Inspiration and wisdom from divine felines

201 Inspiring Quotes by William S. Burroughs

  • Last updated Jul 27 2021

Welcome to our collection of quotes by William S. Burroughs.

Wikipedia Summary for William S. Burroughs

William Seward Burroughs II (February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American writer, visual artist, spoken word performer and chaos magician credited as a primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodern author who influenced popular culture and literature. Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays, and five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians and made many appearances in films. He was also briefly known by the pen name William Lee. Burroughs created and exhibited thousands of paintings and other visual artworks, including his celebrated 'Shotgun Art'.

Burroughs was born into a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri. He was a grandson of inventor William Seward Burroughs I, who founded the Burroughs Corporation, and a nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs attended Harvard University, studied English, studied anthropology as a postgraduate, and attended medical school in Vienna. In 1942, Burroughs enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve during World War II. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and the Navy, he picked up the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life. In 1943, while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Their mutual influence became the foundation of the Beat Generation, which was later a defining influence on the 1960s counterculture.

Burroughs killed his second wife, Joan Vollmer, in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs initially claimed that he shot Vollmer while drunkenly attempting a "William Tell" stunt. He later told investigators that he had been showing his pistol to friends when it fell and hit the table, firing the bullet that killed Vollmer. After Burroughs returned to the United States, he was convicted of manslaughter in absentia and received a two-year suspended sentence.

Much of Burroughs' work is semiautobiographical, and is primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict. He lived in Mexico City, London, Paris and the Tangier International Zone near Morocco, and also traveled in the South American Amazon rainforest. His work features frequent mystical, occult, or otherwise magical themes – a constant preoccupation for Burroughs, both in fiction and in real life. Burroughs found success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), but is perhaps best known for his third novel, Naked Lunch (1959). Naked Lunch became the subject of one of the last major literary censorship cases in the United States after its US publisher, Grove Press, was sued for violating a Massachusetts obscenity statute. With Brion Gysin, Burroughs also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–1964).

In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1984, he was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the "greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift"; he owed this reputation to his "lifelong subversion" of the moral, political, and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be "the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War", while Norman Mailer declared him "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius".


silhouette of off-road car

The most deadly picture is a picture of nothing at all. The colors are there, but there is no image, nothing.

--William S. Burroughs

depth photography of purple petaled flowers

Once the law starts asking questions, there's no stopping them.

--William S. Burroughs

leafless tree on snow covered ground

I'm creating an imaginary -- it's always imaginary -- world in which I would like to live.

--William S. Burroughs


sunflowers

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in.

--William S. Burroughs

None

Danger is a biologic necessity, like dreams. if you face death, for that time, for the period of direct confrontation, you are immortal.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of mountain

Exorcism is a subject that interests me, and books on shamanism, I've read through.

--William S. Burroughs




yellow and white abstract painting

The photo collage is a way to travel that must be used with skill and precision if we are to arrive... The collage as a flexible hieroglyph language of juxtaposition: A collage makes a statement.

--William S. Burroughs

sliced lemon on pink surface

The face of evil is always the face of total need.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

The face of "evil" is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: "Wouldn't you?" Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of total sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way. Dope fiends are sick people who cannot act other than they do. A rabid dog cannot choose but bite.


pink and yellow flower painting

Now all politicians assume a necessity of control, the more efficient the control the better.

--William S. Burroughs


rainbow

Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage.

--William S. Burroughs

sealion surrounded by rocks during daytime

The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time... and you can't see it if you refuse to face the possibility.

--William S. Burroughs


photo of brown parquet

I think all writers write for an audience. There is no such thing as writing for yourself.

--William S. Burroughs


man in white shirt and black pants standing on top of building

Which came first the intestine or the tapeworm?

--William S. Burroughs

blue and white abstract painting

The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is anathema to these idiots. I predict in the near future right-wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus.

--William S. Burroughs




black textile in close up photography

I had not taken a bath in a year nor changed my clothes or removed them except to stick a needle every hour in the fibrous grey wooden flesh of heroin addiction. I did absolutely nothing.

--William S. Burroughs

brown sand under blue sky during daytime

In this world, of Flash and Filigree nothing is true, and censure or outrage is simply irrelevant.

--William S. Burroughs

raging waves through shores

Revolution in America begins in books and music, then waits for political operatives to 'implement changes after the fact.'

