A new BoingBoing article on William S. Burroughs’s centipede fixation. The article is of interest to Lovecraftians for the short section on Robert Barlow, for which skip to the line… “The source of Burroughs’s centipede fixation lies, most likely, in his Mexico City days.”
The BoingBoing author then claims that a field “trip to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Teotihuacan”, with Barlow in the lead, led Burroughs to discover/imagine the “thought-controlling Mayan theocracy, manipulating the serfs through pictographs and punishing thought criminals with Death in Centipede”. This was later used by Burroughs in his fiction, with the first instance said to have been in the 1951-1953 Queer.
The BoingBoing information on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl field trip seems to have come from Barry Miles’s new biography Call Me Burroughs: A Life (2014) which confirms the Barlow connection…
Burroughs studied the Mayan Codices under Robert Hayward Barlow
Miles states Burroughs had his studies funded under the G.I. Bill and that he started classes 3rd January for the Winter/Spring semester, with Barlow. It appears the field trip was July 1950, just six months before Barlow died. Many of the American students at the College were just there for the sun, the G.I. Bill grant money, the Mexican sense of privacy and the amenable local youths…
[In Mexico] “everyone has mastered the art of minding his own business. If a man wants to wear a monocle or carry a cane he does not hesitate to do it and no one gives him a second glance. Boys and young men walk down the street arm in arm and no one pays them any mind. It is not that people here don’t care what others think. It simply would not occur to a Mexican to expect criticism from a stranger, nor would it occur to anyone to criticize the behaviour of others.” (William S. Burroughs)
But it seems that Burroughs was genuinely interested in the ancient Maya, since he had studied the Mayan Codices in Algiers, and later joined a student archaeological society in Mexico City.
It’s curious to think of the possibilities, in terms of weird fiction, that the landscape of the newly-discovered Mexican ruins lost at that moment. What would have happened if Burroughs had tapered off his drug habit and Barlow and he had become a couple, meaning that Barlow survived the blackmail attempt?
[Hat-tip: Miss Allen]