Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Yage Letters

Rate this book
An early epistolary novel by William Burroughs, whose 1951 account of himself as as junkie, published under the pseudonym William Lee, ended Yage may be the final fix. In letters to Allen Ginsberg, an unknown young poet in New York, his journey to the Amazon jungle is recorded, detailing picaresque incidents of a search for a telepathic-hallucinogenic-mind-expanding drug called yage (Ayahuasca, or Banisteripsis Caape), used by Amazon indian doctors for finding lost objects, mostly bodies and souls. Author and recipient of these letters met again in New York, Christmas 1953, and edited the writings to form this single book. The correspondence contains the first seeds of the later Burroughsian fantasy in Naked Lunch. Seven years later Ginsberg in Peru writes his old guru an account of his own visions and terrors with the same drug, appealing for further counsel. Burroughs' mysterious reply is sent. The volume concludes with two epilogues: a short note from Ginsberg on his return from the Orient years later reassuring Self that he is still here on earth, and a final poetic cut-up by Burroughs, I am dying, Meester?

66 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1963

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

William S. Burroughs

294 books5,584 followers
William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer.
A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century".
His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays.
Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.
He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of the inventor and founder of the Burroughs Corporation, William Seward Burroughs I, and nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, studied English, and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attended medical school in Vienna. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II, he dropped out and became afflicted with the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life, while working a variety of jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the countercultural movement of the Beat Generation.
Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversy-fraught work that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws. With Brion Gysin, he also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–64). In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1984 was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the "greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift", a reputation he owes to his "lifelong subversion" of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be "the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War", while Norman Mailer declared him "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius".
Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III (1947-1981), with his second wife Joan Vollmer. Vollmer died in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in Vollmer's death, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, after suffering a heart attack in 1997.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
832 (22%)
4 stars
1,266 (33%)
3 stars
1,254 (33%)
2 stars
322 (8%)
1 star
57 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 151 reviews
Profile Image for carey lina.
49 reviews7 followers
August 27, 2012
Dear Al,
I'm detoxing. I can't find any little boys to pay for sex. Corruption, whine whine whine. Third world, whine whine whine.

Low points: Cultural observation skips along the path to racism. Whining. Craptacular "routine" play thing, possibly more enjoyable if one knows about the politics of the time, possibly not. Disgusted tone gets me down.

Highlights: Good writing. Good cultural observations. Stubborn scientific approach to looking to score. Bad trips. A freakout at the end. Epistolary. Wonderful, supportive, loving letter by Ginsberg to losing-it Burroughs at the end. Burroughs was clearly an asshole, albeit a decent writer. Ginsberg seems like he was a good friend.

I don't like to give a well-written book one star. I don't. But I got one star of enjoyment out of it. I think I'll put it in that "dudes travelling the world being dudes" category, which I have decided not to try so hard to like, and call it a day.
Profile Image for Katalina Aurora.
4 reviews1 follower
October 3, 2016
As a Colombian and as person who is initiating herself in the world of ayahuasca, I find this book extremely offensive. This man comes to this land looking for nothing more than a drug that makes him hallucinate and disrespects not only what is considered a sacred plant but refers to shamans as ''brujos'', when they call themselves taitas, which is a name that has a deep meaning and respect. Burroughs came knowing nothing and left knowing nothing as well. If you read this book and know nothing about ayahuasca, please don't believe a word. This is full of shit.
Profile Image for Patricia Killelea.
Author 4 books14 followers
October 25, 2011
I spent my teenage years trailing through Naked Lunch, Junkie, and I later devoured Word Virus: A Burroughs Reader. I loved and continue to love those particular works.

I remember reading The Yage Letters for the first time (2002?) and finding it engaging, but upon my second recent reading I am struck with major concerns: 1) Burroughs' effed up characterizations of indigenous peoples; 2) Burroughs participation in what we now call "sex tourism" and the many issues of privilege and dominance that come with that practice; and 3) His disrespect of plant personhood.

I still love his style, his voice, his structure... but the work buckles in so many arenas that I find it hard to stomach this time around.

Profile Image for Mat.
505 reviews57 followers
February 3, 2012
This is probably my third favourite book by William S. Burroughs after 'Junky' and 'Cities of the Red Night'.

This book is not only a first-hand account of his experiences taking the South American drug 'yage' (through the Putumayo Kofan and Vauges methods), but it also showcases Burroughs’ dry, tongue-in-cheek, ‘scientific’ humour. One of my favourite parts which really made me laugh and which is still very relevant in today’s society was, “You can not contact a civil servant on the level of intuition and empathy. He just does not have a receiving set, and he gives out like a dead battery. There must be a special low frequency civil service brain wave”. I guess civil servants in South America are no different from anywhere else then, both past and present.

It is easy to understand how someone like Burroughs who studied anthropology at university would be drawn to the romantic aspects of exploring South American tribes and areas but according to his letters to Ginsberg, Burroughs did not have a good time here at all with nosy police always inspecting papers, sleazy moochers, whores and even the occasional botanical scientist. Sounds like the perfect place for Burroughs to fit right into though doesn't it?

As in other Burroughs books, the author puts himself through some incredibly painful and dreadful experiences BUT, in my opinion it is probably his suffering which gives his writing that distinctive razor-like edge that has become the Burroughs’ trademark. And in terms of style of prose, he is truly one-of-a-kind and groundbreaking. Reading his books is like being on the edge of your seat when watching a nail-biting thriller movie. And I think that it is this quality that is so charming and endearing to his readers and fans of beat literature.

It doesn’t seem like he enjoyed most of the places he went to in South America or the people he met although he seems to be more fond of Peru than its neighbours. The Panamanians and Ecuadorians are largely on the receiving end of his caustic comments. In one letter, Burroughs says that, “the Panamanians are about the crummiest people in the Hemisphere - I understand the Venezuelans offer competition”.

And then there are his various macabre tales laced with his acid-sharp wit such as in, “every Sunday at lunch my grandmother would disinter her dead brother killed 50 years ago when he dragged his shotgun through a fence and blew his lungs out”.

But I digress. Now, to the meat of the story – the sections on yage. When the author experiments with the drug using the Putumayo Kofan method prescribed and prepared by a Brujo (type of witchdoctor), he ends up going through an awful experience which makes him retch and vomit many times and cause his body to shake. The second time around though when he takes the drug following the Vauges method, the experience is more like weed he says.

Just like the interviewers of the great Beat documentary entiled ‘the Source’, you are probably wondering why anyone would go out of their way to put themselves through such misery.
Burroughs’ slightly irritated and defensive response was, “What are you talking about? You want to try yage, you try yage!”.

Burroughs was a man who truly believed that drugs could be something beneficial for mankind. I also feel that he believed humans 'need to suffer' in order to grow stronger and achieve greatness. There is more on this in the final chapters of ‘Junky’. While certain powerful drugs like 'yage' are certainly not for the faint-hearted, Burroughs was all about challenging the entrenched notion that ‘DRUG AUTOMATICALLY EQUALS BAD’. And in this sense he was a real pioneer hoping that people would develop a more open understanding of both the benefits and dangers of drugs. He was different from other beat writers and poets like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Corso in that he was not only a writer but also an ethnographer. You can tell that he was often disgusted with mankind but at the same time he had the typical curiosity of any given anthropologist or scientist who goes out into the world and studies and records human behaviour in all its weird and wonderful forms. Many would say that Burroughs loved writing about the 'underworld' and 'darker' sides of the planet. This is true and with the possible exception of Poe, the 'underworld' society had been largely neglected by authors as a subject until Burroughs came around, although since the 60s and 70s it has become popular to write such novels. I feel that he wanted to write about all the things you would never read about in a newspaper or Time magazine! And in this sense, modern-day writing (especially the press) is aggravatingly dull, stale and stultified and that's why we need more writers like Burroughs.

I read 'Marching Powder' (book about a British national who is incarcerated in a Bolivian prison for drug-trafficking) about a year ago and that was also a good 'tale from the underside' and incidentally, also set in South America. If you liked 'the Yage letters', you will love 'Marching Powder' which has an even stronger and more fascinating story.

Although I cannot recall the title of the book and have yet to read it myself, a friend also recommended another good book out there on the history of the US government’s clandestine war of propaganda on drugs and this is exactly the kind of thing that Burroughs would have dug.

