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Literature

Remembering William S Burruoghs

Today marks the 24th anniversary of the passing of William S Burroughs. The hugely influential Postmodernist and key figure in the Beat Generation is loved and revered to this day, as much for his raw & paranoid prose as for his gruff, antiauthoritarian personality. His crowning achievement in literature is surely his nightmarish sequence of vignettes, Naked Lunch. The novel, which famously had to fight several bannings and an obscenity trial, was a nonlinear torrent of vile images and scenes, many taken from Burroughs own personal experiences as a hard drugs user.

As well as his feverish depictions of drug manias and psychoses, Burroughs is well known for his use of the fabled cutup technique which involved cutting up newspapers, magazine articles etc. and rearranging them to form new, bizarre prose. Burroughs believed that he was tapping into something here & potentially seeing glimpses of the future. This method, & Burroughs more generally, were a huge influence on many cultural icons going forward, most notably David Bowie. Lyrics to several of Bowies tunes were written using the Burroughs-esque cutup technique. A particularly great example of this is his Time of the Assassins, a cutup of a full issue of Time Magazine, in response to their review of Naked Lunch.

I myself became enamoured with the cutup technique and created several pieces of poetry using the style. See the Slow News City Poetry Index for links (Cut up or shut up #1-8). You can find a useful online cutup generator here, if you fancy having a go yourself.

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