William S. Burroughs in 1977 (Wikipedia Commons photo)
(This week: Page 92 "WE SHALL NOT" to Page 102 "the Angel of Death would pass by their houses. Pat.")
This section of the book has very sudden shifts from one passage to another, so perhaps we should talk about where that comes from.
Artist and writer Brion Gysin is credited with coming up with the cut-up technique for remixing prose. Here is a bit of an interview with writer William S. Burroughs, from the Wikipedia article about Gysin. Burroughs popularized the technique in his own writings.
INTERVIEWER: How did you become interested in the cut-up technique?
BURROUGHS: A friend, Brion Gysin, an American poet and painter, who has lived in Europe for thirty years, was, as far as I know, the first to create cut-ups. His cut-up poem, Minutes to Go, was broadcast by the BBC and later published in a pamphlet. I was in Paris in the summer of 1960; this was after the publication there of Naked Lunch. I became interested in the possibilities of this technique, and I began experimenting myself. Of course, when you think of it, The Waste Land was the first great cut-up collage, and Tristan Tzara had done a bit along the same lines. Dos Passos used the same idea in 'The Camera Eye' sequences in USA. I felt I had been working toward the same goal; thus it was a major revelation to me when I actually saw it being done.
Robert Anton Wilson, a big admirer of Burroughs' prose, adapted the technique for his own writings, sometimes to an extreme, for example in the piece, "No Waters in the Cherry Valley by the Testicles" in the book Coincidance: A Head Test.
Burroughs and Wilson both note that an early use of a kind of cut-up technique was made by Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara, who came up with the idea of clipping words out of a newspaper, putting them in a hat, shaking the hat and then pulling out the words to string them together into a poem. (When I was in high school, I read about this in a magazine article about surrealism and experimented with it myself.)
Wilson writes (in Coincidance): "The bourgeosie world naturally regarded this as some morbid joke, or satire, and forgot it; but the surrealists realized the importance of what he had done."
A couple of paragraphs later, Wilson writes:
"Painters explored collage extensively in the 40 years after Tzara's breakthrough, and every motion picture director conducted extensive research in montage, but prose and poetry, with few exceptions (Joyce, Pound, Williams) moved backward like a crab and crawled into the Victorian or pre-Einsteinian murk. The second quantum leap occurred in the late 1950s when William S. Burroughs began experimenting with the cut-up and fold-in techniques and created a prose of incredible accidental beauty and Zen humor.
"I have used various cut-up and other stochastic techniques in all my novels and have noticed one amusing thing about the response to this: hostility is expressed most widely if I admit that I am using "mechanical" techniques of the Burroughs and Tzara variety. If I do not publicize this fact, there is less hostility. It appears that lazy readers are only terrified of the new if they are warned in advance that it actually is novel and experimental. Otherwise they just pass over it as a confusing passage and forget it. I am not interested in lazy readers, however, but in the attentive and awake."
Burroughs also got Wilson interested in the number 23.
A few notes on the text:
"These is a road ..." Page 92. New Lebanon and Brookville actually are west of Dayton. Yellow Springs, where RAW lived and Simon Moon went to school, is east of Dayton.
Miskatonic University Page 94— Featured in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. A friend of mine in college, Richard Newsome, wore an authentic-looking Miskotonic University college sweatshirt, purchased at a science fiction convention. One of his professors was puzzled that he had never heard of the school. Richard explained that it's a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts.
The Necronomicon Page 94 — Also part of Lovecraft's "Cthulu Mythos."
Sacred Chao Page 95 — For more, go here.
Tom Dewey Page 98 — Thomas Dewey was a Manhattan District attorney known for prosecuting mobsters. Later, the governor of New York and the Republican nominee for president.
Legion of Dynamic Discord Page 100 — A real Discordian group.
Erisian Liberation Front Page 100 — Another Discordian group.
(Next week: Page 102 "ILLUMINATI PROJECT MEMO #12) to page 114 ("that mysterious bit of 1929 slang, '23 Skidoo ... ' "