Verdict: All in all, this is a short but fascinating epistolary novel which I highly recommend. Four Stars!
Profile Image for Harley Claes.
Author 10 books7 followers
December 9, 2018
What else must a white man do but study that which he does not know? What else must a white man do but learn, educate, experiment? As a woman of color I do not see this book from a narrow lens. I see it as the research it was, the need to educate themselves on culture, psychoactive plants, the world. And what for? For the revolution of the consciousness that was necessary to bring into fruition in America, as they left seeds of their exposure in different sects of the world. The Beats were a controversial bunch. That is what made them great, it is what made them REMEMBERED. If not for their controversy, they would have been forgotten. Their taste for drugs was a conduit for esoteric knowledge to be inked on the paper, the derangement of the senses was art itself and education to them. So be it, it added volume to their ramblings.

My personal perception on why Ayuaschsa was such a different experience for both Allen and Burroughs; It was due to Burroughs junkie nature desire to get high, to get out of his head instead of inside it. It was an insincere desire for knowledge, but a lust for high times. While Allen seeked the ultimate light and truth, thus he received visions of the great being. Ginsberg’s poetry is like an active battle between his spirituality and absolute reality. His subconscious wishes to justify his visions.

Overall the book was an insightful collection, we are lucky to have this piece of history and educational resource within our reach.
Profile Image for Leeann.
43 reviews4 followers
April 16, 2009
"Meh" is pretty much all I thought about this. White junkie dude traipses through the Amazon and whines about it a whole bunch and is pretty much a jerk to everyone he meets. Whatever. (The Ginsberg part at the end was ok, though.)
Profile Image for Pablo Paz.
129 reviews19 followers
December 6, 2011
Le pusé una estrella por que es lo minimo que la página permite.. un libro epistolar donde un señor habla todo el tiempo sobre las iniciativas cleptomaniacas de los prostitutos que contrata,la fealdad de los muchachos que alcanza a ver desde las ventanas de los buses en los que monta, lo espantosos que son los países que visita y por ahí al final del libro menciona el yage. Un libro que parece editado no más por explotar el beneficio economico que representa el uso del apellido de Burroughs y la palabra yage para cierto público compuesto por lectores parranderos y aspirantes a Terece Mackenna. Le abono eso sí que en cierta parte Burroughs critica la costumbre colombiana de llamar Doctor a todo personaje que use corbata. pero de resto... este libro me hace sentir piedra que los mexicanos no hayan encarcelado por un largo tiempo a Burroughs después de haber asesinado a Joan Volmer en el D.F... de haber sido así al menos la muerte de esa señora hubiese tenido algún sentido... odié este libro jaja se nota?
Profile Image for Ebony Earwig.
96 reviews4 followers
June 7, 2021
This was a good 'un. Can be summed up as William Burroughs travelling through jungles and getting misled by various locals as he looks for Ayahuasca so he can be even more out of his mind. It's the kind of thing you hear about trust fund hipsters doing these days, except these days it's all sanctioned and done in hostels and retreats. By the end he gets what he's looking for and it serves as a nice prelude into his mindset for Naked Lunch.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
4,995 reviews1,103 followers
November 5, 2020
I'd been looking for this book for quite some time when my roommate surprised me with a copy for my birthday. Quite interested, I read it immediately and in one sitting.

Although Oliver Harris is only listed as the editor of this edition, his actual contribution, his introduction, constitutes almost a third of the text and is well worth reading. Most of the material, however, is by Burroughs.

Excepting the introduction, the texts in this collection were composed in the fifties and sixties, when relatively little was known about ayahuasca/yage and its main active ingredient DMT. Thus what Ginsberg and Burroughs say about the plants and the chemistry is dated and often in error. This is not the book to read as a preparation for trying the drug. Indeed, Burrough's contributions are mostly along the lines of eccentric accounts of his travels in South America.

Of the actual accounts of their drug-induced experiences, Ginsberg's comes across as most believable and impressive. He took, it seems, the real stuff, the combination of the vine and shrub that can be ingested, and he apparently obtained some insight from the experience. Burroughs seems to have mostly taken the harmaline-rich vine without the shrub which makes the DMT ingestible. His experiences were generally unpleasant--lots of nausea and retching.