--William S. Burroughs



pink and white clouds

I wouldn't be in your position" -- old saw. If there is any political move that I would advocate it would be an alliance between America and Red China, if they'd have us.

--William S. Burroughs



toddlers standing outdoors

Junk is the ideal product... the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy.

--William S. Burroughs

brown tree on surrounded by brown grass during golden hour

Fear of death is form of stasis horrors. The dead weight of time.

--William S. Burroughs

man on running field

If I had my way we'd sleep every night all wrapped around each other like hibernating rattlesnakes.

--William S. Burroughs





brown sand beach during daytime

An addict never stops growing. Stupider.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of kneeling man

A consumer society is about simplfying and degrading the consumer as well as the product.

--William S. Burroughs

pair of white lace-up shoes

Scientology is a model control system, a state in fact with its own courts, police, rewards and penalties.

--William S. Burroughs

orange flowers

The Planet drifts to random insect doom.

--William S. Burroughs

brown and white abstract painting

People have nothing to say, but they are afraid of saying nothing, so what they do say comes out flat and vapid and meaningless. The shadow of death is on every face.

--William S. Burroughs


sunset

Perhaps all pleasure is only relief.

--William S. Burroughs


leafless tree

You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies. You must learn to live alone in silence.

--William S. Burroughs

worm's eye view photography of pink cheery blossom tree

Sexual arousal results from the repetition and impact of image.

--William S. Burroughs



woman standing on beachfront

How far would people get in physics if discovery was described as disgusting -- "Your formula is disgusting and filthy"? Not very far.

--William S. Burroughs

road during night time

Do not proffer sympathy to the mentally ill; it is a bottomless pit. Tell them firmly, "I am not paid to listen to this drivel -- you are a terminal fool!" Otherwise, they make you as crazy as they are.

--William S. Burroughs

person in red shirt walking on brown field under gray sky during daytime

Political movements both favor alcohol and are against pot.

--William S. Burroughs

bird's eye view photography of trees and body of water

Addiction is a disease of exposure. Doctors and nurses, for instance, have a high addiction rate.

--William S. Burroughs

pair of white lace-up shoes

Thinking is not enough. Nothing is. There is no final enough of wisdom, experience -- any f...ing thing.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

Thinking is not enough. Nothing is. There is no final enough of wisdom, experience--any fucking thing. No Holy Grail, No Final Satori, no final solution. Just conflict.


leafless tree on body of water during daytime

Some people like neat suburbs. I always am attracted to the rundown and the old and the offbeat.

--William S. Burroughs

green trees in between gray concrete road

After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.


purple lavender flower

If all pleasure is relief from tension, junk affords relief from the whole life process, in disconnecting the hypothalamus, which is the center of psychic energy and libido.

--William S. Burroughs

girl leaning on wall during daytime

Be just and if you can't be just, be arbitrary.

--William S. Burroughs

woman in black shirt standing on yellow flower field during daytime

Dennis Cooper, God help him, is a born writer.

--William S. Burroughs


bird's eye view photography of trees and body of water

All political movements are basically anti-creative -- since a political movement is a form of war.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

All political movements are basically anti-creative — since a political movement is a form of war. “There’s no place for impractical dreamers around here,” that’s what they always say. “Your writing activities will be directed, kindly stop horsing around.” “As for the smoking of marijuana, it is the exploitation for the workers.” Both favor alcohol and are against pot.


brown grass field near gray rocky mountain during daytime

I am trying like Klee, to create something that will have a life of its own, that can put me in real danger, a danger which I willingly take on myself.

--William S. Burroughs

person holding sunflower

Biologically speaking the Afro-Asiatic block is in the ascendancy -- always remember that both Negro and White are minority groups -- the largest race is the Mongoloid group.

--William S. Burroughs

None

People in bars are always claiming to be boxers, hoping thereby to ward off attack, like a black snake will vibrate its tail in leaves and try to impersonate a rattlesnake.

--William S. Burroughs


orange and white stone fragment

The whole drug war is nothing but a pretext to increase police power and personnel, and that, of course, is dead wrong. So many created imagined drug offenses.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of tree during sunset

You do an awful lot of bad writing in order to do any good writing. Incredibly bad. I think it would be very interesting to make a collection of some of the worst writing by good writers.

