William Burroughs, Gus Van Sant and the discipline of ‘do easy’

The Discipline Of DE is a short 16mm film directed by Gus Van Sant. It’s based on a story in “Exterminator!” by William Burroughs that at times reads like Buddhist noir:

DE is a way of doing. DE simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.You can start right now tidying up your flat, moving furniture or books, washing dishes, making tea, sorting papers. Don’t fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool possessive fingers onto it like a gentle old cop making a soft arrest.”

Van Sant discusses the early stages of making the film:

This was my first film outside of my school projects, made in 1977 or so, and was the occasion that I was able to first meet William S. Burroughs, whose writing I much admired and who lived at the time in New York City. I wanted to get in touch with him to ask his permission to film this small story, and found him listed in the New York telephone book. I was under the impression that if I visited him and asked his permission in person that I would have more of a chance. And that may have been true—he did give me an okay—but also I was able to ask a few questions about the ideas in the story.

One of the things he said during our visit, not in the film or story, was, “Of course, when anyone knocks something over, or trips over something or breaks anything, they are at that moment thinking of someone they don’t like.”

...every time I knocked something over or tripped over anything I stopped to think, and I was always thinking of someone or some¬thing that I didn’t like. This was illuminating. Time and again, when I fumbled and broke something, there it was, I was thinking about some unfortunate incident in my past where I had been misjudged, ridiculed, or caught red-handed by someone, or when I stubbed my toe, I realized that I was thinking of a meeting in the future with someone about something that I didn’t want any¬thing to do with. So, the answer was possibly to not do too much moving around when things appear in your mind that could lead to someone or something that you don’t like. I haven’t mastered this one, however.

“Exterminator!” was published in 1973. A couple of years after its publication, Burroughs came to Boulder, Colorado to conduct a series of readings and workshops for the Jack Kerouac School Of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute. His concept of doing things easily fit in perfectly with the Dharma teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In an atmosphere dominated by Tibetan Buddhist iconography and terminology, Burroughs’ approach was refreshingly Western while still capturing the essence of Trungpa’s crazy wisdom, a Zen-like attitude, both rigorous and lighthearted.

Posted by Marc Campbell
01:54 am



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