“Burroughs Is a Poet Too, Really”: The Poetics of Minutes to Go


“The long and intimate association of William Burroughs with poets is well known: Ginsberg, most obviously, as well as Corso, Creeley, Ferlinghetti, Leroi Jones, John Giorno, and so on. But to talk of Burroughs’ own material engagement with poetic form and poetics in relation to historical and contemporary practices — this can really only mean one thing: the cut-up project that began in Paris at the end of 1959. As well as brief encounters with old luminaries such as Duchamp, Peret and Tzara, this was the place and the context in which his activities would bring Burroughs in contact with George Maciunas’ Fluxus Group, the Domaine Poetique of Bernard Heidsieck and Henri Chopin, the work of the Lettristes and poesie sonore. It’s easy to forget, but his first novel, Junkie, had been published as a pulp paperback on sale in rail stations only six years earlier. Now, to give just one example, Burroughs would find himself in print alongside John Ashbery, Michael McClure and Philip Whalen, Richard Huelsenbeck, Francis Picabia and Alice B. Toklas. The enormously fertile and innovative period of the cut-up project has enjoyed a good deal of critical attention since Robin Lydenberg, in her ground-breaking study of 1987, complained that the ‘cut-up novels of William Burroughs have been dismissed without ever having been rigorously examined’. This was her starting point, ‘to demonstrate that these narratives, which many critics have dismissed as unreadable, offer new ways of reading and thinking’. My point of departure is implied by Lydenberg’s revealing use of the terms ‘cut-up novels’ and ‘narratives’: missing from Lydenberg, as from all the criticism that has followed, is the historical and material rigour that demands examination of the text that preceded the novels and their narratives; that is to say, the original manifesto and manual of the method, Minutes to Go (1960). Whether this is ‘unreadable’ is open to question, since it remains the critically unread starting point of Burroughs’ cut-up project. It is also, and far from coincidentally, the text most materially invested with the poetry and poetics that gave Burroughs’ method its original identity. …”
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This entry was posted in Allen Ginsberg, Books, Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Poetry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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