--William S. Burroughs

None

Hip -- Someone who knows the score. Someone who understands "jive talk." Someone who is "with it." The expression is not subject to definition because, if you don't "dig" what it means, no one can ever tell you.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of person on top of mountain pointing flashlight on sky filled with stars at night time

The simplest questions are the most difficult.

--William S. Burroughs

None

I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness... When I speak of drug addiction I do not refer to keif, marijuana or any preparation of hashish, mescaline, Banisteriopsis caapi, LSD6, Sacred Mushrooms or any other drugs of the hallucinogen group... There is no evidence that the use of any hallucinogen results in physical dependence.


aerial photography of mountain range covered with snow under white and blue sky at daytime

Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes. Woodstock rises from his pages.

--William S. Burroughs

woman wearing black top standing near yellow wall

All abilities are paid for with disabilities. perfect health may entail the heavy toll of bovine stupidity. insight into one area involves blind spots in another.

--William S. Burroughs

person wearing red running shoe

The only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower pot from a high window.

--William S. Burroughs

pink and white abstract painting

In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.

--William S. Burroughs

landscape photography of forest

I think Judge Learned Hand was a cultured, intelligent man.

--William S. Burroughs

yellow, orange, red, green, and blue abstract painting

Panic is the sudden realization that everything around you is alive.

--William S. Burroughs

two women walking on bridge during daytime

Is Control controlled by its need to control? Answer: yes.

--William S. Burroughs

Arizona landscape

I'm an old-fashioned person, and I don't like informers.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of mountains under blue sky during daytime

The purpose of technology is not to confuse the brain but to serve the body.

--William S. Burroughs

fawn pug lying on floor

(1) Never give anything away for nothing.
(2) Never give more than you have to give (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait.)
(3) Always take everything back if you possibly can.

--William S. Burroughs

bird's eye view photography of trees and body of water

After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say 'I want to see the manager.'

--William S. Burroughs

shallow focus photography of white flowers

The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself. Of course he wants care and shelter. You don't buy love for nothing.


brown and gray brick wall

The line between inner and outer landscapes is breaking down. Earthquakes can result from seismic upheavals within the human mind. The whole random universe of the industrial age is breaking down into cryptic fragments.

--William S. Burroughs

white paint palette with black paint beside ink bottle and paint brush

Like all pure creatures, cats are practical.

--William S. Burroughs

brown and grey trees and rock formation painting

Poverty, hatred, war, police-criminals, bureaucracy, insanity, all symptoms of The Human Virus.

--William S. Burroughs


men's white dress shirt

O death where is thy sting? The man is never on time.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of flower during sunset

The Orgasmic Death Gimmick is rather complicated. It could be called the whole birth-death cycle of action, persuading people that birth and death are realities.

--William S. Burroughs


purple flowered hedge plants

First there was a young guy sitting in front of television in a T-shirt drinking beer with his mother, then there was an older fatter person sitting in front of television in a T-shirt drinking beer with his mother.

--William S. Burroughs


blue sky and white clouds

Naked Lunch was from about a thousand pages of material. A lot of it overflowed, then, into the cut-up trilogy including Nova Express.

--William S. Burroughs

city lights from hill

The American uppermiddle-class citizen is a composite of negatives. He is largely delineated by what he is not.

--William S. Burroughs

person holding green plant during daytime

It is more profitable to give wages than to receive them.

--William S. Burroughs

silver round analog wall clock

Death was in every sell of his body. He gave off a faint, greenish steam of decay. Lee imagined he would glow in the dark.

--William S. Burroughs


green plant in tilt shift lens

You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.

--William S. Burroughs


green textile in close up image

We can translate word and letter into color -- Arthur Rimbaud stated that in his color vowels, words quote "words" can be read in silent color.

--William S. Burroughs

trees at sunset

How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity.

--William S. Burroughs

body of water during daytime

Most all methods of capitol punishment are designed to inflict the maximum of humiliation -- not attempts to prevent suicide.

--William S. Burroughs

black and yellow wall sconce

I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means of increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.

--William S. Burroughs

white and blue ice on water

I miss you so much your absence causes me, at times, accute pain. I don't mean sexually. I mean in connection with my writing.

--William S. Burroughs

red rose illustration

Hustlers of the world, there is one mark you cannot beat: the mark inside.