I write the above with some prejudice. Ginsberg I like, having witnessed much of his career, read some of his material and read a substantial biography of him. He appears to have been a genuinely well-intentioned man. Burroughs I've only know through his first novel, 'Junkie', hardly the basis for a good first impression, from surveys about the beatnik 'movement' and from a documentary. Compared to Ginsberg, he appears a dark figure, not someone I'd want to trip with.
Profile Image for Aaron.
303 reviews4 followers
January 25, 2022
Pulled this off my shelf for a friend interested in ayahuasca and decided to reread before I gave it to her. Eesh. Mostly Burroughs being racist and horny (in that order), though the descriptions of his hallucinations and Ginsberg's letter regarding his own experiences with the drug are interesting to read.
Profile Image for Professor Weasel.
779 reviews9 followers
December 10, 2022
It was interesting to read about Bogotá and Cali in the 50s but Burroughs really comes off as a miserable old git in these...
Profile Image for Kitap.
780 reviews36 followers
June 26, 2016
Dear Al,

Sex tourist in search of final fix is no good, no bueno. Full of holes, full of holes. Use that last bit in summarizing new "epistolary novel" I'm writing. With letter, you're now part of novel. Mindfuck using old typewriter instead of Brion's Dream Machine. Annual meeting of society of book reviewers: "Are we to gulp down this slim edition of horseshit? Are we to spend hard-earned money on book ostensibly about yage and presumably visionary experience only instead to endure dry grating of pushing pederast in search of something pure to foul and despoil?" Wanted to thank you for coming along at end, contributing weird images, whacked-out trademark Allen Ginsberg "poetry" about ayahuasca experience about experience itself not about screwing teenage boy in Ecuador. Shit-hole country by the way. You try to score paregoric and the croaker hits you with paracetamol instead, pockets difference. Full of holes, full of holes.

Off to cutup literary collage crap. Critics will gush. Beats working.

Love always,
Billy Lee
Profile Image for Will Mayo.
244 reviews15 followers
December 2, 2017
I read this book hesitantly about Burroughs's search for the perfect high in the jungles of the Amazon wondering if I could at all relate to it since, apart from a couple of all too brief experiences in the 1970s and 1980s, I've shied away from drugs almost entirely. Basically, drugs just never appealed to me. Even marijuana never did anything for me. I was just blasé about the whole thing. But, trust Burroughs, he renders the whole experience vividly here in bright colors including even the vulnerability of the ordeal in a series of letters to his friend and sometime lover Allen Ginsberg and in Ginsberg's responses to him. I wish I could say more but you'd just have to read the book yourself. It was just magnificent.
Profile Image for W. Koistinen.
55 reviews
February 8, 2021
Well done research on "letters" that are not really letters at all, but constructed piece of autofiction. Included are also some real letters of Ginsberg, as he was on his own separate journey to find the "vine of the soul" and some of Allen's journal writing of that time. It becomes clear that Ginsberg went in fact much farther into yage tripping than Burroughs, but Burroughs' prose contains more humorous elements.

If you have only read the original Yage Letters I recommend reading this also. And if you haven't read either one, I'd recommend going straight to this.
Profile Image for Javier Iglesias.
120 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2020
Por supuesto no se trata de un texto literario, no se le puede ni debe pedir calidad literaria a unos textos que no nacieron como tal. Su interés es coyuntural. Un perfecto ejemplo de cómo se acabó convirtiendo en mito y generación literaria a un grupo de intelectuales, adictos a la irrealidad, entre los cuales, sin embargo, hubo apenas escritores de valía.

Mi interés por esta clase de textos es siempre el mismo: ¿Cómo transcribe en palaras un lenguaje humano el viaje o la caída mentales a los pozos inescrutables del Ser a través de la zambullida psicotrópica? Cómo se salva esa distancia, si es que se salva...

A tenor de este libro, y otros tantos de parejo tenor que llevo ya leídos, la respuesta es bastante decepcionante: mucha perorata multiculor sinestésica, mucha imaginería crística, y poca revolución lingüística y semántica e incluso ontológica.

