Friday, January 16, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Brion Gysin & William S. Burroughs: what you get when the recipe calls for a heaped measure of Aquarius & a scant measure of Cancer

No pretty pictures today...because Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. These two didn't produce much that was pretty, though they remain revered in certain circles. They were part of the Beat crowd and 20th century avant garde who weren't known for pretty.

I've already written a post on Burroughs, his artwork and natal chart (SEE HERE). In searching for an artist who had a birthday in late Capricorn I stumbled upon Brion Gysin, who, it turned out was a good friend and close collaborator of Burroughs, who described Gysin as ".. the only man I have ever respected. I have admired many others, esteemed and valued others, but respected only him.”

Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, tape composer, lyricist, and performance artist. He was, at one time, proprietor of a Tangier bistro called 1001 Nights; later became artist in residence at the Beat Hotel in Paris. He is the one said to have submitted the recipe for hashish brownies to the Alice B. Toklas cookbook; he introduced Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones to avant-garde sound recordings and the master musicians of Joujouka (Gysin's former house band).

From cover blurb on a biography of Gysin by John Geiger - Nothing is True – Everything is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin
Gysin (1916-1986) English-born, Canadian-raised, naturalized American of Swiss descent, who lived most of his life in Morocco and France. He went everywhere when the going was good. He dabbled with surrealism in Paris in the 1930s, lived in the “interzone” of Tangier in the 1950s and traveled the Algerian Sahara with Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles before moving into the legendary Beat Hotel in Paris.

Gysin’s ideas influenced generations of artists, musicians and writers, among them David Bowie, Keith Haring, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Genesis P-Orridge, John Giorno and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. None was touched more profoundly than William S. Burroughs, who said admiringly of Gysin: “There was something dangerous about what he was doing.”

Official website for Brion Gysin - images of his artwork are there, along with biographical and other detail.

In addition to their writings and artworks Burroughs and Gysin were deeply interested in magic - not the "rabbit out of top hat" kind - the darker Aleister Crowley kind of "magick". More on that in a piece by Matthew Levi Stevens: The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs.

I mainly want to compare natal charts of Gysin and Burroughs, but first a brief word about "cut-ups", a technique originated by poet Tristan Tzara in the 1920s, re-introduced by Gysin and appropriated by William S. Burroughs.
From Gysin's official website, linked above:
In the 1950s, Brion Gysin more fully developed the Surrealist cut-up method after accidentally re-discovering it. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched while he cut papers with a razor blade. Upon cutting through the newspapers, Gysin noticed that the sliced layers offered interesting juxtapositions of text and image. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. The book Minutes to Go resulted from his initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerged as coherent and meaningful prose.

Burroughs explains cut-ups:

In 1959, Gysin invented, with Ian Sommerville, the “Dreamachine,” a device intended to simulate lucid dreaming through the projection of light patterns on users’ eyelids.

So...Burroughs and Gysin were a pair who revelled in being, and producing things, far out of the ordinary. Burroughs in his writing, but also, as shown in my 2009 post, he dabbled in art as well. Gysin dabbled in the far-outer fringes of most of the arts.

Taking a look at their natal charts:

William S. Burroughs, born 5 February 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri at 7.40am (Astrodatabank)

I wrote back in 2009 -
Wowee!! 5 planets and ascendant in Aquarius (including Aquarius' ruler, Uranus); 3 planets in Gemini, two in Cancer. So much Air (Aquarius and Gemini) cannot be good for a body - or a mind! Here's another instance of "too much of a good thing". I've seen it before, but never quite as extreme an example as this. Too much Air blows away anything of substance, literally and metaphorically.

This guy had potential to spare, yet he squandered it. It seems to me almost as though he was born drugged and drunk - from the overdose of Air in his chart. Oh, the literary elite coo over his books with exaggerated praise. Does the average reader, though, see anything praiseworthy, or just a case of the emperor and his new clothes?

Brion Gysin born in Taplow, near Maidenhead, UK on 19 January 1916. Time of birth isn't known so this chart is set for noon.

Well..turns out their charts are quite similar - pity we don't know Gysin's time of birth.

Though Gysin had Sun in late Capricorn he also had plenty of Airy Aquarius going on, with planets conjoining some of Burrough's Aquarius planets; he doesn't have Burrough's additional Gemini, Air though. Instead he has three Cancer planets, including Moon (whatever his time of birth), and Jupiter in Pisces both of which bring in a much softer, more sensitive and intuitive feel to his nature.

Burroughs did have some Cancerian flavour - his Mars and Neptune are both in that sign, whereas the same two planets in Gysin's chart are in Leo. In both cases at least one of the Cancer or Leo planets is striking a balancing opposition with planets in Capricorn or Aquarius. So there is a similarity, even there.

