The Soft Machine

The Restored Text

by William S. Burroughs Edited by Oliver Harris

“Burroughs voice is hard, derisive, inventive, free, funny, serious, poetic, indelibly American, a voice in which one hears transistor radios and old movies and all the clichés and all the cons and all the newspapers, all the peculiar optimism, all the failure. . . . It is precisely this voice–complex, subtle, allusive—that is the fine thing about The Soft Machine and about Burroughs.” —Joan Didion

  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date May 06, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2211-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

A total assault on the powers that turn humans into machines by writing and fixing our life scripts, Burroughs’s original “cut-up” book was itself rewritten in three different forms. This new edition of The Soft Machine clarifies for the first time the extraordinary history of its writing and rewriting, demolishes the myths of his chance-based writing methods, and demonstrates for a new generation the significance of Burroughs’s greatest experiment.

Tags Literary Gay


“One of the most interesting pieces of radical fiction we have. —The Nation

“The voice in The Soft Machine is talking about time. . . . [It] slips deliberately and frequently, sometimes ironically and sometimes not . . . rattles off elliptical allusions, throws away joke after outrageous joke, shifts gear in mid-sentence, never falters. It is precisely this voice—complex, subtle, allusive—that is the fine thing about The Soft Machine and about Burroughs.” —Joan Didion

“[Burroughs’s] great fictions [show] his superb, hard-edged satirical visions of cancerous and addictive consumerism; his elegiac and poetic invocations of sadness and dislocation; his enormous fertility of ideas and imagery.” —Will Self

“Out of the dirt, the excrement, the couplings, Burroughs makes a disgusting, exciting poetry.” —Sunday Times


Dead on Arrival

I was working the hole with the sailor and we did not do bad. Fifteen cents on an average night boosting the afternoons and short-timing the dawn we made out from the land of the free. But I was running out of veins. I went over to the counter for another cup of coffee—in Joe’s Lunch Room drinking coffee with a napkin under the cup which is said to be the mark of someone who does a lot of sitting in cafeterias and lunchrooms.

“Waiting on the man.”

“What can we do?” Nick said to me once in his dead junky whisper.

“They know we’ll wait—”

“Yes, they know we’ll wait.”

There is a boy sitting at the counter thin-faced kid his eyes all pupil. I see he is hooked and sick. Familiar face maybe from the pool hall where I scored for tea sometime. Somewhere in grey strata of subways all-night cafeterias rooming house flesh. His eyes flickered the question. I nodded toward my booth. He carried his coffee over and sat down opposite me.

The croaker lives out Long Island . . .light yen sleep waking up for stops. Change. Start. Everything sharp and clear. Antennae of TV suck the sky. The clock jumped the way time will after four P.M.

“The Man is three hours late. You got the bread?”

“I got three cents.”

“Nothing less than a nickel. These double papers he claims.” I looked at his face. Good looking. “Say kid I known an Old Auntie Croaker right for you like a Major . . . Take the phone. I don’t want him to rumble my voice.”

About this time I meet this Italian tailor cum pusher I know from Lexington and he gives me a good buy on H . . . At least it was good at first but all the time shorter and shorter . . . “Short Count Tony” we call him.

Out of junk in East St. Louis sick dawn he threw himself across the washbasin pressing his stomach against the cool porcelain. I draped myself over his body laughing. His shorts dissolved in rectal mucus and carbolic soap. summer dawn smells from a vacant lot.

“I’ll wait here . . . Don’t want him to rumble me.”

Made it five times under the shower that day soapy bubbles of egg flesh seismic tremors split by fissure spurts of jissom . . .

I made the street, everything sharp and clear like after rain. See Sid in a booth reading a paper his face like yellow ivory in the sunlight. I handed him two nickels under the table. Pushing in a small way to keep up The Habit: INVADE. DAMAGE. OCCUPY. Young faces in blue alcohol flame.

“And use that alcohol. You fucking can’t wait hungry junkies all the time black up my spoons. That’s all I need for Pen Indef the fuzz rumbles a black spoon in my trap.” The old junky spiel. Junk hooks falling.

“Shoot your way to freedom kid.”

Trace a line of goose pimples up the thin young arm. Slide the needle in and push the bulb watching the junk hit him all over. Move right in with the shit and suck junk through all the hungry young cells.

There is a boy sitting like your body. I see he is a hook. I drape myself over him from the pool hall. Draped myself over his cafeteria and his shorts dissolved in strata of subways . . . and all house flesh toward the booth . . . down opposite me . . . The Man I Italian tailor . . . I know bread. “Me a good buy on H.”

“You’re quitting? Well I hope you make it, kid. May I fall down and be paralyzed if I don’t mean it . . . You gotta friend in me. A real friend and if.”

Well the traffic builds up and boosters falling in with jackets shirts and ties, kids with a radio torn from the living car trailing tubes and wires, lush-workers flash rings and wrist watches falling in sick all hours. I had the janitor cooled, an old rummy, but it couldn’t last with that crowd.

“Say you’re looking great kid. Now do yourself a favor and stay off. I been getting some really great shit lately. Remember that brown shit sorta yellow like snuff cooks up brown and clear . . .”

