Friday, February 18, 2011

The cut-up technique

More and more I become intrigued by this method of composition.  I plan to research it more thoroughly and to perhaps write an academic paper on the subject once I have a unique thesis to put forth.
For those who might not be aware, the cut-up technique is a literary method borrowed from, at least in part, from the Dadaist movement of the 1920s.  Cut-up is an aleatory technique, meaning in not so many words, "it's all a crap shoot."
To engage this method, a writer takes a complete, linear narrative and then physically cuts the sentences or even individual words apart and rearranging them all into a new text.  Author William Burroughs was the first writer to truly popularize this method, although he himself cited T.S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land as an influence.  Modern musicians such as Thom Yorke of Radiohead and David Bowie have also used the cut-up method in composing songs.

Would it be accurate to call this "non-deterministic composition?"  How does it relate to Donna Haraway's concept of "cyborg writing?"  I know that at first-blush, the phrase "cyborg writing" may sound better suited to my other blog, but what it really means is writing that replaces the idea of an authoritative or dominant story with an acknowledgment of the wide range of narratives to be told in science, technology, and other areas.  I would say that the textual end result of cut-ups could qualify as legitimate writing as part of a far wider spectrum than that of standard linear narrative. 
While I doubt that Burroughs had this in mind when he adopted the technique, what are the pedagogical applications for cut-ups?  Certainly it would be useful in poetry, but how might it be implemented in other composition classes?  What are the motives, the exigencies that propel a writer to employ a cut-up technique?

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