Ali’s Smile: Naked Scientology – William S. Burroughs (1971)


Ali’s Smile: Naked Scientology is a collection of essays and a short story by American Beat writer William S. Burroughs (1914–97). First published in 1971 as the short story ‘Ali’s Smile’, the book eventually contained a group of previously published newspaper articles as well, all of which address Scientology. Burroughs had been interested in Scientology throughout the 1960s, believing that its methods might help combat a controlling society. He joined the Church of Scientology later in the decade. However, he became disenchanted with the authoritarian nature of the organization. In 1970 Burroughs had published a ‘considered statement’ on Scientology’s methods because he felt they were significant enough to warrant commentary. These pieces were later gathered together into Ali’s Smile: Naked Scientology, which religious studies scholar Hugh B. Urban describes as a ‘nonscholarly popular exposé of Scientology’. Burroughs’s texts argue that while some of Scientology’s therapies are worthwhile, the dogmatic nature of the group and its secrecy are harmful. Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs was an avant-garde author whom several important critics consider the most important American writer since World War II. Sometimes called the ‘Godfather of Punk literature’, he adopted a persona that Matt Theado, a scholar of the Beats, describes as ‘a tormented but supremely curious person who explored the dark side of the human consciousness.’ Burroughs often probed contentious social and political problems with ‘a cold-blooded, almost insectlike presence’ that influenced popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs believed readers needed to take an active part in reshaping their own reality through reading. … His concerns about social control and language led Burroughs to write at length about Scientology. He had been interested in Scientology since the early 1960s, having been introduced to the concepts of its founder L. Ron Hubbard by artist Brion Gysin. Burroughs’s early novels emphasized the power of Scientology to combat a controlling society. For example, in both The Ticket That Exploded (1962) and Nova Express (1964), Scientology, along with the cut-up technique, silence, and apomorphine (which he believed was an extremely effective treatment for heroin addiction), allows the characters to resist social control. These works reflected Burroughs’s initial belief that Scientology could be an instrument of liberation from social control, much as he used his own cut-up style of writing. He sought to use cut-ups ‘to expose the arbitrary nature and manipulative power of all linguistic systems,’ and connected cut-ups to the theories of the self expounded by Hubbard’s Dianetics. As religious studies scholar John Lardas explains, ‘the cut-up method was the evangelical counterpart of Scientology in that it was intended to alter a reader’s consciousness’. …”
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William S. Burroughs: Scientologist By David S. Wills
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