A while back, I ran a little series, “Another way to generate text.” The first one proved fairly popular, and I’ve been meaning to make more of them, but generative techniques haven’t been on my mind. However, my post last week, “Experimental fiction as principle and as genre,” generated a lot of text (haha), in the form of comments. Some people who chimed in questioned whether the Cut-Up Technique that Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs developed and used in the 1950s was ever all that experimental. Specifically, PedestrianX wrote:
I find it hard to accept this argument when its main example, the Cut-up, didn’t start when you’re claiming it did. I’m sure you know Tzara was doing it in the 20s, and Burroughs himself has pointed to predecessors like “The Waste Land.” Eliot may not have been literally cutting and pasting, but Tzara was.
This comment got me thinking about the role influence plays in experimentation; more about that next week. Today I want to address the point PedestrianX is making, as it strikes me as pretty interesting. Were Gysin and Burroughs merely repeating Tzara? Or were they doing something substantially different?
To figure that out, I decided to run through the respective techniques, documenting what happened along the way. Because if I’ve learned anything in my studies of experimental art, it’s that thinking about the techniques is usually no substitute for sitting down and getting one’s hands dirty.
If you want to get dirty, too, then kindly join me after the jump . . .
Brion Gysin famously said, “Writing is fifty years behind painting.” And it looks like Kenneth Goldsmith would agree:
What I learned in the art world is that anything goes. The further you can push something, the more it is rewarded: to shoot for anything less in the art world is career suicide. The art that is deemed the most valuable is rarely the most finely-crafted, the most expressive, or the most “honest” works, but rather those which either attempt to do something that’s never been done before or those that synthesize older ideas into something new. Risk is rewarded. Those who follow tradition in a known, dogged, and obligatory manner are ignored. Unlike the poetry world, the mainstream of the art world since the dawn of modernism has been the avant-garde, the innovative, the experimental. The most cutting-edge work — the work with the biggest audience and historical import — has been the most challenging.