January 27, 2005

A Few Burroughs Links

by Scott Rettberg · , 8:21 pm

It’s not William S. Burroughs’ birthday or anything, but I’m teaching cut-ups tomorrow and thought I’d share:

3 Responses to “A Few Burroughs Links”


  1. nick Says:

    How’d the students like the cut-ups? For some reason, writing/literature undergrads here at Penn seem to be in a frenzied fit of avant-garde formalism – writing poems that consist of words spelled using only the letters in someone’s name, applying the n+7 transformation, and so on. I wonder what the reaction was to Burroughs in your class. Profound? A prank? Both? Did everyone buy his game-theoretic defense of using randomization in literary composition?

  2. scott Says:

    I think they liked them, though we covered a lot in a hour and fifteen minutes. It was combinatory/aleotory poetics day. I passed around a hundred thousand billion poems and we compared that to a computer program. We read a story as you like it. We listened to Burroughs explaining cut-ups and talked about the editorial process involved in Naked Lunch and Nova Express. Then they broke out the scissors and glue and we cut up the New York Times. I very briefly discussed Newsreader/Regime Change while they wrote cut-ups/collage newspoems. We talked about the difference between making conscious decisions from a randomized text database and choosing the text at random. Some students made conscious decisions and others went with utter randomness. We read some of them out loud and then briefly brought the discussion back to Nelson’s hypertext and talked briefly about the difference between the types of associations we make when making cut-ups and the types of associations discussed by Bush and Nelson in “As We May Think” and “Computer Lib/Dream Machines.” End of class. I think they liked it. One student suggested that we should do “crafts” at the end of every class.

  3. Christy Dena Says:

    Hey Scott, I know you’ve done the class and I’ve mentioned this comics elsewhere to Andrew, but it may be of interest. This “interactive comic” has cells and text-balloons that were selected at random from a database on each mouse click. The creater, Simon Norton, was inspired by cut-up. The work is Testinomy: A Story Machine and is at Balloonhead. I wrote an article on it, for high-school kids, here.

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