Third Minds Emerging
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Psychic Intersections and The Ticket that Exploded
Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another one walking beside you
-- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
The second book in William Burroughs’ “Nova Trilogy,” The Ticket That Exploded is also one of his most intriguing titles. The phrase may not be as enigmatic and provocative as Naked Lunch, but in combination with the other Nova books—The Soft Machine and Nova Express—it offers a fascinating entanglement of psyche, writing, and travel (each threatened by imminent disaster). Of course, one can imagine an “exploding ticket” as simple metonym for, say, a plane crash or bombing. It also carries a sense of fate: you bought the ticket, and you will be subjected to the outcome. But what intrigues me here is the structure of the ticket as a sign. Viewed from the right angle, the idea of the ticket unlocks fundamental insights into Burroughs' concept of writing and communication and reveals writing's intersection with psyche.
Screens back and forth shifting star tracks we intersect.
In the most basic sense, a ticket is both a receipt and a credential: proof of purchase, guarantee of passage or admittance. The logic is not so different from how a badge or license works. Someone grants it to the holder on authority, and the holder than presents it for whatever purpose they require it. However, the ticket is unique in that 1) it is a temporary license (it soon ceases to signify, exploded or not) and 2) it does not confirm ones position (of power or expertise) but simply allows one to move from one place to another. Further, a ticket is exchanged between three parties: one purchases a ticket from a vendor, and then presents the same ticket later on to a ticket taker. At different moments, the ticket holder is both the recipient and the bearer of its sign. Roles reverse. Arrival at the terminal soon becomes departure. Departure later becomes arrival.
faded story of absent world just as silver film took it -- Remember i was the movies -- Rinse my name for i have known intervention -- Pass without doing our ticket -- mountain wind of Saturn in morning sky
As analogy to literary text, we can see that—like the circuit of relations and exchange around the ticket— there is an intervention or intersection, an exchange (however delayed and distant) between two parties: writer and reader. But since the structure of the ticket involves three, we are led to a question that Burroughs was fond of quoting from The Waste Land: “Who is the third who walks beside you?” (Eliot himself had recalled it from an explorer's diary). In the circuit of communication the ticket models, the location and momentum of the third, of third-ness, appears in certain literary texts as a haunting, a dream of ghostly birth, and a contact with what lies elsewhere, up ahead, long before. Ultimately, the third exists within, without, and between, and locating it reveals a deep layer of psychic activity in the nature of literary transmission.
I lived your life a long time ago . . . boy I was who never would be now . . . a speck of white that seemed to catch all the light left on a dying star
Burroughs’ own work evinces a strong fascination with such ideas. With Brion Gysin, he even wrote a book called The Third Mind, in which he explored the idea of a third, intermediary or hybrid mind that could emerge from the collaboration of two individuals. In fact, he spent much of his life looking for this type of almost telepathic relation. And for him, the closest thing to “evil” would have been its extermination: something like the Hegelian master-slave dialectic, in which collaboration is resisted and one dominates or even destroys the other. This is the logic of virus: “Invade. Damage. Occupy.” This is the ticket as a parasitic and destructive circuit, trapping one in its stations. By annihilating the possibility of a spontaneous and emergent third, one is capable of nothing but endless replication of a dead message. Copies of copies. The ticket that goes nowhere. Given to none, received by none.
So that is how we have come to know each other so well that the sound of his voice flickering over the tape recorder are as familiar to me as the movement of my intestines the sound of my breathing the beating of my heart. Not that we love or even like each other. In fact murder is never out of his eyes when I look at him. And murder is never out of his eyes when he looks at me.
This state of tension exists until, one fine morning, “your buddy may be took by the alien virus it’s happened cruel idiot smile over the corn flakes . . . your nerve centers are paralyzed . . . he’s going to eat you slow and nasty.” Parasites, viruses, those who exist only to cancel the other’s emergence, blocking all psychic intersection -- these were what Burroughs wrote against. And there is no shortage of texts out there, linguistic and otherwise, that pass their readers the very sign that undoes them. The soft propaganda of commodity. The viral death primes of the demagogue. These reduce all difference to the rapacious identity of the One such that no other(ness) may emerge, let alone a third. But for the writer who is in collaboration with the spontaneous impulse of life and psyche, there is no choice but to intersect and be intersected by others if one is to arrive at the place one is headed.
