exploded is also poignantly fragmented, a whirlwind of “sound and image flakes”, always on the brink of decomposing or straining apart at the seams.
In an era dominated by mass media advertising, political broadcasts and pre-recorded television and radio, Burroughs believed that the process of replaying and splicing sequences of audio or written narratives would reveal a more substantial truth, liberated from the formulas of linear progression and cliché. Applying this technique to his writing was in many respects a profoundly Joycean enterprise and, as an artistic enterprise, the method creates strikingly poetic results. Despite the dislocated nature of the text, the accumulation of repeated clusters of images across the novel allow an aesthetic unity to surface amidst the chaos.