Así pues, de quién es aquí el demérito: ¿Los límites del lenguaje? ¿El limitado vehículo humano? ¿O quizá ese fondo inescrutable del Ser, que o bien resulta del todo inextricable o quizá ni siquiera es para tanto?...
Profile Image for Jacob Kelly.
145 reviews2 followers
January 18, 2023
I could hear Burroughs chat about Yage all day long. Could do without Ginsberg. Why would anyone want to send that loser letters?
708 reviews176 followers
April 26, 2014
La scimmia sulla schiena, celeberrimo documentario autobiografico sulla tossicodipendenza, termina con una improvvisa virata avventurosa-fantastica e l'annuncio, da parte dell'autore, di un viaggio alla ricerca dello yagé, una segreta droga usata dalle popolazioni indigende dell'America latina e con supposte proprietà paranormali. Una droga che per Bill, il metaprotagonista/narratore dei romanzi di Burroughs, può liberare l'Uomo dal Virus della Parola, aprendolo al regno della mente (grazie alla telepatina, principio attivo dello yagé), e che per il Burroughs scrittore e tossicodipendente può rappresentare "l'ultima dose".
Di questo viaggio, che pure Burroughs intraprese a più riprese tra gli anni Cinquanta e Sessanta, non v'è più traccia nella produzione letteraria. Ecco allora intervenire questo testo, che getta qualche luce su quei nebulosi e letterariamente infruttuosi anni.
Un testo (non il primo e non l'ultimo) frutto del lavoro di editor e curatori, che hanno sapientemente ricostruito una trama dalle sparse e spesso contraddittorie lettere tra Burroughs e Ginsberg, scoprendone il nesso con bozze confuse e inconcluse del primo. Nello specifico, allo scambio epistolare tra i due amici si affiancano le bozze di un "libro sullo yagé" che Burroughs tentò più volte di scrivere, tuttavia senza successo. Ciò che ci è rimasto è un testo che unisce diario di viaggio e romanzo epistolare, avventura, folklore e fantastico. Di per sé non è particolarmente accattivante, e Burroughs quando non si ripete finisce con il contraddirsi, degenerando in una confusa sovrapposizione di piani letterali (le lettere in particolar modo sono di volta in volta firmate "William", "Bill" o "Lee", della serie che nemmeno riusciva a distinguere realtà e finzione). E' tuttavia un testo interessante perché rivela un processo di crescita stilistica in corso, configurandosi come anello di congiunzione tra i primi romanzi autobiografici e la successiva Tetralogia Nova, era del cut-up. Non a caso l'editore ha scelto di includere due racconti inediti di Burroughs, e che sono proprio i primi tentativi di adottare la tecnica letteraria suggerita dal pittore Brion Gysin.
Da non dimenticare l'apporto di Alan Ginsberg, che oltre a comparire come interlocutore epistolare di Burroughs è presente in un paio di peometti correlati di disegni scritti sotto l'effetto degli stupefacenti.
Profile Image for Michael.
10 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2009
i borrowed this from a friend in a great pile of books given to me, and to be completely honest, i probably would not have read it had i not been in the mood for a quick read.

i've never been much of a fan of burroughs' writing style, but the fact that the bulk of the book is in the form of him writing letters to ginsberg makes it much easier to bear.

i didn't care much for his overall quest for yage in the letters, but rather found enjoyment in his personal descriptions of 1950s south america. he does his fair share of complaining throughout which does get old, but there's enough quirkiness in his both to-the-point and world weary observations to make me smile here and there.
January 5, 2014
I got a lot out of Allen Ginsberg's contribution which was spiritual, compassionate, and thoughtful. Personally I wasn't crazy about William Burroughs' narrative since it was mostly him paying boys for sex. Not really my thing. If I were to read it again I would probably just skip to Ginsberg's section. I lent this to a person I don't think I'll ever see again so I think I'll have to buy another copy at some point.
Profile Image for Tentatively, Convenience.
Author 16 books190 followers
March 4, 2008
Burroughs' search for a telepathy-inducing drug is yet-another indicator of just how serious an explorer of expanded consciousness he was. This bk even includes Ginsberg's drawings of Yage-induced visions. An important bk up there w/ Artaud's "The Peyote Dance", the works of R. Gordon Wasson on mushrooms, & many other works of the same ilk.
Profile Image for Tosh.
Author 12 books611 followers
December 30, 2007
William S. Burroughs the ultimate adventure. Going for the perfect high. Writing to Allen. Will he come out of the jungle? No, not really.
141 reviews7 followers
May 28, 2016
Bill goes to the jungle and alternately hunts Yage experiences and tricks with uncouth overexperienced native boys, one of whom steals his underpants.
Profile Image for Gia Jgarkava.
432 reviews39 followers
August 11, 2016
Not yet quite Burroughs'... as Russians say - "neither fish, nor fowl" :)
Profile Image for Rosa Tolava.
260 reviews7 followers
September 9, 2020
El 90 % de las cartas fueron escritas por Burroughs y describen su experiencia con la ayahuasca. Lo más interesante y triste es su retrato de Latinoamérica: desde una visión anglosajona caen en los lugares comunes, el desdén, el menosprecio, la discriminación, etc. Es irónico que en lo literario se sitúan en los márgenes pero en la vida rechazan lo que ellos consideran "marginal". Si el sur es una "mierd*", pues ellos se hundieron en ella buscando la satisfacción que el norte no les podía dar.

