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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Michael Johnson on William Burroughs

Over at Overweening Generalist, Michael Johnson has written an interesting roundup of ideas about the writer William Burroughs. (Burroughs' birthday was Feb. 5). Johnson documents some of the ways that Burroughs influenced Robert Anton Wilson.

Burroughs' work popularized the cut-up prose technique invented by Brion Gysin. Although I don't see a mention of Illuminatus! in this article about cut-up technique from Wikipedia, Illuminatus! would probably count as a prominent example of the technique. Wilson also used it on other occasions.


michael said...

Thanks for the notice, Tom.

The cut-up technique was used in Illuminatus!, and in just about every fiction book by RAW, but also non-fiction pieces, as for example in Right Where You Are Sitting Now.

Gysin and WSB thought that when two artists collaborate a Third Mind arises. In a letter to his friend Kurt Smith, RAW likened what happens with cut-ups to a tapping in of "non-local mind."

The Greeks had a term for a unique type of rhetoric: parataxis. It's the act of "placing side by side." Clauses and phrases are placed one after the other w/o coordinating or subordinate connectives. The human mind, in its inherent pattern recognition, will "see" the connections, after enough effort is spent.

The Dadaist Tristan Tzara pulled random words from a hat and wrote poetry; this was probably Gysin's main influence? Other theorizing about cut-ups comes from cinematic montage, Chinese ideograms, channel surfing on the radio and TV, "recontextualization" in modern art, playing with the I Ching by numerous artists interested in "stochastic" or "chance" operations, and experiments with audiotapings of real-life events, like a cocktail party, something RAW did a few times in his books: snippets of disparate conversation overheard as one wanders through a crowded party-room seems related to the cut-up method.

In RAW's 1976 article in New Libertarian, "Truth Comes On Swift Wings," he links WSB to Pound to cinema to magick to cannabis to sex.

Clearly, RAW used the technique to simulate when a character was dreaming, but especially when they were tripping on powerful drugs like LSD. He makes this clear in Cosmic Trigger Vol 2 (later ed.), p.22 and 186.

In a 1964 interview in The Realist, Leary said he was influenced by WSB's cut-ups.

Burroughs said to just take a walk and look around: your perception was a cut-up. He also argued that Eliot's "The Wasteland" was a cut-up from 1922. Both WSB and Eliot were from St.Louis.

Anonymous said...

I love two of the things Burroughs feared: language and women.

PQ said...

Re: the cut-up technique, this great quote about Marshall McLuhan:

"The Wake was McLuhan's vade mecum. In later years he kept one copy unbound, with each page pasted onto a sleeve of 3-ring paper. The stack stood in an accessible spot just outside the door of his office. McLuhan was forever plucking fresh pages like a gambler toying with oversized cards. He liked to snap the pages into new configurations, up, down, across, and read the phrases in a kaleidoscopic collage, much as Joyce himself had written them."

from here: