The Cut Up Method

Writing Techniques

I have not created anything worthy of BLOG in the past couple of weeks. Here is something interesting instead!

While researching for a presentation I am giving with some of my peers on Kathy Acker’s novel, My Mother: Demonology, a Novel, I have come across a technique of writing (and art making) used by William S. Burroughs POST Naked Lunch. It is called The Cut Up Method:

“The method is simple. Here is one way to do it. Take a page. Like this page. Now cut down the middle and cross the middle. You have four sections. 1 2 3 4…Now rearrange the sections. Place section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page. Sometimes it says much the same thing. Sometimes something quite different… In any case you find that it says something…quite definite. Take any poet or writer you fancy. Heresay, or poems you have read over many times. The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition. Now take the poem and type out selected passages. Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem.” -William S. Burroughs, The Third Mind

Here is a link to a PDF of The Third Mind by Burroughs:

Click to access William-S.-Burroughs-and-Brion-Gysin-The-Third-Mind-complete.pdf

The youtube video above is a short film made in 1966 called The Cut Ups by Burroughs and Antony Balch that demonstrates this method visually. Don’t worry. I can only get through 5 minutes of it before wanting to shout NO! GOODBYE! and shutting it off. However, it is a prime example of how art/writing can be more about the editing than anything else.

I have already been using techniques similar to this method in my work, but I have only employed them in my poetry/collages. Taking large chunks of prose and reworking it sounds so TEDIOUS! But I am interested in how that process might be different or similar to collaging.

Kathy Acker’s work is a prime example of the use of The Cut Up Method outside of Burrough’s work, but in a more figurative manner. She weaves narratives from texts ranging from the well known, such as Huckleberry Finn and Don Quixote, to the lesser known like The Story of the Eye by George Bataille, and pairs them with autobiographical texts, such as diary entries. As I have only read My Mother: Demonology, A Novel, I cannot give my opinion as to whether her use of the technique is rendered usefully. It does make for an interesting read. Especially if you like feminism and erotica (verging on pornography).

When I have a chance, I would like to use the Cut Up Method, so look out for some work to come! Hopefully I can post something of my own up soon.

5 thoughts on “The Cut Up Method

    1. Ooooo! I don’t know. The Bell Jar is one of my favorites… Maybe mix that with some feminist texts like something by simone de beauvoir and virgina woolf? I feel that’s not very original though… Hahaha you have to start somewhere though! 😛

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