Cities of the Red Night  

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"Self-identity is ultimately a symptom of parasitic invasion, the expression within me of forces originating from outside. Language is to the brain as the tapeworm is to the intestines. Even more so: it may just be possible to find a digestive space free from parasitic infection, but we will never find an uncontaminated mental space. Strands of alien DNA unfurl themselves in our brains, just as tapeworms unfurl themselves in our guts. Not just language, but the whole quality of human consciousness, as expressed in male and female is basically a virus mechanism." --Cities of the Red Night

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Cities of the Red Night is a novel by William S. Burroughs. It was the first book in the final trilogy of the beat author, and was first published in 1981. Drugs play a major part in the novel, as do male homosexuality. The plot of this non-linear work revolves around a group of revolutionaries who seek the freedom to live under the articles set out by Captain James Mission. At the same time in near present day, detective Clem Snide is searching for a lost boy, abducted for some sort of sexual ritual. Another subplot weaved in thematically through the narrative is a world plagued by a fictional disease, Virus B-23, that destroys humanity and is sexually transmitted and sexual in nature, causing for example spontaneous orgasms. Addiction to opiates provides some resistance to it. The disease is viral, and, at first, it appears to be an allusion to AIDS, although, it must be remembered that the first case of AIDS was not discovered until after the book was first published.

Contents

Plot Introduction

The plot of this novel follows Burroughs' usual, erratic path, through time and space. The novel is based on an alternative history; one in which Libertatia, formed by Captain James Mission lives on. His way of life is based on what are called The Articles, a general freedom to live as you like, without prejudice and preconception. The Novel is narrated from two different standpoints; one set in the 18th century which follows a group of pirate boys lead by Noah Blake, who land in South America to liberate it with The Articles. The other is set near present day; following a detective story and the disappearance of an adolescent boy. Drugs play a major part in the novel, as do homosexuality and control. Burroughs' usual characters all have a part in the novel, including Dr Benway and Clem Snide.

Origin Of The Title

The title comes from the cities within the book: "The Cities of the Red Night were six in number: Tamaghis, Ba’dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, and Ghadis." One must make the Pilgrimage through all six cities which, Burroughs says, which may take multiple lifetimes. Each reveals a different permutation of the famous aphorism of Hassan i Sabbah: "'Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.' The last words of Hassan i Sabbah, Old Man of the Mountain." The cities parody real life places, and Burroughs makes some reference to America, Mexico, and Morocco.

Art

The cover art for the 1981 Holt-Rinehart-Winston first edition is Pieter Brueghel the Elder's 1562 painting "The Triumph of Death".

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cities of the Red Night" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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