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William S. Burroughs and the Maya Gods of Death: The Uses of Archaeology

From: College Literature
35.1, Winter 2008
pp. 38-57 | 10.1353/lit.2008.0009


William S. Burroughs thematized Maya priests as gods of death in texts from Junky to The Job. Ah Pook Is Here takes its title from a Maya god of the dead, Ah Puch. Burroughs had many valid reasons to cast Maya priests as emblems of control and death even though he contradicted the mid-century archaeological view of the Maya as a benevolent theocracy. In recognizing the violence in Maya culture Burroughs was remarkably prescient. In the mid-1980s, however, came a radical change in archaeological interpretation which contradicts many of Burroughs's Maya appropriations: priests have all but disappeared from the archaeological record to be replaced (ironically) by scribes, the codices are not books of the dead, and hieroglyphic "picture" writing can not circumvent the Word virus. Burroughs's centipede symbol recalls the Senders of Interzone who, like his Maya priests, turn into giant centipedes.

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