Further, the real writer knows that they themselves are not merely one. “‘Remember I was the ship that gives no flesh to identity.’” For a writer is not simply an articulate force; the writer is also receptive, and in this receptivity they open to otherness. To others. They listen to what they write (even when it is cut-up) as its primary auditor, and even their listening may be somebody else's. In some instance, writing occurs more like transcription than any form of active expression. In this sense, the writer is the first reader, although they are (unlike the literal reader later in time) able to alter what is in the text. In other words, the temporality of the other as reader is posited in the very act of writing. Writing anticipates a future in which the other as reader will emerge. "'I discovered that I could anticipate encounter -- So i recorded the dialogue and your ticket now ended.'" And when the reader later receives the printed text, their reading looks back upon this event of inscription: they step into this continuum, into the temporality created by the act of its having been written at all. To mark its arrival, to enact its receipt. But just as the writer is not exclusively active and articulate, the reader is not exclusively passive and receptive. They go to work on the text just as much as it goes to work on them. They take the ticket, hold it, present it, ARE it. Handed over into future pasts, into dreams and strangers unexpected.
Identity fades in empty space—last intervention, the Subliminal Kid—helped me with fingers fading
In sum, the ticket is the reader, the writer, and the text. The ticket-vendor/giver, -holder/traveller, and -taker/recipient represent three tendencies within this process of exchange, recognition, and departure that exist in fluctuating equilibrium under the explosive sign of the Ticket. The text enacts a psychic hybrid and then explodes it beyond the horizon, reconstellating its component parts and drawing in unforeseen material. The fugitive halo that contains this inter-subjective temporality—a ragged and flaring torus wreathing word, writer, and reader(s)—becomes the third mind itself: psyche in transit. It is new each time it happens. The text itself becomes an interface, a membrane of passage and articulation, through which image and word inflect pathways OUT. Out of the static circuit that one sees in, say, an oath or catechism (“I tell you what to say, and you tell it right back.”). Instead of stasis, I find in writing a text a passage out into another time, opening to another space where another mind will receive it, another whose possibility was encoded in my writing and through whom I became the one who wrote; and when the other reads, their receipt will find passage back not to me, but toward where I was going before the text arrived in their hands—a place neither could know, and which changes each time it is found. This is the third mind, and it is in this that the work of dream and psyche breach temporality and bring an autonomous, fugitive realm of psychic activity into waking life via the transmission of texts.
While I've presented these ideas in a spirit of enthusiasm and possibility, the fact remains that, for Burroughs -- beneath routines, Nova conspiracies, and the vital, transgressive energy of his humor -- writing confronted him with desolation. The Ticket ends with one of the saddest sequences in his entire body of work, and despite his reputation, he is one of the purest writers of loss and nostalgic longing in the English language. For him, "nostalgia" has nothing to do with recalling the golden times of yesteryear; it is a confrontation with the fact that your psyche plays host to a galaxy of dead images, all wearing the faces of people you did not love enough (oneself included).
He lifts his hand sadly turns them out . . Brother can you spare a dime? . . dead finger in smoke pointing to Gibraltar . . the adolescent shadow . . he should have the same face . . stale face stale late face in the late summer morning mouth and nose sealed over . . funny i don't remember you . . it's ended over there . . Remember the stale kids? . . toneless voice in San Francisco? . . belong to the wind . . silver morning smoke in the desolate markets . . sure you dream up Billy who bound word for it . . in the beginning there was no Iam . . stale smoke of dreams it was Iam . . haunted your morning and will you other stale morning smell of other Iam . . no Iam there . . no one . . silences . . There was no morning . . sure late Billy . . Iam the stale Billy . . I lived your life a long time ago . . sad shadow whistles cross a distant sky . . adiós marks this long ago address . . didn’t exist you understand . . ended . . stale dreams Billy . . worn out here . . tried to the end . . there is a film shut up in a bureau drawer . . boy I was who never would be now . . a speck of white that seemed to catch all the light left on a dying star . . and suddenly I lost him . . my film ends . . I lost him long ago . . dying there . . light went out . . . my film ends
Ultimately, the writer pursues contact through a medium whose very structure is an endless deferral. You cannot consummate the Word. The medium that awakens the wish of a Third Mind eventually defeats itself, reflecting life back as an endless dream, an endless saying of goodbyes. In fact, the book ends with a calligraphic image by Brion Gysin, permuting the phrase, "Silence to say goodbye."
This sense of terminal loss pervades Burroughs' work, and it is encoded in his entire concept of writing -- and, I would argue, in the structure of writing itself. Exchanges, intersections. Arrival, departure. The ticket as sign pointing one toward a distant address. Passage between. From me to you, from us to whom? Who is the third here? Somewhere in all writing is an almost unbearably pathic script that Burroughs knew by heart. As tho to say: When I was writing you, who was there? I was looking ahead, looking back. I thought I saw you coming toward me, but no, there was nothing. The language dreamed us up before we lived. And now you seem to read me. "I" am "here," in your hands and eyes, your ears. I haunt your tongue. And who am I now, can you tell? Did I ever exist? I don't think I did. I don't think we ever were at all.
a speck of white that seemed to catch all the light left on a dying star