Posts Tagged ‘aleatoricism’

Burroughs Month: Fear and the Monkey

September 27, 2010

Holy shit, have I ever inadvertently shortchanged the month that was supposed to belong to William S. Burroughs. And myself, because I wanted to know more about him and his work. He is going to have to get another month since September went to pieces. Let’s say November so I can put up his famously controversial Thanksgiving poem. So this’ll be the last Burroughs entry ’til November, when I positively absolutely will not allow myself to forget.

Author’s Note: This text arranged in my New York loft, which is the converted locker room of an old YMCA. Guests have reported the presence of a ghost boy. So this is a Oui-Ja board poem taken from Dumb Instrument, a book of poems by Denton Welch, and spells and invocations from the Necronomicon, a highly secret magical text released in paperback. There is a pinch of Rimbaud, a dash of St-John Perse, an oblique reference to Toby Tyler with the Circus, and the death of his pet monkey.

Photographed by Logan White.

Turgid itch and the perfume of death
On a whispering south wind
A smell of abyss and of nothingness
Dark Angel of the wanderers howls through the loft
With sick smelling sleep
Morning dream of a lost monkey
Born and muffled under old whimsies
With rose leaves in closed jars

Photographed by Alexander Bergström.

Fear and the monkey
Sour taste of green fruit in the dawn
The air milky and spiced with the trade winds
White flesh was showing
His jeans were so old
Leg shadows by the sea

Photographed by Anna Morosini, via feaverish.

Morning light
On the sky light of a little shop
On the odor of cheap wine in the sailors’ quarter
On the fountain sobbing in the police courtyards
On the statue of moldy stone
On the little boy whistling to stray dogs.

Photographed by Kelsey Reckling, via feaverish.

Wanderers cling to their fading home
A lost train whistle wan and muffled
In the loft night taste of water
Morning light on milky flesh

Light as a feather, stiff as a board.

Turgid itch ghost hand
Sad as the death of monkeys
Thy father a falling star
Crystal bone into thin air
Night sky
Dispersal and emptiness.

— August 1978.

(William S. Burroughs, “Fear and the Monkey,” Pearl 6 (Odense, Denmark: Fall/Winter 1978). Collected in The Burroughs File, City Lights, 1984. Published by the extraordinary RealityStudio in August 2010. Retrieved 27 Sept 2010.)

Henry Fuesli, “Nightmare.”

Okay, first of all, wow.

Second. “Fear and the Monkey” is done in the cut-up style which Burroughs pioneered with his friend Brion Gysin. A lot of short-entry, quick explanations of cut-up technique will solely list Burroughs and his Dadaist inspirations as the origin of the style, but I think it’s important to mention the painter and musician Mr. Gysin because Mr. Burroughs (I think very honorably) always cites Mr. Gysin as an influence and co-creator of cut-up when asked about his use of the technique in literature. If it is important to him to insistently give co-credit, then it is important to me.

Burroughs and Gysin.

Cut-up is an example of aleatoricism, in which art is randomly created from other sources or by means of automatic generation. You know, found sounds, collage from old grocery lists, even the paintings Mr. Burroughs himself liked to do by firing a gun full of paint at the canvas (oh, him and his guns) — all of these fall beneath the aegis of aleatory techniques. I gave aleatoric poetry a try a few years back when I collected the subject lines of the emails in my spam box for about a year. I was not so strict that I kept in nonsense letter combinations nor drug names with 0’s and x’s, etc.; just actual phrases. It was an experiment from which I did not expect much but what emerged was a genuinely interesting collection of wordplay. I wanted badly to break from the lack of form and arrange the lines in a way that would be even more effective (some of the lines juxtaposed with surprising impact) but I felt like within the parameters of the project I’d set down that would be breaking my rules and making the work too deliberate. In any case, it was all lost in the Great Crash of 2009, which I deeply regret. Perhaps I’ll try again soon.

via stupidandcontagious right here on the wordpress. Girls like a boy who reads.

Anyway, that’s not cut-up. Sorry for the sidetrack. Cut-up is where you take a complete, “linear” text, and literally cut it up into short phrases, then re-arrange it. In placing and rearranging the original linear narrative into this new context, deeper messages can emerge. Form and content, langue and parole, deconstruction — etc. Pretty rad shit, in my book.

In the 1950s, painter and writer Brion Gysin more fully developed the cut-up method after accidentally 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 wiki)

Isn’t it just?

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.”


After cut-up, Burroughs started doing fold-in, but that’s for another day. A day in the lonesome November.

Photographed by Logan White.

“When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” I really grok that. I do believe that is my Idea For Today. Beautiful.