Thursday, March 30th 2017    |   

Toolbox  The Cutup Method

The cut-up technique, also known as fishbowling, is an aleatory literary technique or genre in which a text is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text.

A precedent of the technique occurred during a Surrealist rally in the 1920s: Tristan Tzara offered to create a poem on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat. A riot ensued and André Breton expelled Tzara from the movement.

Gil J. Wolman developed cut-up techniques as part of his lettrist practice. Also in the 1950s painter and writer Brion Gysin more fully developed the cut-up method after accidentally discovering it. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched while he cut papers with a razor blade. Upon cutting through the newspapers, Gysin noticed that the sliced layers offered interesting juxtapositions. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. Minutes to Go resulted from his initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerged as coherent and meaningful prose.

Gysin introduced writer William S. Burroughs to the technique at the Beat Hotel. The pair later applied the technique to printed media and audio recordings in an effort to decode the material's implicit content, hypothesizing that such a technique could be used to discover the true meaning of a given text. Burroughs also suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, "When you cut into the present the future leaks out." Burroughs also further developed the "fold-in" technique.

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