"El mismo Panamá de siempre. Putas, putos y rufianes".

"Los panameños deben ser los individuos más piojosos del hemisferio —aunque tengo entendido que los venezolanos entran en la competencia— ".

"Como en ninguna otra ciudad que haya visto en América del Sur, se siente en Bogotá el peso muerto de España, sombrío y opresivo".

"Entré en una cantina y tomé aguardiente y puse música de las sierras en la máquina automática. Hay algo arcaico en esa música que resulta extrañamente familiar, muy antiguo y muy triste. Indudablemente no tiene origen español, ni tampoco es oriental. Música de los pastores tocada en un instrumento de bambú
parecido a una flauta de Pan, preclásico, etrusco quizá. Una música similar he oído en
las montañas de Albania, donde subsisten elementos raciales pre-griegos, ilirios. Esa música traía una nostalgia filogenética, ¿de la Atlántida?"

"Recorrí Ecuador lo más rápidamente posible. Qué lugar horrible es. Un complejo de inferioridad nacional de país pequeño en su estado más avanzado".

"Miedo de pesadilla del estancamiento. Horror de quedarme finalmente clavado en este lugar. Ese miedo me ha perseguido por toda América del Sur. Una sensación horrible y enfermiza de desolación final".

"La homosexualidad es sencillamente una potencialidad humana como lo demuestran los casi universales episodios de las prisiones; y nada humano le es ajeno ni chocante a un sudamericano. Hablo del sudamericano en su mejor expresión, una raza especial en parte india, en parte blanca, en parte sabe Dios qué. No es, como uno suele pensarlo al principio, fundamentalmente un oriental, ni pertenece a Occidente. Es algo especial, distinto a cualquier otra cosa. Se ha visto impedido de expresarse por los españoles y la Iglesia Católica. Lo que se necesita es un nuevo Bolívar que realmente arregle las cosas. Pienso que esto es lo que esencialmente está en juego en la guerra civil colombiana: la escisión fundamental entre la Potencialidad sudamericana y la Represión española, temerosa de los tabúes. Nunca me sentí tan decididamente de un lado e incapaz de percibir alguna característica redentora del otro. América del Sur es una mezcla de razas todas ellas necesarias para alcanzar la forma potencial. Necesitan sangre de blancos, como lo saben —el mito del Dios Blanco— y qué es lo que consiguieron sino esa porquería de españoles".

"Cuando dijeron que la literatura norteamericana era inexistente y la inglesa muy pobre, perdí los estribos y les dije que el lugar de la literatura española era la letrina".

"No he conocido nunca un escandinavo que no fuera tonto de nacimiento".
Profile Image for Ricardo Tovar.
Author 5 books15 followers
December 30, 2021
William Burroughs expone su versión más conservadora y frágil en este texto, mientras recorre Colombia y Perú en busca del yagé. El de San Luis retrata sus vivencias haciendo énfasis en la desgracia que lo acabaría acompañando durante toda su vida. Uno no puede evitar esa sensación de estar leyendo la peor versión del escritor, caricaturizado in extremis, convertido en todo lo que en algún momento pareció desafiar en textos como el Almuerzo Desnudo. Sin embargo sus observaciones resultan dicientes, más para satisfacer el morbo sobre la percepción de Latinoamérica y lo latinoamericano que uno, como parte de esta cultura taimada y apática, podría llegar a tener. Lo más destacable de sus cartas son, sin duda, los momentos más políticos y sarcásticos, pues en otras partes llega a agobiar su posición victimista frente a situaciones sencillas. Todo sea por el valor del espectáculo.

