“Sometimes paths last longer than roads” : William S. Burroughs for an Archaeology of Modernity

Author(s): Matthew Palus

Year: 2014


American writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) expressed a terror at modernity and also a suite of tactics for escaping some of its confines. This literary mode is common among many of the Beats, but Burroughs wrote in a visionary, experimental style that conveyed an epistemology of his own, and one that is both available and appropriable for historical archaeological investigation of different elements of modern American life. Though very much a post-war literary movement, the Beat writers and Burroughs in particular address themes pertinent to earlier contexts, including colonialism (Burroughs was intensely nostalgic for colonial experience), the nature of social control, the institutionalization of power and conformity, elaboration in technology and its violence, and especially the operations of language and the elements of popular media in society. Whether horrific or sublime Burroughs’s discussion of these themes can contribute to our discipline’s still-nascent effort to define the proportions of modernity and craft an archaeology of the 20th century.

Cite this Record

“Sometimes paths last longer than roads” : William S. Burroughs for an Archaeology of Modernity. Matthew Palus. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436813)

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-28,02