By Jason Foumberg
Aleister Crowley, occult philosopher and mystic, is best remembered for his precept: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This phrase is often misinterpreted as an excuse for a hedonistic lifestyle because Crowley himself engaged in taboo sexual exploits and drug experimentation, edifying some to pursue individual, anarchic freedom. Really, though, Crowley promised desires fulfilled by one’s destiny, prefiguring “The Secret,” the bestselling New Age self-help book, by about a century.
Crowley was never one to water down his thinking in pursuit of popularity. Instead, his strange writings, including instructions for pagan rituals, appealed mostly to fringe thinkers. William S. Burroughs, beat poet and author of “Naked Lunch,” picked up on Crowley’s philosophy with zeal, distorting its lessons to accommodate his own blatant drug use and sexuality demonized by mid-century American morality. In a 1978 interview, Burroughs misquoted Crowley, effectively reversing the dictum: “What you want to do is, of course, eventually what you will do anyway. Sooner or Later.” His interviewer accused him of being “amoral.”
Burroughs’ “Portrait of Aleister Crowley,” a painting on paper from 1988, is now on view at Th!nkArt Salon, in Wicker Park, along with a dozen or so of his other works. [Read more…]