Poets are meant to sing and to make words sing. Poets have no words ‘of their very own’. Writers don’t own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody? ‘Your very own words,’ indeed! And who are you”11 It really made me realise the importance of the way you interpret the words, and the chance within that in cut-ups and the way one word being in a different place from normal in a sentence, can really change the meaning in the entire thing. It is not only that; it also made me think of song lyrics and how much some of those lyrics mean to me and perhaps how they could mean completely different things to other people.
It is also interesting when you realise that one person interprets the same song so differently from how you might, one tends to realise this only when you really discuss one particular song deeply with another person. As Burroughs stated: “… any narrative passage of any passage of poetic images is subject to any number of variations, all of which may be interesting and valid in their own right… cut-ups establish new connections between images”12 The images that we envisage when reading any text can vary so much when the words are in a different order.
We intrinsically read, interpret and take in what we read and this means that what people write affects us more than we realise, we can be controlled to a great extent by the media. One of the main aims of reading and creating cut-ups, for me is to find meaning beyond the parameters of control. Burroughs had a general theory that “the Word is literally a virus, and that it has not been recognized as such because it has achieved a state of relatively stable symbiosis with it’s human host…. The Word clearly bears the single identifying feature of a virus: it’s an organism with no internal function other than to replicate itself.
“13… That someone can be so sure that the ‘Word’ is so bad for us, that it can have such a negative affect, gives me the inclination understand why he attempted to change the way we read. Words become images when written down, they should not become images of words, but images of the thing that is being described (or at least that it appears to the reader is being described), often, when told to think of a word, one just sees the word as it would be written down not as what it symbolises or means.
The cut-up techniques of Gysin and Burroughs aimed to enthusiastically release meaning from texts and to evade the oppression of deliberate attempts at organisation of ideas. Burroughs believed that it was best to write only about what you really know about. Being a life-long addict, he saw some unconventional things as addictive things. Manipulation becomes easier the more dependent the addict becomes, Burrough’s ever-present addiction to drugs became the mechanism through which he lived his fractured, intuitive life.
Adopting the style of the cut-up was a movement against the control of consciousness by words. “I feel that the principal instrument of monopoly and control that prevents expansion of consciousness is the word lines controlling through feeling and apparent sensory impressions of the human host”14 Burroughs maintained that the only way to escape the negative affects of traditional communication, was to stop communication completely and that that would be a very difficult task. He maintained that the word images ingrained in our minds are inflexible and trap us all into one way of thinking.
Even though words are essential to our existence, the accumulation of predetermined and rigid ideas in relation to the world, word forms, and the subsequent standard way of thinking puts a stop to our consciousness increasing. Gysin recommends taking texts that have meaning for you and some that do not, cut them up and rearrange in order to find what you are looking for (if not, you will at least be reading something new and different) in your interpretation of what results from the cutup.
Another aspect of cut-ups that really appealed to me is the concept that consciousness is a cut-up; every time you look around you, any time you are conscious, you are taking in snippets and creating a montage in your head to create an image of your surroundings. Cut-ups free us from the confinements of linear reading, so that we can produce experience, not just simply record it.
The cut-up procedure was not only introduced as an avant-garde literary technique, but it was seen as a tool for everyone, it was a tool of liberation; Burroughs and Gysin saw peoples minds being controlled using words and image lines emitted by the mass media in order for us to produce conventional reactions, to prevent awareness; as a method of control. Cut-ups were a way to get around conventional thinking, to a place where new ideas and perceptions were possible.
“Whatever you do in your head bears the pre-recorded pattern of your head. Cut through pattern and all patterns if you want something new”15 Some people agreed that there was no fun in the inclination toward destruction, that Burroughs was an old-fashioned man trying to escape his own narcissism and that his work was a shock factor to start with, but essentially, provided no lasting impression. The cut-up method is an interesting experiment; it destroyed the standard method of writing.
Cut-ups can lead to stunning results, and introduce a more realistic method of randomness (unlike the usual way of writing where the author attempts to make you believe the text entirely), cut-ups give us a freedom in reading, one does not have to take everything seriously and as it comes. Cut-ups produce a text more like life as it is lived, a more realistic text, but are difficult to maintain for the length of a book before making the reader unbalanced, disorientated and unable to fully take in or fully comprehend.
This could be because, although we are used to taking in the world in this cut-up way, we are not adept to doing the same with words, therefore it is too difficult for the brain, or it could be that it is impossible to take in this method in long chunks. I would say, knowing what a brain is capable of, that it is possible, as long as one has learnt to read that way, and has not been ‘infected’ by the ‘word virus’ or learnt to read their entire life with the linear method. It is the word virus which, deeply rooted in images, infects the human being.
Ideally, one would escape this via total silence, but this is impossible, as your mind is affected by the virus as well. Otherwise, one should attempt to escape from verbal forms totally and replace them with something other than words. It has not yet been deciphered how one would do this. Cut-ups attempt to partially escape the word virus, in that they avoid traditional word forms. Personally, I can think of one way to communicate on paper not in a word form. This type of communication is picture letters.
My grandmother often wrote to me in this form. I have enclosed a copy. It does obviously, still follow typical phrase patterns, but it creates more flexibility in that in order to communicate a word, one can use many different ways. If one attempts to write a picture letter, one will easily see this. For example, in communicating the word ‘dear’ on could either… draw a picture of a deer, or draw an ear with an ‘E’ in front of it, or draw a picture of a beer and draw a crossed out ‘B’ with a ‘D’ next to it. See Fig.