Burroughs’ Death needs Time


William S. Burroughs

“Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in”, William S. Burroughs, Dead City Radio, Ah Pook.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about this phrase “death needs time for what it kills to grow in” trying to figure it out. Interpretation-wise, this is a dangerous game, as Burroughs is known for using cut & paste techniques, trying to destroy any rational thought. And yet, from a modern perspective, the potential randomness behind the order of the words shouldn’t and even must not persuade us in the futility of giving it a sense. After all, that’s exactly what life is – random events to which we try to give some meaning.


There are several possible viewpoints about Time: Time as a continuity and unity; Time as a collection of independent Time Capsules, a label aggregating all those capsules together.

Time as a continuity and unity allows for better Control – there’s time to order things in Space. It may also lead to either an indifferent position in the spirit of what has been will be again, or to a satisfied one, in the spirit of the problem is solved; there’s nothing more that can be done.

Time as a fragment of Time, as an endless recursive fractal, is what I read in Foucault’s Modernism, which prefers seeing Time in its particularity, in its decomposition. A Time Capsule: just born, already dead.

The Time Capsule

What’s inside the Time Capsule?

Everything, I suppose. I’m thinking of any Time Capsule as a cosmic Monad where the fight takes place, where a human tries to redefine… Space. Modernism tries to redefine Space within a single, ephemeral, insignificant, derisory Time Capsule. And Space is us. And so Deleuze can righteously call Foucault “the historian of the present”, for there’s an Entire Life inside the Time Capsule.

Or am I wrong? Maybe it’s not Life inside the Time Capsule, but rather…


See my previous post on the death of Baudrillard, where I quote Deleuze from his lecture on Leibniz and the nature of the Monad (I’m rephrasing [remixing] everything):

To be born is to start dying.
To live is to be dying.
To die is to complete living.
And so to die is to complete to be dying.


Birth=to start dying;
Life=to be dying;
Death=to finish being dying.

Our mission here, in this Space, is to die.

But, wait! Beware! all this happens inside a single Time Capsule. Don’t get depressed – you’ll be restarting the whole process of dying in just about a moment.

Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in. Death grows inside the Time Capsule. The Time Capsule is the container of Life. Death grows in Life.

8 Responses to “Burroughs’ Death needs Time”

  1. Ah Pook, the destroyer « notebookeleven Says:

    […] One of my favourite pieces by Burroughs is the short Ah Pook discussion of time, death, control and the ‘ugly american’. I showed it to my Introduction to Philosophy class this week, at the start of the lecture, then came across it again […]

  2. ecko4inc Says:

    “A sword with a clock in the side. A nudist party.” Burroughs, “My Education: A Book of Dreams

    “The trust in life is gone: life itself has become a problem. Yet one should not jump to the conclusion that this necessarily makes one gloomy. Even love of life is still possible, only one loves differently. It is the love for a woman that causes doubt in us… Today we consider it a matter of decency not to wish to see everything naked, or to be present at everything, or to understand and ‘know’ everything.” Nietzsche, The Gay Science

    Muli, I like this time capsule idea. I think of it, not only as an actual time capsule one buries in the ground for excavation by future generations a la Foucault, but also as a drug capsule, a capsule to swallow, that intoxicates.

    I remember Burroughs saying he could stare at the end of his shoe for hours on end when he was high on junk. Time was never a problem – it was kind of buried. This was a fundamental tenet of his “theory” of control and what the metaphor of junk serves for in the life the ugly american leads, the lives we all lead. (I put “theory” in inverted commas because I’m uncertain whether or not I could call his thought put into words anything as “rational” as a theory “to understand and ‘know’ everything – as you say, interpretation is dangerous)

    There is no death for the life of the junky – at least as I understand death as opposed to life for I do not call heroin addiction living in the active sense of the word. Only the hourglass of junk, junk time, the “Algebra of Need”: “Melancholy Baby dies from an overdose of Time.”

    Issues of control, measurement and need, ends and means. “Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in.” Formula for Bergson’s “Creative Evolution. Since the ancient Greeks, authenticity and death have been closely linked – hell, even the ancient Egyptians and probably since the conceotion of the first word-gesture.

    Life is an active principle. One has to take a chance, to risk death which means we have to (re-)invent ourselves, to create a memory for ourselves for that is what a culture is, to encapsulate a set of values over time, over generations, beyond any one’s given death.

    (And should we make a gift of death? in writing and interpreting there is hazard, a death, the death of the author, as Barthes called it – and what will become of the Word? Will the author make it through the Land of the Dead? Will Baudrillard be remembered in a hundred years? Will Foucault? Will we?).