--William S. Burroughs

landscape photography of mountain

In the U.S., you have to be a deviant or die of boredom.

--William S. Burroughs

photo of mountains

There is in fact something obscene and sinister about photography, a desire to imprison, to incorporate, a sexual intensity of pursuit.

--William S. Burroughs

yellow background

There is no intensity of love or feeling that does not involve the risk of crippling hurt. It is a duty to take this risk, to love and feel without defense or reserve.

--William S. Burroughs

grayscale photography of pug

Cheat your landlord if you can -- and must -- but do not try to shortchange the Muse.

--William S. Burroughs

body of water under clear blue sky painting

You know a real friend?
Someone you know will look after your cat after you are gone.

--William S. Burroughs

green ceramic mug beside book

Death is a gimmick. It's the time-birth-death gimmick. Can't go on much longer, too many people are wising up.

--William S. Burroughs

yellow and black striped background

Most people don't see what's going on around them. That's my principal message to writers: 'For God's sake, keep your eyes open. Notice what's going on around you.'

--William S. Burroughs


photo of brown parquet

Many of my characters first came through to me as voices. That's why I use a tape recorder.

--William S. Burroughs

city lights from hill

When you stop growing you start dying.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

When you stop growing you start dying. An addict never stops growing. -- A user is a continual state of shrinking and growing in his daily cycle of shot-need for shot completed.


green leafed vegetable on brown wooden surface

Victimless crimes are the lifeline of the RIGHT virus. And there is a growing recognition, even in official quarters, that victimless crimes should be removed from the books or subject to minimal penalties.

--William S. Burroughs

starry night in Texas

When you get to be my age there are more and more people you have known that you miss. Brion Gysin, Antony Balch, Ian Summerville are ones I think of right away I was quite close to.

--William S. Burroughs

fan of 1 US dollar banknotes and coins on beige surface

Shooting is my principal pastime.

--William S. Burroughs

person in blue denim jeans and brown leather boots

How long does it take man to realize that he cannot want what he wants? You have to live in hell to see heaven.

--William S. Burroughs



couple kissing under gray clouds

Life is a vacation from two eternities.

--William S. Burroughs

purple and black light illustration

Tangier is one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don't proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behavior, you can do exactly what you want.

--William S. Burroughs




blue sky and white clouds

Cats didn't start as mousers. Weasels and snakes and dogs are more efficient as rodent-control agents. I postulate that cats started as psychic companions, as Familiars, and have never deviated from this function.

--William S. Burroughs


clear drinking glass with beer

The Nova Mob doesn't have motives, as we understand motives. "Sex is profoundly distasteful to a being of my mineral origin," as a leader of the Nova Mob, Mr. Bradley-Mr. Martin, said on one occasion.

--William S. Burroughs


man smiling while facing other person

That old feeling is still in my leaking heart.

--William S. Burroughs

close-up photo of two men shaking hands near beach at sunset

Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.

--William S. Burroughs



yellow, orange, red, green, and blue abstract painting

I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves.

--William S. Burroughs


Virtue is simply happiness, and happiness is a by-product of function. You are happy when you are functioning.

--William S. Burroughs

brown houses in front of hill under starry night

Communication must become total and conscious before we can stop it.

--William S. Burroughs


shallow focus photography of condenser microphone

Anything that can be done chemically can be done by other means.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of flower during sunset

The broken image of Man moves in minute by minute and cell by cell.... Poverty, hatred, war, police-criminals, bureaucracy, insanity, all symptoms of The Human Virus.

--William S. Burroughs







shoreline during golden hour

There's a boy across the river with an ass like a peach; alas I was no swimmer and lost my Clementine.

--William S. Burroughs

person standing on rock formation during daytime

Humility is indeed beatness, a compulsory virtue that no one exhibits unless he has to.

--William S. Burroughs

shallow focus photography of brown parquet flooring

When I become death. Death is the seed from which I grow.

--William S. Burroughs

white textile in close up photography

Life is a cutup. And to pretend that you write or paint in a timeless vacuum is just simply ... not ... true, not in accord with the facts of human perception.

--William S. Burroughs

men running toward beach

Truth is used to vitalize a statement rather than devitalize it. Truth implies more than a simple statement of fact. "I don't have any whiskey," may be a fact but it is not a truth.

