MEMORIES OF A BOWIE CONFERENCE: 20. You’ve got what you wanted but you’re on your own


William Garvin David Bowie & T S Eliot: unreal cities, aliens, androgyny & “them cawkney voices”

SPEAKER William Garvin’s first poetry collection, No Exit, was published by Arthur Shilling Press(2010)

SYNOPSIS Attempts to place David Bowie’s work within a literary context have invoked the iconic figure of William Burroughs, whose cut-up techniques, inspired by Dada poet Tristan Tzara, were to radically influence Bowie’s lyrical output. This paper compares Bowie to T S Eliot, who taught Burroughs at Harvard and who created a series of fragmentary narratives exploring urban alienation. 

KEY POINTS The channelling of myriad voices & perspectives references the works of others and each has been accused of plagiarism, raising questions about authorship. Both were defined, in their earlier works by the ‘unreal city’ London, and were inspired by its music hall tradition. The lives of both should be seen as multidisciplinary artists, Eliot was an editor, dramatist & critic, while Bowie works within show business, mime, art criticism etc. T S Eliot’s The Wasteland has Tiresias, the blind hermaphrodite prophet at its core. Bowie could be considered a contemporary Tiresias; androgyne rather than hermaphrodite.

Bowie with Burroughs / The 'unreal city' of Diamond Dogs / 'London Boys' (1965) from unreleased Toy album (recorded 2001, leaked 2011) / Button-eyes / The 'real' London mourns 'our Brixton boy'

buttonsKEY QUOTE ‘Bowie could be considered a contemporary Tiresias, his permanently dilated left eye a mere signifier of visual impairment if nothing more, but a prophet nonetheless, using Allen Ginsberg’s definition; not so much someone who predicts events so much as someone whose work speaks directly to the future’

NEXT UP You’re exactly who I want to be with. Sam Coley

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