Junky in east bath room . . . invisible and persistent dream body . . . familiar face maybe . . . scored for some time or body . . . in that grey smell of rectal mucus’ night cafeterias and junky room dawn smells. Three hours from Lexington made it five times . . . soapy egg flesh .
. .

“These double papers he claims of withdrawal.”

“Well I thought you was quitting . . .”

“I can’t make it.”

Imposible quitar eso.”

Got up and fixed in the sick dawn flutes of Ramadan.

William tu tomas más medicina? . . . No me hágas casa, William.

Casbah house in the smell of dust and we made it . . . empty eukodal boxes stacked four feet along the walls . . . dead on the surplus blankets . . . girl screaming . . . vecinos rush in . . .

“What did she die of?”

“I don’t know she just died.”

Bill Gains in Mexico City room with his douche bag and his stash of codeine pills powdered in a bicarbonate can. “I’ll just say I suffer from indigestion.” Coffee and blood spilled all over the place. Cigarette holes in the pink blanket . . . The Consul would give me no information other than place of burial in The American Cemetery.

“Broke? Have you no pride? Go to your Consul.” He gave me an alarm clock ran for a year after his death.

Leif repatriated by the Danish. freight boat out of Casa for Copenhagen sank off England with all hands. Remember my medium of distant fingers?—

“What did she die of?”


“Some things I find myself.”

The Sailor went wrong in the end. hanged to a cell door by his principals: “Some things I find myself doing I’ll pack in is all.”

Bread knife in the heart . . . rub and die . . . repatriated by a morphine script . . . those out of Casa for Copenhagen on special yellow note . . .

“All hands broke? Have you no pride?” Alarm clock ran for a year. “He just sit down on the curb and die.” Esperanza told me on Niño Perdido and we cashed a morphine script. Those Mexican Nar. Scripts on special yellow bank-note paper . . . like a thousand dollar bill . . . or a Dishonorable Discharge from the US Army . . . And fixed in the cubicle room you reach by climbing this ladder.

Yesterday call flutes of Ramadan: “No me hígas casa.

Blood spill over shirts and light. the American trailing in form . . . He went to Madrid. This frantic Cuban fruit finds Kiki with a novia and stabs him with a kitchen knife in the heart. (Girl screaming. Enter the nabors.)
Quídase con su medicina, William.

Half bottle of Fundador after half cure in the Jew Hospital. Shots of demerol by candlelight. They turned off the lights and water. Paper-like dust we made it. Empty walls. Look anywhere. No good. No bueno.

He went to Madrid . . . Alarm clock ran for yesterday . . . “No me hágas casa.” Dead on arrival . . . you might say at the Jew Hospital . . . blood spilled over the American . . . trailing lights and water . . . The Sailor went so wrong somewhere in that grey flesh . . . He just sit down on zero . . . I nodded on Niño Perdido his coffee over three hours late . . . They all went away and sent papers . . . The Dead Man write for you like a major . . . Enter vecinos . . . Freight boat smell of rectal mucus went down off England with all dawn smell of distant fingers . . . About this time I went to your Consul. He gave me a Mexican after his death . . . Five times of dust we made it . . . with soap bubbles of withdrawal crossed by a thousand junky nights . . . Soon after the half maps came in by candlelight . . . OCCUPY . . . Junk lines falling . . . Stay off . . . Bill Gains in the Yellow Sickness . . . Looking at dirty pictures casual as a ceiling fan short-timing the dawn we made it in the corn smell of rectal mucus and carbolic soap . . . familiar face maybe from the vacant lot . . . trailing tubes and wires . . . “You fucking-can’t-wait-hungry-junkies!” . . . Burial in the American Cemetery. “Quídase con su medicina” . . . On Niño Perdido the girl screaming . . . They all went way through Casbah House . . . “Couldn’t you write me any better than that? Gone away . . . You can look any place.”

No good. No Bueno.

You wouldn’t believe how hot things were when I left the States—I knew this one pusher wouldn’t carry any shit on his person just shoot it in the line—Ten twenty grains over and above his own absorption according to the route he was servicing and piss it out in bottles for his customers so if the heat came up on them they cop out as degenerates—So Doc Benway assessed the situation and came up with this brain child—

“Once in the Upper Baboonasshole I was stung by a scorpion—the sensation is not dissimilar to a fix—Hummm.”

So he imports this special breed of scorpions and feeds them on metal meal and the scorpions turned a phosphorescent blue color and sort of hummed. “Now we must find a worthy vessel,” he said—So we flush out this old goof ball artist and put the scorpion to him and he turned sort of blue and you could see he was fixed right to metal–These scorpions could travel on a radar beam and service the clients after Doc copped for the bread—It was a good thing while it lasted and the heat couldn’t touch us—However all these scorpion junkies began to glow in the dark and if they didn’t score on the hour metamorphosed into scorpions straight away—So there was a spot of bother and we had to move on disguised as young junkies on the way to Lexington—Bill and Johnny we sorted out the names but they keep changing like one day I would wake up as Bill the next day as Johnny—So there we are in the train compartment shivering junk sick our eyes watering and burning.