“The cut-up technique (or découpé in French) is an aleatory literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept can be traced to at least the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts. The cut-up and the closely associated fold-in are the two main techniques:
- Cut-up is performed by taking a finished and fully linear text and cutting it in pieces with a few or single words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged into a new text, such as in poems by Tristan Tzara as described in his short text, TO MAKE A DADAIST POEM.
- Fold-in is the technique of taking two sheets of linear text (with the same linespacing), folding each sheet in half vertically and combining with the other, then reading across the resulting page, such as in The Third Mind. It is Burroughs and Gysin‘s joint development.
… William Burroughs cited T. S. Eliot‘s poem, The Waste Land (1922) and John Dos Passos‘ U.S.A. trilogy, which incorporated newspaper clippings, as early examples of the cut ups he popularized. Gil J. Wolman developed cut-up techniques as part of his lettrist practice in the early 1950s. Also in the 1950s, painter and writer Brion Gysin more fully developed the cut-up method after accidentally re-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 of text and image. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. … Gysin introduced 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. … Antony Balch and Burroughs created a collaboration film, The Cut-Ups that opened in London in 1967. This was part of an abandoned project called Guerrilla Conditions meant as a documentary on Burroughs and filmed throughout 1961–1965. Inspired by Burroughs’ and Gysin’s technique of cutting up text and rearranging it in random order, Balch had an editor cut his footage for the documentary into little pieces and impose no control over its reassembly. …”
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