Writer’s Diary #16 – Everything is a cut up

The last few days I have been experimenting with a digital cut-up method. I’m inspired by Taussig’s book on oil palm in Colombia, which is inspired by William S. Burroughs’ cut-up method. Until yesterday, I had not looked into what that method is.

I think of it as a way to introduce a little bit of randomness into your writing. Take two pages of text. Cut them into quarters. Then mix the quarters from one half of the paper with the other half. This seems like an exercise in creating randomness based on material. But Burroughs then adds that he uses all the tricks of revision, composition, and all the rest for the cut-up method. That changes it for me. It’s a writer’s techniques. It’s a way to get material differently, to change perspective, to see connections, to make new connections, and, ultimately, to get raw material to work with.

And, what’s wrong with that?

Artists have long used montage, scissors, paper, glue, juxtaposition of words to make their work etc. Filmmakers work with juxtaposition and editing. Hip-hop makes music by mixing different material together. Jaune Quick-To-See Smith mixes text with image brilliantly in the exhibition at the Whitney museum.

On the one hand, what is a word processor but a machine to facilitate the editing process? But why not do it more consciously? Why not print, cut, and paste? Why not treat everything as a cut-up?

Perhaps the AI experiment of the last few days was a twenty-first century experiment in a cut-up method. But, maybe retyping and reworking texts is a good way to go, too.

I think cut-up will work for the fragments book—the makeshift book is different.