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Although the infamous CUT-UP TECHNIQUE (a process in which a page of text gets manipulated by either being folded onto itself or by actually cutting out individual words with either an x-acto blade or scissors so that new words and/or sentences can be formed) is primarily known as the brain-child of writer / painter BRION GYSIN. In actuality this innovative process was first utilized in public during a 1920’s Dadaist rally. A French avant-garde poet named Tristan Tzara offered to compose a poem on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat.

Since that time this technique has been used by practically everyone, from writers T.S. Eliot, John Dos Passos, Julio Cortázar & Kathy Acker, to musicians such as David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.

The Cut-Up Technique gained the attention of the world art scene in the 1950’s, when Brion Gysin experimented with the procedure. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched, then cut into the papers with a razor blade. 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. He also applied this technique to audio recordings and printed media. Gysin’s friend, writer William S. Burroughs, found the method so compelling that he started using it with his own work. The two friends even collaborated on a publication, ¨The Third Mind¨,  a collection of cut-up writings and essays on the form.

Recently, I happened upon a book that looked somewhat like a journal in my shelves. Intrigued, I took it down and opened it up. To my amazement, I realized that it was a book that a good friend of mine–an extremely gifted musician who also dabbled in graphic arts on the side (creating works that are so unique and well-crafted I am positive he would cause quite a stir in the art world)–had presented to me some time back. It was a collection of his own cut-outs.

While I gleefully read through the pages I was fascinated all over again by his dedication to the technique [he simply cut out words and phrases from The New York Times, then meticulously picked out various selections and glued them back together]: the results were a cluster of intelligence, irony, with a touch of the unconscious at work, and often the end results were not only clever but frequently very funny.

The following are just some of the cut-outs he created:

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  • Details of a reported three-day sex romp at a luxury hotel. It’s more about nostalgia than politics.
  • HELP SAVE A BABY. Let’s eat out!
  • The articulation of space. There’s nothing for me here!
  • NEW TEETH. ¨Take a good look.¨
  • ¨Even models in bathing suits¨ carried HANDBAGS


  • Shadow THE POODLE
  • Swim AT Home
  • ¨I cant DISSECT MYself
  • ¨Fake I.D.’s ARE crucial
  • pictures of fragments
  • Jesus kissing Mary… BLOOD is NOT cheap

THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE MANY PAGES OF WONDERFUL CUT-UPS… I will add to these lists as I become better acquainted with this wonderful homemade book.


3 responses to “REAL CUT-UPS

  1. Mike, nice blog. I’ve always been interested in cut-ups, and have been incorporating them in my short stories & novels for a few years. I use one of the several online cut-up engines, “The Text-Mixing Desk”—seems to work pretty well. Usually get one or two gems out of a page of cut-up text. Great for writer’s block.


      • I think that I may finally be ready to delve into Burroughs cut-up trilogy (lol).
        I have always preferred his conventional narrative efforts, such as Junky, Queer, and a few others. And always found his cut-up novels unreadable. (No worse than Finnegan’s Wake, though!). The publishing history of The Soft Machine is interesting because it has appeared in radically different versions. Burroughs apparently had some second thoughts about the accessibility of the story as it appeared in its first edition, and subsequently re-shaped the narrative into a somewhat more linear version…


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