William S. Burroughs and Cut-Up Writing
Burroughs experimented with the cut-up technique at great length and it suited him fine, for he found that by doing so he could somehow alter reality - or even foretell future events. The Nova Trilogy, published in the early 1960s were a series of three experimental novels published by Burroughs in which he made use of the cut-up. The Soft Machine was the first book in the trilogy - published two years after his groundbreaking Naked Lunch- , and it is often considered by many as the definite cut-up work as far as serving as an exemplar of this particular methodology. If you have never heard Burroughs explain his cut-up technique, then you have to watch this video: William S. Burroughs on the Art of Cut-Up Writing (I particularly like Burroughs' raspy voice explanation of cutting-up text, like at around 1:10 in the vid when he explains, "When you cut into the present, the future leaks out...")
To give you an idea of what the result is, just read the following passage from Burroughs' The Soft Machine (p. 7):
Well the traffic builds up and boosters falling in with jacket shirts and ties, kids with a radio torn from the living car trailing tubes and wires, lush-workers flash rings and wrist watches falling in sick all hours.
William S. Burroughs was not the first to use this cut-up style of writing. Many years earlier, in 1920s the Dadaist writers were using it. In his article, Dan Colman (William S. Burroughs on the Art of Cut-Up Writing) relates that in his "dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love," Dadaist writer Tristan Tzara, in the late 1920s, included a section called “To Make a Dadaist Poem,” and it gave these instructions (quoting Colman's article):
Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.
But alas, in this day in age, who has time to get ye olde tyme paper and scissor and actually cut the old fashion way when we can simply direct ourselves to an online article, cut and paste into a virtual cut-up machine and away we go. To this effect, knock yourself out, just go get some text on Google News, Wikipedia or some other online text and then pay a visit to the "cut-up machine" set up on Lake Rain Vajra's website, where the author has replicated a simple tool for you to cut-up text virtually without getting your hands too dirty. (No need to shake the bag filled with words, just click on the Cut It Up button.)
|A scene from David Cronenberg's screen adaptation of Burroughs' Naked Lunch|