The Aquarius/Cancer mixture they both had in different proportion was, I suspect, what led them in the paths of magick and psychic experimentation. Aquarius alone wouldn't necessarily head in that direction.

It's not difficult to see how these two men, when their paths crossed, would easily become friends. Their work isn't easy to like, unless one is naturally on their far-out wavelength. I'm not. I find their natal charts more interesting than anything they produced, but then, at their levels, even with my own Aquarius solo Sun to assist, I remain a Philistine.

In a conversation at AnOther Magazine website John-Paul Pryor answered the questions:

Do you think that Gysin’s symbiotic relationship with Burroughs may have held him back as an artist?
The two were certainly joined at the cerebellum, but Gysin shines a tremendous light in his own right, especially in the field of visual art. Burroughs was an underground phenomenon and the platform for Gysin’s livelihood, but it’s true that he also shadowed him. One area of contention has to do with who invented the “cut-up.” Burroughs tried his entire life to tell people that Gysin invented the cut-up, but because Burroughs ran with the idea, producing numerous novels, he is the one credited. It’s important to think of Gysin as an idea generator above all.
Do you think they were driven by a desire to be subversive?
Yes, it was a choice for them. They took their energy from being counter, and I think it was enormously important for that generation to be counter to the structure of contemporary culture in every possible way. These were guys who were stateless, gay, psychotropic experimenters (and in the case of Burroughs, also a murderer and a junkie). They used drugs very consciously as tools that supposedly allowed them to get out of where they were. There is a lot of talk about cultural subversion now, but I don’t think anybody could beat these guys at that. Gysin was also interested in the straightforward notion of magic. The calligraphic style he created was a personal glyph that consisted of drawing his initials over and over again; it was, in its way, a spell.
It all fits rather well!


mike said...

Definitely two weird dudes! I've read a small portion of Burroughs' offerings and didn't find it that offensive, but definitely ahead of the populace for that time period. It's interesting to me that the duo, particularly Burroughs, were living the prototype lifestyle that would be introduced in the late 1960s and 70s: drug-induced living, higher than a kite, for the moment, and self-interested (sex, drugs, rock & roll!). Astrologers ascribe the Uranus-Pluto conjunction for that behavior during the 60s & 70s, yet I'm not sure in this example, except for the vast Aquarian influence that you describe.

As for their natal charts, Gysin's Jupiter in Pisces falls in Burroughs' first house and is ruler of that house. Gyson's Mars in Leo falls on Burroughs' descendant. Gyson's Mercury-Uranus is right on B's Sun-Venus, and his N Node falls on B's Uranus. These aspects would make for an interesting and powerful liaison between two wild & crazy guys:
"Your partner's Jupiter landing in your first house will expand your ego and sense of self. You will feel limitless when you are with your partner. Fears dissipate and the big picture of life becomes clear."

"Whatever the nature of the relationship, another person's Mars in the seventh house of your synastry chart will accentuate assertiveness in both of you. Sticking up for yourselves will be part of your relationship."

Burroughs' label as murderer is disputable, whether homicide, accident, or drunk-stupid. They both lived as if there were no tomorrow and they certainly didn't care what others thought...they lived in the fast lane of life.

mike (again) said...

Both of these guys had Chiron in Pisces. Chiron was also in Pisces during the Uranus-Pluto conj in the mid-60s. Psychedelics, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, etc were very popularized in the mid-1960s onward and became a huge law enforcement operation. I found this excerpt:

"This free rein soon resulted in a population of 200,000 heroin addicts in New York City. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act was passed that was an attempt to stop abuse of cocaine, heroin and cannabis. Under this law, it became illegal to own, use or be addicted to illicitly-obtained narcotics. Doctors and pharmacists were required to register and pay a tax on all prescriptions. This was the beginning of arrests for drug abuse. In some areas, the majority of prisoners in federal facilities would be incarcerated there on drug charges."

Chiron is currently in Pisces and we are seeing the legalization of marijuana. Heroin, oxycontin, codine, cocaine, etc abuse is on the rise. In the past couple of years, I've seen any number of newscasts about the current scourge of increased drug abuse.

Conjecture, but maybe there is a correlation with Chiron in Pisces. I don't usually bother with Chiron, but who knows?!

Twilight said...

mike ~ Many thanks for all those additional pointers, thoughts, observations - much valued!

I'm not well-informed on Chiron - things can become complex enough without it! Several well-respected astrologers do consider it note-worthy though, and your point about Chiron in Pisces is interesting.

We've now got Neptune at home in Pisces too underlining addiction, among other things.

(Today has been the first decent day weather-wise here for weeks (sunny & around 60*), and one where I wasn't having multiple coughing sneezing fits, so as anyjazz's printer bit the dust yesterday we tripped to Lawton for a replacement, didn't get to see your comments until now.)