William S. Burroughs and Norman Mailer

I enjoyed this Reality Studio article by Jed Birmingham on Burroughs and Mailer, which begins:

Norman Mailer’s assessment lingers around Burroughs like a stale fart. You just cannot get away from it. From the back cover of the Grove Naked Lunch to obituary accounts, from the Wikipedia page to academic articles, Mailer’s territorial pissing has marked Burroughs’ place in literary history.

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Fine Lines

I suppose my recent cut-up experiment is more about marketing than writing. It’s certainly easier to write a cut-up than it is to get someone to read it, but I don’t want to trick anyone into reading something that isn’t any good. Quality should always come first. One should believe they have a product of top-notch quality before promoting and marketing it. One produces a good cut-up the same way one creates good poetry or prose – study, practice, persistence, and patience.

I used to think maybe I was “cheating” when I added, deleted, or otherwise manipulated the raw composite of two different texts joined together in the middle. Finally, a quote from William Burroughs himself, which I found at Reality Studio, put my mind at ease. In a statement to the 1962 International Writers’ Conference, Burroughs said, “In using the fold in method I edit, delete, and rearrange as in any other method of composition.”

Note: A fold-in is simply a variation of the cut-up. As Burroughs explains in the same Statement to the 1962 International Writer’s Conference:

“Brion Gysin, an American painter living in Paris, has used what he calls ‘the cut up method’ to place at the disposal of writers the collage used in painting for fifty years — Pages of text are cut and rearranged to form new combinations of word and image — In writing my last two novels, Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded, i have used an extension of the cut up method I call ‘the fold in method’ — A page of text — my own or some one else’s — is folded down the middle and placed on another page — The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other — The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track — For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred — I insert the resulting composite as page ten — When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one — The deja vue phenomena can so be produced to order — (This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangements of musical themes.”

Go to Reality Studio to read more of Burroughs’ statement as published in the Transatlantic Review

Now, back to my statement that quality should always come first. I’m enjoying a novel by Jeff VanderMeer called Finch (the third and possibly last in the Ambergris cycle). This reminded me that Jeff and I had briefly discussed an article by Jessa Crispin about Jeff’s other new book, Booklife. It went like this:

19 October 2009 at 6:21 PM

Bill Ectric says:

Jeff, I would like to say a word about the one negative review of Booklife that I’ve read. I’m a fan of Jessa Crispin and many of the books she recommends are right up my alley, but when she says Booklife “made her uneasy” and has questionable priorites, it occurs to me that virtually every book Crispin likes has already been through the “networking” and “ego-feeding” processes that she apparently finds distasteful. The difference is, in many cases, those authors have people in the trenches to do the legwork and nurturing for them. Jeff, I believe you wrote Booklife for authors who must “switch hats” from artist to publicist to merchant without loosing foucus. Anyone who has read your fiction knows that creativity and skill are first and foremost. I’m finding Booklife to be quite solid and helpful.

19 October 2009 at 6:27 PM

JeffVanderMeer says:

Bill: I was bothered by it because it seemed to insinuate that I was being dishonest in the book. But I’ve since asked Jessa if I can interview her for this site, and she accepted. That’ll run sometime in November or December, but it’ll go into more detail about her views on writing, creativity, and careers. I do plan in the second edition to reference that “non review” as she called it, in the context of double and triple making sure that readers understand why I’m offering up the information in the Public Booklife section.

I really look forward to further dialogue between Jeff and Jessa, two of my favorite bloggers, and I hope it happens!

Deciphering Burroughs

Photo of Oliver Harris by Rudy Rucker

Everything Lost: the Latin American Notebook of William S. Burroughs, written by Oliver Harris and published by RealityStudio on 17 December 2007. You can order Everything Lost at Amazon.

Mr. Harris talks about researching and writing the book on RealityStudio.org:

“In November 2002, Grauerholz referred to it as ‘Mexico City Return,’ because the most immediate significance of the Notebook is that it contains most of the first draft of the typescript used for the Epilogue given that title and added to Queer in his 1985 edit. In fact, the contract signed by the Burroughs Estate and OSUP in March 2003 was, a little inaccurately, for a work entitled ‘Mexico City Return: The Yage Notebook of William S. Burroughs, 1951.’ But for a long time we mainly referred to it as ‘the Peru Notebook.’ I didn’t come up with the title ‘Everything Lost’ until much later.”

“One of the great interests of Everything Lost as a contribution to Burroughs scholarship is the chance it gives to see inside, to get detailed insight into the processes of both writing and editing. That’s to say, you can see Burroughs the writer at work here – moving back and forth between travel diary reportage, intimate personal reflections, records of dreams, and dramatic routines, so that fact and fiction, waking and dream worlds segue into each another – and you can see something of how the process of editing happens too. The actual work of transcription isn’t so self-evident, however. The first few pages are written in a very steady, clear holograph, legible to most readers. But increasingly, there are passages of hurried writing, with numerous cancellations and erasures. With illegible words, I often went about the task of transcription by playing a kind of academic hangman: you look at illegible words and ask yourself, of each letter, could that be an ‘a’, a ‘b’, a ‘c’, and so on. Since the permutations in this mechanical method are enormous, you have to work intuitively at the same time. Naturally, the less context you have – where, say, a whole sentence is illegible – the harder it is and the more you rely on following hunches. Many times you stare at a word and it’s as if you have it on the tip of your tongue. That feeling can last a long time.”

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