    By the way, thanks for the Burroughs clip. Very cool.

  3. muli koppel Says:

    Thank you Ecko for this wonderful comment.

  4. Met A Physics « I am emale Says:

    […] Everybody dies alone.  Everybody wants to live forever.  Plato for Prozac – a time capsule. […]

  5. Serge van Duijnhoven Says:

    Am listening again – by shere accident I thought – to one of my old magnetic tapes from the nineties. Sticking my ear and mind into that magnificent piece of literary audio-junk called Dead City Radio by/with William S. Burroughs. One of my favorite albums ever. My dear… friend and poet Christian Loidl – today is his Todestag, so I now realize this fact is not so accidental after all – introduced me to this wizzard for the first time in 1995 in his flat in Vienna, Vereinsgasse. Where he – today seven years ago – flew out of the window after having taken an overdose of a rare Siberian mushroom. “Dead City Radio” is a true gem of cut up poetry put to music in a most sensitive and workable way. Question: “What are we here for?” Answer: “We’re all here to go…” The old magician gives readings from a variety of sources including “Naked Lunch”, “Interzone”, and “The Western Lands”. He invokes his vision in the name of Pan, god of panic; Ah Pook, the destroyer; and even Jesu the Christ. “Invoke” is the proper word, for this is a work of magic – be it black or white. Burroughs is weaving a vision. He wants us to peek through the chinks and see the monsters that lie behind the machinery of control – behind the great shining lies and the bounds of the Prometheus called Homo Sapiens. His objective is no less than a basic disruption of reality itself. Please try to see the video belonging to the Ah Pook The Destroyer prayer – about (cosmic?) control – you will love it I am sure: https://digitalphilosophy.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/burroughs%E2%80%99-death-needs-time/ “Question: Who really gave their order?” “Answer: Control. The ugly American. The instrument of control.” “Question: If control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?” “Answer: control needs time.” “Question: is control controlled by our need to control?” “Answer: Yes.” “Why does control need humans, as you call them?” “Wait… wait! Time, or landing. Death needs Time, like a junky needs junk.” “And what does Death need Time for?” “The answer is so simple. Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in. For Ah Pook’s sake.” “Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in. For Ah Pook’s sweet sake? You stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker!” Zjivili to brother Chris out there in the realm of Ah Pook’s universe of Time. Serge PS in Time – https://digitalphilosophy.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/burroughs%E2%80%99-death-needs-time/ Burroughs is weaving a vision. He wants us to peek through the chinks and see the monsters that lie behind the machinery of control – behind the great shining lies and the bounds of the Prometheus called Homo Sapiens. His objective is no less than a basic disruption of reality itself. If – somehow – humans would be prepared to rid themselves of their condition humaine for the benefit of a cosmic one, this would not necessarily make our universe a warmer and more pleasant place to find our destiny. Which is? To perish, and melt back into the pot that is permanently boiling on the stove of Ah-Pooks kitchen. What else to do but to cling on to the planetary lifeboats that were assigned to us by some cruel captain who likes to have it rough amidst the violent torrents of Time. If we want to get rid of the many biological boundaries and burdens of our human condition, we shall have to prepare for completely new ways of travelling. We shall have to be prepared to embark on a trans-dimensional voyage through unknown psysical realms, with the velocity of a gravitationless soul. What are we here for? We are here to go! We are here to go on a trip – peeking through tiny holes in the fence that marks the limit of our universe. We have to dive and dig deep, travel far and persist in our uncompromising destiny. So that finally we can find a way of opening up the protecting clamshell in which – at its very origin – our relentlessly self-sufficient galaxy was laid to grow. Like an oyster or a mussle, feeding upon the weak and salty glaze of its atomic fluidum.

    Thanks for the share of this magnificent piece!

    Regards from Brussels


  6. Mescalito Says:

    He said it was simple. Everything that grows dies. It takes time to grow. It’s just that simple.

  7. Daniel Says:

    Death needs time for what it kills to grow in.
    a very simplified easy to understand explanation would be
    a farmer needs time for the crops he harvests to grow in
    death as the reaper of souls
    crops need time to grow before they can be harvested
    death kills the living
    the living need time to grow before they can be harvested
    =D then again this is only my interpretation…

  8. luby Says:

    Believe it or not, Burroughs wrote as literally as he could (most of the time). The phrase, I believe, should be interpreted as such: Death (the force of nature that ends life) needs (must have in order to function) time (the contruct by which animals gauge change) for what it kills (for death to do its job) to grow in (nothing that does not age can really “die”). To put it more simply: death and time are inexorably linked. One cannot exist without the other.

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