A surrealistic action plan for would-be revolutionaries from the literary provocateur, prescribing a dash of viral marketing and a lot of political assassination.
Written and recorded in multiple forms in the early 1970s, this manifesto is an impassioned yet sometimes incoherent rebuke to ossified political ideologies, much as Burroughs’ fiction assailed literary conventions and even the countercultural ideals of the Beats he associated with. As a guide to “bring down the economic system of the West,” its recommendations are, effectively, terrorism: targeted and random assassinations, plane bombings, mobilized street gangs, and so on. Not all of the recommendations are violent, though, and some anticipate modern-day political meme strategies: “Construct fake news broadcasts on video camera,” he writes. “Scramble your fabricated news in with actual news broadcasts.” Some passages are marked by a righteously outraged humor, as when he imagines the masses rising up against the British monarchy and profanely chanting “bugger the queen.” That tonal shifting—sometimes funny, sometimes angry, sometimes coolly how-to-ish, as the title suggests—makes it unclear how seriously Burroughs took his call to arms. (He calls his mass-assassination plan a “utopian fantasy,” but he still contemplates it in detail.) Three academic essays introducing the book shed surprisingly little light on the matter, fussing over discrepancies between versions of the text, though a lively afterword by alternative publisher V. Vale argues that Burroughs was theorizing more than exhorting, chasing “outrageous scenarios and fresh language capable of inspiring readers decades into the future.” But even if Burroughs was indeed recommending mass killings, few would find much inspiration in this book’s slurry of ideologies, half-remembered history, and pseudoscience, as the author draws on crackpot Scientology doctrine and inexplicably suggests that we “produce a variety of humanoid sub-species.”
As Burroughs-iana, marginal. As satire, flat. As agitprop, clumsy and outdated.