Cats in the 20th Century (Cats in Literature-William S. Burroughs)

William S. Burroughs holding his cat Ginger

Burroughs holding his cat Ginger

Norman Mailer said of William S. Burroughs that he was “The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” Penguin books described him as “one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century.”  Even so, the cranky Burroughs had a special affinity for his cats and in his Last Words: 7/30/97”, he wrote, “There is no final enough wisdom, experience –any fucking thing.  No Holy Grail, No Final Satori, no solution. Just Conflict.  Only thing that can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner, and Calico. Pure love.  What I feel for my cats past and present.”


In an interview with Victor Bockris, Burroughs responded to his question .. “Do you think you’ve learned a lot from living with your cats?” 

“Oh heavens! I’ve learned immeasurably.  I’ve learned compassion.  I remember when I was out at the stone house Ruski sort of attacked one of the kittens. I gave him a light slap and then he disappeared.  He was so hurt.  And I knew where he was.  I went out into the barn and found him sulking there, picked him up and carried him back.  Just the slightest slap like that.  This is his human, his human had betrayed him.  Oh heavens, yes, I’ve learned from my cats. They reflect you in a very deep way.  They just opened up a whole area of compassion in me.  I remember lying in my bed and weeping and weeping to think that a nuclear catastrophe would destroy them.  I could see people driving by saying: “Kill your dogs and cat.,”  I spent  hours just crying. Oh, my God. Then there is constantly the feeling that there could be some relationship between me and the cats and that I might have missed it.  Some of this is in The Cat Inside.  Some of it is so extreme that I couldn’t write. People think of me as being cold – some woman wrote that I could not admit any feeling at all.  My God, I am so emotional that sometimes I can’t stand the intensity. Oh, my God.  Then they ask me if I ever cry?  I say, “ Holy shit, probably two days ago.”  I’m very subject to these violent fits of weeping, for very good reason.   (Bockris, 1996, pp.247-8)


William S. Burroughs and cat


William S. Burroughs and cat


William S. Burroughs and his cats



William S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside

William S. Burroughs, Last Words

Victor Bockris, A Report from the Bunker (Interview with Burroughs


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book or you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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  1. Hi – great selection and write ups. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Hope it’s OK to share a snippet (with referring link and attribution) in the Flickr discussion group of “I love my Cat”

  2. This really opened my mind to Burroughs! I’m going to read The Cat Inside now…

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