Cut & paste artistry

William Gibson applauds today’s remix culture, and traces it back to William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs was [in 1961] as radical a literary man as the world had to offer, and in my opinion, he still holds the title. Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever been quite as remarkable for me, and nothing has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing.

Later, attempting to understand this impact, I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers’ texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. Some of these borrowings had been lifted from American science fiction of the ’40s and ’50s, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me.

By then I knew that this “cut-up method,” as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever it was he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic. When he wrote about his process, the hairs on my neck stood up, so palpable was the excitement. Experiments with audiotape inspired him in a similar vein: “God’s little toy,” his friend Brion Gysin called their reel-to-reel machine.

Sampling. Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot, and the least imitative of authors was no plagiarist at all.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Update: The Cinetrix writes to say, “here’s where you can find Burroughs on the cut-ups.”

Second update: Dave Lull points me to a Splinters post about a collection of articles on “cut-up writing from Burroughs, Kerouac et al.”


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