Por otro lado, Ginsberg logra presentar el verdadero corazón de este libro (si es que se puede hablar de ese concepto metafórico en un intercambio epistolar de este tipo), con un texto estructurado, rítmico y bello que trata de representar el acontecimiento mismo de la toma de yagé, más allá de la narración del viaje y de las circunstancias en torno a la toma, como sucede en el primer caso. Las cartas de Ginsberg rezuman vitalidad y color, y al contrastarla con la visión de Burroughs, que se asemeja más a un ejercicio de relatos de viajes y anécdotas, frente a la clara naturaleza poética, revolucionaria y evidentemente espiritual del texto de Ginsberg, lo que se obtiene es un interesante intercambio entre dos individuos que acaban pareciendo diametralmente diferentes. Más allá de un retrato de la época, de un texto sobre las drogas o de una muestra del pensamiento de una generación etiquetada y vendida como tal de escritores, lo que es este libro es una exposición de dos almas y dos concepciones del mundo. Una valiosa muestra de la realidad vista a través de otros ojos. ¿Y para qué más se acerca uno al arte?
Profile Image for Jedediah Smith.
Author 6 books1 follower
August 23, 2019
Funny how Oliver Harris in his introduction tries to "rehabilitate" Burroughs. He claims that the attitudes shift in the letters in accordance with the signatory nom de plumes: racist, right-wing, ugly American attitudes emit from the "persona" Wm. Lee and more politically correct liberalism comes from the real WSB. He even interprets a mention of Wells' "Country of the Blind" as a coded anti-imperialist message.

It's all nonsense. Burroughs doesn't need rehabilitation to make him safe for feminists, racialists, or millennials. He called females an evolutionary mistake. He was repulsed by the filth of the third world and the corrupt governments and ignorant cultures that created it. He was also drawn to that world and for many years preferred it to sanitary American efficiency. He went way off the beaten track and described the people he found there, and if the poor were thieves and the holy men charlatans, it's not racist to describe them accurately - but it would be racist to say that because they were brown they could not be those things.

He hated the Klan and he also hated unions. He could see the first world's exploitation of the poor that made them idle and criminal. At the same time, he could condemn their criminality. He was rife with contradictions but could logically defend them all.

And these beliefs run through his letters, essays, interviews, and his fiction, coming from characters and narrators. A PC version of Burroughs simply cannot be extracted from his words. The main reason to read Burroughs is his brilliant inimitable alchemical transformations of language. Secondarily, if you can't see that part of the joy of Burroughs is that he explores thoughts and feelings few others admit to, then you shouldn't be reading him.
February 24, 2021
When I first read this book, as a South American and someone who use ayahuasca for treatment purposes, I found it to be really disgusting and disrespectful, and above all, racist.
But as I read it for a work of my early ears in college, I had to research deeper the conditions of writing and the meaning of Burroughs’ words. And what I’ve found is a tremendous ambiguous book, in which Burroughs put the transgression in conflict by his use of the irony.
He believed he was followed by a spirit “The Ugly American”, which he describes as the American Tycoon. As a beat, he writes his book in a way to denounce imperialistic process that keep happening in 50’s Latin America, but now in the hands of United States. And he uses his ironic writing to perform this denouncement by incorporating this ghost.
I think the books shows that, despite of his turbulent life as a homossexual and a junky and of his career as a beat, he still had all of WASP education he received as a rich boy at home in the USA. So when he travels outside USA, he fights with that devil by letting he uses his body to write!
You can always have your own conclusions, but I indicate to read the amazing introduction that Oliver Harris wrote for this book in the edition “The Yage Letters REDUX”
Profile Image for Cobertizo.
301 reviews13 followers
August 27, 2018
15 de Abril de 1953. Hotel Nueva Regis, Bogotá

"En cuestón de dos minutos sentí que me arrastraba una oleada de vértigo, y la choza empezó a girar alrrededor de mí. Empecé a ver fogonazos azules delante de los ojos. La choza adquirió un aspecto arcaico, como de los Mares del Sur, con cabezas de la isla de Pascua talladas en las columnas de madera. El ayudante del brujao andaba polulando por ahí fuera, con la evidente intención de asesinarme. Vomité violentamente contra un arbol y caí al suelo, inerme y derrotado. Seres larvarios desfilaban ante mis ojos envueltos en una neblina azul, emitiendo graznidos burlescos y obscenos; debí vomitar unas seis veces. Estaba a cuatro patas convulsionado por los espasmos de la náusea. Oía la arcada y los gemidos como si procedietran de otra persona, en presencia del chamán.


10 de junio de 1960. Estafeta de Correos. Pucallpa

"... Y te ví a tí, Bill, como Simon, como un ángel en su aniquilación de la vanidad y generando vida nueva en forma de niños.

-Si llega alguna noticia interplanetaria -dijiste- yo seré el primero en transmitirla para que no se joda."
Displaying 1 - 30 of 151 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.