“The Doctor Does a Good Job”: William Burroughs’s Critique of Control

  • Lawrence Driscoll


In 1969 William Burroughs made the following prediction in his novel The Wild Boys: “The uneasy spring of 1988. Under the pretext of drug control suppressive police states have been set up throughout the Western world. … [T]he police states … maintain a democratic façade from behind which they denounce as criminals, perverts and drug addicts anyone who opposes the control machine.”1 This prediction, which sadly came true, raises the central issue of this chapter: the question of control. Whether it is control of bodies, races, or drugs themselves, our drug discourses since the mid-nineteenth century, both in England and America, have all aimed themselves at this target. Often the question of control is not limited to controlling our habits; it becomes the control, surveillance, and imprisonment of whole sections of society. Whether it was the fear of the Chinese and opium in the 1920s or the superhuman PCP user in our own moment, control is usually carried out and justified in the name of restraining a violent minority group. While the question of race will be dealt with more extensively in the next chapter, for the moment I would like to examine the possibility that in the case of drugs the application of control on any front will always be counterproductive. Through an examination of Burroughs’s ideas about control, I aim to explore in this chapter how we have to let go of our belief in the efficacy of control.


Drug User Young Girl Drug Problem Drug Addict Female Drug User 
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© Lawrence Driscoll 2000

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  • Lawrence Driscoll

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