--William S. Burroughs

coconut tree near body of water

Ever notice how many expressions carry over from queers to con men? Like 'raise,' letting someone know you are in the same line?

--William S. Burroughs

blue and red bird during daytime

Artists to my mind are the real architects of change.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.



rock formation under starry skies

The more absolute the need, the more predictable the behavior becomes until it is mathematically certain.

--William S. Burroughs


group of penguins standing on white snow covered ground near body of water during daytime

There are no innocent bystanders.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

There are no innocent bystanders. What were they doing there in the first place?


purple petaled flower

Paranoia is just having the right information.

--William S. Burroughs


blue and black butterfly on pink and yellow flower

The purpose of my writing is to expose and arrest Nova Criminals.

--William S. Burroughs

sunset

Faced by the actual practice of freedom, the French and American revolutions would be forced to stand by their words.

--William S. Burroughs

body of water

If everyone is to be made responsible for everything they do, you must extend responsibility beyond the level of conscious intention.

--William S. Burroughs


silhouette photo of mountain during night time

I've listened to and know Allen Ginsberg music and met him a couple of times, but I don't have any strong statements to make.

--William S. Burroughs




pink and white clouds

I began to get a feeling ... of being the only sane man in a nut house. It doesn't make you feel superior but depressed and scared, because there is nobody you can contact.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of tall trees

Always remember, there's no point trying to be faithful to the book because film and writing are just two completely different things. Any film stands on its own, apart from whether it's based on a novel.

--William S. Burroughs


red and yellow abstract painting

I like the idea of generalizing the narcotic thing by making it black meat addiction.

--William S. Burroughs

Texas buildings

There isn't a feeling you can get on drugs that you can't get without drugs.

--William S. Burroughs



pug puppy

The only possible ethic is to do what one wants to do.

--William S. Burroughs

white Starbuck plastic cup on brown fabric armchair

As one judge said to another judge: be just. And if you can't be just, be arbitrary.

--William S. Burroughs




green leaf

The world network of junkies, tuned on a cord of rancid jissom, tying up in furnished rooms, shivering in the junk-sick morning.

--William S. Burroughs



purple and green light digital wallpaper

It is to be remembered that the origin of all the arts-music, painting and writing-is magical and evocative; and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

It is to be remembered that all art is magical in origin - music, sculpture, writing, painting - and by magical I mean intended to produce very definite results. Paintings were originally formulae to make what is painted happen. Art is not an end in itself, any more than Einstein's matter-into-energy formulae is an end in itself. Like all formulae, art was originally FUNCTIONAL, intended to make things happen, the way an atom bomb happens from Einstein's formulae.



silhouette photo of mountain during night time

If, after spending time with a person, you feel as though you've lost a quart of plasma, avoid that person in the future.

--William S. Burroughs

silhouette of flying bird

I think there are innumerable gods. What we on earth call God is a little tribal God who has made an awful mess. Certainly forces operating through human consciousness control events.

--William S. Burroughs



Bryce Canyon National Park Sunrise Point at Utah

In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.

--William S. Burroughs

Longer Version:

In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen. The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces, and I think that’s just ridiculous. It’s as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it’s for a reason.


calm body of water near alp mountains during nighttime

Cat hate reflects an ugly, stupid, loutish, bigoted spirit. There can be no compromise with this Ugly Spirit.

--William S. Burroughs

None

I see no reason why the artistic world can't absolutely merge with Madison Avenue. Pop art is a move in that direction. Why can't we have advertisements with beautiful words and beautiful images?

--William S. Burroughs

Arizona landscape pines

Black magic operates most effectively in preconscious, marginal areas. Casual curses are the most effective.

--William S. Burroughs


A white stripe pattern made up of concrete facade ribs

I don't have any politics. I feel that as soon as politics arises, things are already in a hopeless state of deterioration.

--William S. Burroughs



white and blue ice on water

America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.

--William S. Burroughs

white desk lamp beside green plant

Whether you like it or not, you are committed to the human endeavor. I cannot ally myself with such a purely negative goal as avoidance of suffering. Suffering is a chance you take by the fact of being alive.

--William S. Burroughs

white clouds and blue sky

The boy looks into Mugwump eyes blank as obsidian mirrors, pools of black blood, glory holes in a toilet wall closing on the Last Erection.

--William S. Burroughs

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