Reading over some of the bibliographic articles in thee Psychick Bible reminded me of my own history with the cut-up technique that William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin developed. In the spring of 1998, I had the fortune to take an English literature class that focused on the works of William S. Burroughs. The professor was one of those rare academics who was willing to take risks and offer something different from the standard fare you’d typically find in colleges. That course introduced me to William S. Burroughs and his writings, and changed my life. In Burroughs, especially his later works, I found an author I could identify with. Throughout his works were allusions to esotericism, and how to incorporate magic into writing, and how writing could shape space and time…and of course the cut-up technique. Ironically, I took the course because I wasn’t sure what else to take, but taking it challenged me to look at writing and literature in a different way than I ever had, and it was ideal for a young occultist that was just beginning to explore magic from an experimental perspective.
When I think of the cut-up technique, I think of cutting up magazines and newspapers and my own writing and then gluing it altogether in my room, and later taking it and transcribing it to some story I was writing, while listening to the spoken word of William S. Burroughs, his dry crackling voice gleefully describing alien situations, weird sex, and evil old men out to conquer death. That was my first real work with cut-up and it was something I continuously experimented with over the period of about 4 or 5 years. I still do an annual collage or two each year (you can see one of the 2012 ones in this post).
I later began experimenting with cut-up via magical work more directly, actually using the altered state of consciousness to do an automatic cut-up sigil in the style of Austin Osman Spare’s sigil work. These cut-up sigils were used for a variety of purposes including the two evocations I mentioned in my recent post about magic and proof. I found this approach to be highly effect because it literally involved a rewrite of reality. First I’d cut-up the conventional reality that had already been created, and then reform it into my own collage message to the universe, complete with a reformatted space and time. The universe has always been kind enough to respond and its a technique I use to this day.
What fascinates me the most about cut-up is how it can be adapted to a wide variety of mediums outside of writing. Art, sound, and video all offer potential explorations of cut-up, some of which have already been experimented with by various people. Cut-up is a mutable technique, a mutable form, and inspires mutation in general. It’s flexibility, in terms of mediums, makes it ideal as a magical technique because its not restricted to a specific way to do it.
Here’s to William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin for offering a new perspective on writing and in the process offering so much more!