Category Archives: William S. Burroughs

No One Owns Life, But Anyone Who Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death

William S. Burroughs? Apocryphal?

pan08Dear Quote Investigator: Pronouncements about the dichotomy of life and death are often somber, serious, and banal. However, William S. Burroughs, the postmodernist author of “Naked Lunch” and “Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict”, apparently crafted the following eccentric statement:

No one owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.

Is this genuine? You are my last hope for finding a citation.

Quote Investigator: The Summer 1959 issue of the short-lived periodical “Big Table” printed an article titled “Anyone Who Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death” by Alan Ansen which discussed William S. Burroughs and his writings. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A tall ectomorph—in Tangier the boys called him El Hombre Invisible—his persona constituted by a magic triad of fedora, glasses and raincoat rather than by a face, his first presence is that of a con man down on his luck. But that impression soon gives way to the feeling that, whatever his luck may be, yours has been very good. A cracker accent and use of jive talk fail to conceal incisive intelligence and a frightening seriousness. “No one owns life,” says Burroughs, “but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.”

Ansen and Burroughs were friends, and QI believes that Ansen heard the quotation directly from Burroughs.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1959 Summer, Big Table, Number 2, “Anyone Who Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death” by Alan Ansen, Start Page 32, Quote Page 37, Published quarterly by Big Table, Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on paper)