The Third Mind – Burroughs and Gysin

In a movement defined by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin known as the cut-up, a group of writers set out to bring writing up to speed with the rest of the pictorial arts. In the words of Gysin, writing was fifty years behind painting and the cut-up served as a means of bringing writing up to current.

“Though at the very beginning Gysin had seen in it nothing more than a new method of writing that would allow literature to catch up with that of painting.” (The Third Mind p.13)

Though Burroughs did not play any part in the original invention of the “cut-up,” he understood its importance in revolutionizing literature. At the very beginning the cut-up lacked a system of dismantling the form of fiction. Burroughs and Gysin developed a mechanical method of shredding texts in a ruthless machine. In order to perform this method the following system was used:

“Take a page of text and trace a medial line vertically and horizontally./ You now have four blocks of text: 1, 2, 3 and 4./ Now cut along the lines and put block 4 alongside block 1, block 3 alongside block 2. Read the rearranged page.” (The Third Mind p.14)

Final Text:


Art-photography, as championed by Rol based on scientific principles. He held was flourishing in England when the effects of nature on the eye, and son himself was still the leader – subs Vinci’s Last Supper, and the recent photographs – and the walls of exhibit of Constable, Corot and the Barbizonto ceiling with anecdotal genre scenes, of all times. Trained as a physician, traits, all reminiscent of the most decade von Helmholtz’ Physiological Optics.

Against the artificiality of these stiffly on correctness of representation. prints made up of pieces of different neg photography was “superior to etching, with a vehemence which shook the ph, the accuracy of its perspective rend. his own photographs, lectures, articles only because it lacked color and, he to the Camera Club in London on Ph: tonal relationships. Aside John Ruskin as a spasmodic emitted edition Life and Landscape on denied any connection between science actual prints mounted to form a handbook as the quintessence of literary fall had all been made in East Anglia, and laid before his audience a theory of art Libyan life of the marsh dwellers. The that the artist’s task was the imitation lumens with letterpress describing the pointed to Greek sculpture, Leonardo and photogravures made directly from paintings of the “naturalistic” school bison and Rejlander in the late fifties, group as the peaks of artistic productiory-plate revolution took place. Robin, he was greatly impressed by Hermannibers still looked forward to his annual which he quoted as the ultimate authoring galleries were crowded from floor.

Emerson came to the conclusion that entailment all and scapes, and weak poor woodcutting and charcoal drawing in mic of paintings. and that it was second to painterly posed studio scenes and patchwork believed, the ability to reproduce exaclatives, Peter Henry Emerson protested.

In the same year he published in a holographic world. His weapons were the Norfolk Broads, a collection of forty and books. In March, 1886, he spoke some folio volume. These photographs autograph, a Pictorial Art. Sweeping presented a record of the strange amp Hegant of art literature,” because he publication was followed by similar and art, and dismissing Robinson’s manners and customs of the peasants, claques and art anachronisms, Emerson.

Conventional prose is read in a linear fashion, where ideas and information are assembled in a progressive manner meant to inform the reader with certain bits of knowledge or story. Take this article for example, right now you are reading about a method of rearranging text known as the “cut-up.” This text is teaching about the process of this method of producing information by two artists/writers. As the information is gathered together in the mind of the author it is then transcribed for you to study and consume for the purpose of learning and understanding the relationship of this form of text as it relates to the greater knowledge of Text and Image.

The cut-up changes the entire mode of understanding information. In theory, Burroughs and Gysin believed that by rearranging two or more texts using the aforementioned strategy, a new text was reveled. For example take the work of Shakespeare and Rimbaud, when combined, they produce a third work that demonstrates the close interdependence of these divergent sources. Furthermore, they believed that the fragment that resulted from the combined texts automatically presented itself as a work of fiction regardless of the nature of the sources, whether they are mathematics and science or news and poetry. Burroughs and Gysin referred to this method of rearranging texts as a machine and through it new books, poems and plays were produced.

The overarching premise behind the cut-up, as described by Brion Gysin, was to allow writers the chance discovery afforded both painters and photographers.

“The cut-up method brings to writers the collage, which as been used by painters for fifty years. And used by the moving and still camera. In fact all street shots from movie or still cameras are by the unpredictable factors of passersby and juxtaposition cut-ups. And photographers will tell you that often their best shots are accidents . . . writers will tell you the same. The best writing seems to be done almost by accident but writers until the cut-up method was explicit—all writing is in fact cut-ups; I will return to this point—had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. You can not will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.” (The Third Mind, p.29)

Through the possible discoveries offered by the random chance and “happy accident,” hope is instilled within the mind of the artist. It is through this practice that the potential lack of new ideas can be alleviated—now even for writers.

by John Trefethen


One Response to “The Third Mind – Burroughs and Gysin”

  1. […] at least, in the collaging technique employed, a technique that produces effects reminiscent of Burroughs/Gysin cut-ups. On the whole, Black’s effects are paradigmatic; her syntax flows smoothly enough but […]