Although often linked in literary history to Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who upturned literary conventions in the 1950s by transforming the art of personal revelation into an aesthetic form, William Burroughs shared little interest in the desire of his friends to expose their deepest secrets to their literary audiences. He argued instead that their poetics of revelation actually played into the hands of the rising national security state in the United States. In the midst of an escalating Cold War, the U.S. government, according to Burroughs, had successfully linked national security to the state's infiltration into the private lives of its citizens and had begun demanding, under the threat of punishment, institutionalization, or contempt charges, for personal confessions of the most intimate details. In response, Burroughs waged what he saw as a guerrilla war against the modern state's demand for transparency, seeking tools of liberation to escape the trappings of autobiography and memory that kept people trapped within their own pasts and easily monitored by state forces.

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