Cut-Ups in memory of William S. Burroughs

100 years ago on February 5th, 2014, William S. Burroughs was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Times have changed but his ideas and influence continue to shape our world.

‘All God’s Children Got Time’ & ‘All God’s Children Got Space’, pages from the Green Scrapbook, 1971-73, © Estate of William S. Burroughs

As the world experience government espionage, environmental destruction, the fight for media control and those who OCCUPY the streets in protest, Burroughs’ work has an influence and a new significance. He is recognised as one of the most influential writers and visionaries of the 20th century and his legacy continues to foresee what now fills the headlines of the world today.

The Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office in Turkey has opened an investigation already in 2011 into the translation of  his novel The Soft Machine; written in Burroughs’ cut-up technique The Soft Machine features “hanged soldiers, North African street urchins, addicted narcotics agents, Spanish rent boys, evil doctors and corrupt judges”. It was translated and published by Sel Publishing (Sel Yayıncılık) in January 2011. The court referred to a report written by the Prime Ministry’s Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications that accused the novel  of “incompliance with moral norms” and “hurting people’s moral feelings.” Sel Publishing and the books’ translators face three more years of uncertainty after the judge pronounced in summer 2012 that the trial would be postponed until 2015. Meanwhile the judge warned that if either of the publishing houses or the translators were foolish enough to publish further ‘obscene’ works, these cases would be added to the charge sheet. The judge told the court that just the day before, new laws had been passed under a legislative reform package, and that, as a result, he was unable to pass judgement.

Led by Sel Publishing House, 15 publishers in Turkey had established during the protests in Turkey 2013 the ‘library’ in Istanbul’s Gezi Park at Taksim Square, where protests against the “decimation” of the park began.


© Estate of William S. Burroughs

The images displayed here are pages from William S. Burroughs scrapbook, a diary-like collection of notes, quotes, news clippings and other ephemera. Burroughs’ book features iterations of the “cut-up technique”, popularized in sections of his loopy novel of Nova Trilogy.

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs’ Cut-Up Technique’: “For Burroughs, the cut-up subverted “the trap of linear, narrative time produced by language” and opened up the potential of space. The cut-up was an attempt to break down the apparent coherence of language. The experiments published in little mags best represent this aspect of the cut-up and best demonstrate the cut-up in practice. The cut-up trilogy straightjackets the cut-up into the form of the novel. The block paragraphs force the reader to approach the cut-up from left to right onward down the page and forward through the codex. This is precisely “the trap of linear, narrative time” that Burroughs hoped to explode with the cut-up.”

Jed Birmingham writes occasional articles on William Burroughs, book collecting, and the Beat Generation for Beat Scene magazine.


 William S. Burroughs. A Man Within (Yony Leyser, 2010)

A Man Within featuring never before seen footage as well as exclusive interviews with his closest friends and colleagues. Born the heir of the Burroughs’ adding machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems, and self. He was forced to deal with the tragedy of killing his wife and the repercussions of neglecting his son. His novel, Naked Lunch, was one of the last books to be banned by the U.S. government. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer testified on behalf of the book. The courts eventually overturned their decision in 1966, ruling that the book had an important social value. It remains one of the most recognized literary works of the 20th century. William Burroughs was one of the first to cross the dangerous boundaries of queer and drug culture in the 1950s, and write about his experiences. Eventually he was hailed the godfather of the beat generation and influenced artists for generations to come. However, his friends were left wondering, did William ever find happiness? This extremely personal documentary breaks the surface of the troubled and brilliant world of one of the greatest authors of all time. “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within” is the first and only posthumous documentary about this legendary figure. – Written by Yony Leyser



Willam S. Burroughs, Ghost Escape, Paint and Shotgun Blasts on Plywood, 1982
Image Copyright Estate of William S. Burroughs

Today in Berlin: Call me Burroughs – 100 Years William S., Volksbühne, 8 pm


Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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