William Seward Burroughs II ( /ˈbʌroʊz/; also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century." His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.
He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of the inventor and founder of the Burroughs Corporation, William Seward Burroughs I, and nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, studying English, and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attending medical school in Vienna. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II, he dropped out and became afflicted with the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life, while working a variety of jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the countercultural movement of the Beat Generation.
Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversy-fraught work that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws. With Brion Gysin, he also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–64). In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1984 was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France.
Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the "greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift,"a reputation he owes to his "lifelong subversion"of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be "the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War," while Norman Mailer declared him "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius."
Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III (1947-1981), with his second wife Joan Vollmer. Vollmer died in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in Vollmer's death, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, after suffering a heart attack in 1997.
Burroughs's major works can be divided into four different periods. The dates refer to the time of writing, not publication, which in some cases was not until decades later:
- Early work (early 1950s): Junkie, Queer and The Yage Letters are relatively straightforward linear narratives, written in and about Burroughs's time in Mexico City and South America.
- The cut-up period (mid 1950s to mid 1960s): Naked Lunch is a fragmentary collection of "routines" from The Word Hoard – manuscripts written in Tangier, Paris, London, as well as of some other texts written in South America such as "The Composite City", blending into the cut-up and fold-in fiction also heavily drawn from The Word Hoard: The Soft Machine, Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded, also referred to as "The Nova Trilogy" or "the Nova Epic", self-described by Burroughs as an attempt to create "a mythology for the space age". Interzone also derives from this period.
- Experiment and subversion (mid 1960s to mid 1970s): This period saw Burroughs continue experimental writing with increased political content and branching into multimedia such as film and sound recording. The only major novel written in this period was The Wild Boys, but he also wrote dozens of published articles, short stories, scrap books and other works, several in collaboration with Brion Gysin. The major anthologies representing work from this period are The Burroughs File, The Adding Machine and Exterminator!.
- The Red Night trilogy (mid 1970s to mid 1980s): The books Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands came from Burroughs in a final, mature stage, creating a complete mythology.
Burroughs also produced numerous essays and a large body of autobiographical material, including a book with a detailed account of his own dreams (My Education: A Book of Dreams).
The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. Most commonly, cut-ups are used to offer a non-linear alternative to traditional reading and writing.
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.
- 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.
A precedent of the technique occurred during a Dadaist rally in the 1920s in which Tristan Tzara offered to create a poem on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat. Collage, which was popularized roughly contemporaneously with the Surrealist movement, sometimes incorporated texts such as newspapers or brochures. Prior to this event, the technique had been published in an issue of 391 in the poem by Tzara, dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love under the sub-title, TO MAKE A DADAIST POEM
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.
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. The book Minutes to Go resulted from his initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerged as coherent and meaningful prose. South
African poet Sinclair Beiles also used this technique and co-authored Minutes To Go.
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. Burroughs also suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, "When you cut into the present the future leaks out." Burroughs also further developed the "fold-in" technique. In 1977, Burroughs and Gysin published The Third Mind, a collection of cut-up writings and essays on the form. Jeff Nuttall's publications "My Own Mag", was another important outlet for the then-radical technique.
Heres a video about Burroughs and Gysin experimenting and creating with the cut up method.
It was reconmended that I look into William S. Burroughs and the cut up method and through my research I have found it very useful and inspiring. After starting to cut up books and play around with the media I find I have been playing around with the writtin words as well. That the words and blocking and moving around different sentences and indivisual words can make whole new meanings and stories. Their techniques and use of the media have gave me ideas and new ways of looking into books or even other forms of the writtin word and image.
(Thanks everyone in class who helped me find this guy! :D )