William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

18
"Cut-Ups" A Synema of the text

Anne Friedberg

I n one of his dadaist manifestos, Tristan Tzara commands:

Take a newspaper Take some scissors

He then directs the making of a dadaist poem: A newspaper article is cut into its constituent words. The words are placed in a paper bag. The paper bag is shaken. The poem is "constructed" by copying the words in the order they are pulled from the paper bag. Full of chance juxtapositions, the dadaist poem foregrounds the process of combination and arrangement. The scissors become a cardinal tool for the creation of modernist art:

Take the heritage of dadaist collage and futurist sound plays.

Take fifty years of technological sophistication of the scissors.

The "cut-up" techniques of William Burroughs echo much of the dadaist fervor against rationality and much irreverence for bourgeois life and art-making. In their simplest conception, "cut-ups" are nothing more than the random graphic rearrangement of words and phrases.

The recently published collaborative effort of William Burroughs and his painter- friend, Brion Gysin, The Third Mind, is a synergist manifesto: an exposition of Burroughs and Gysin's "cut-up" and "fold-in" techniques of assemblage and a treatise on the process of collaboration, itself a sort of mental découpage:

____________________

Anne Friedberg, " 'Cut-Ups': A Synema of the text" Downtown Review 1 .1 ( 1979): 3-5. Reprinted by permission of the author.

-169-

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