Rediscovered: Barlow and Burroughs

Another Autograph Hound Weekend looms before us, this one — like many before — anchored by John Hancocks that have drifted into the mitts of Brian Leno, and will never drift out. Not in this lifetime.

Take it, Brian:

I’ve been hearing about a William S. Burroughs and Robert H. Barlow connection for a bit and just did a little digging. I never knew they were acquainted. Apparently Burroughs studied the Mayan Codices under Barlow at Mexico City College and went on at least one field trip with Barlow in Mexico.

When Barlow killed himself at the beginning of 1951, Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg on January 11 to say: “A queer Professor from K.C., Mo., head of the Anthropology dept. here at M.C.C. where I collect my $75 per month, knocked himself off a few days ago with overdose of goof balls. Vomit all over the bed. I can’t see this suicide kick.”

This quote easily found on Wikipedia, which also mentions that Barlow studied art under Thomas Hart Benton.

He got a lot of living into an abbreviated lifetime of 32 years.

If you already knew this, sorry. But it was new to me.

When I met Burroughs and had him sign my paperback of Naked Lunch I wonder if I had mentioned Barlow to him if he’d have remembered. That would have been cool.

My bet would be that Burroughs would have chatted instantly about Barlow, if Leno brought the subject up — no, you can’t say for certain, but when I met Burroughs I was really impressed with how sharp his mind was. I have no doubt, and suppose a further question would be did Burroughs ever hear or know about Barlow’s connection with Lovecraft.

Which reminds me of another thing that profoundly irked me with the book O Fortunate Floridian (yeah, a stupid title), collecting the letters of Lovecraft to Barlow.

Nowhere in the book is William S. Burroughs mentioned. One of the major literary and cultural figures Barlow encountered. Other than Lovecraft himself, who else would even come close?

Yet the morons assembling the book— from ignorance or carelessness or indifference — omit him and thus lose what must be the best contemporary quote about Barlow’s suicide via a Seconal overdose.

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