The cut-up is a literary technique popularized by the Beat writer William S. Burroughs. You take some text, cut it apart, then rearrange the words into a new text. While I initially found Nova Express, one of Burroughs' cut-up novels, hard to read, once I got into it, it was gripping.
I'm fascinated by the chaos factor in these rearrangements, and the idea of physically touching and fitting together a text appeals to me; Burroughs has been often been misquoted as claiming "Writing is fifty years behind painting". In an interview posted at http://www.gorgeaway.blogspot.com/ he clarified: "I did not write that. Mr Brion Gysin who is both painter and writer wrote 'writing is fifty years behind painting.' Why this gap? Because the painter can touch and handle his medium and the writer cannot". The most enjoyable and interesting part of painting, for me, was always the physicality of it...getting the color on your fingers, changing textures to represent fur or a leaf. That's why, when I came up with the admittedly silly idea of doing a Tarzan cut-up (combining Edgar Rice Burroughs with William S.), I knew I needed the physical pulp novels to do it.
Spam mailers use cut-ups all the time, taking public domain texts and running them through randomizers to beat email filters. But doing so for this project would be beside the point. It would be extremely trivial and downright boring to do. Cutting apart the text of these books was a pleasurable experience, and allowed me time to think about how I wanted things to look in the end. I toyed early on with adding Running with Scissors, by yet another Burroughs (Augusten X.) to the mix, and the universe gave me the A-OK. I found a copy on sale in the West Village upon taking a wrong turn while looking for a subway station.
My Tarzan cut-up project includes the first chapter of the first three Tarzan books: Tarzan of the Apes,The Return of Tarzan, and Beasts of Tarzan, as well as the first chapter of Running with Scissors. Additional text includes title and copyright pages of these 4 books. The text of these books was cut apart in various ways, including line-by-line, single words or phrases, and paragraph chunks cut in half. They're currently being glued onto 5 sheets of typing paper I glued together, end to end, to form a single sheet of paper approximately 50 inches long. I intend to make the text into a wall hanging.
Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
The "title page".
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