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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Journey through time-space 

Q: Your books, since The Ticket that Exploded especially, are no longer "novels"; a breaking up of novelistic form is noticeable in Naked Lunch. Toward what end or goal is this break-up heading?

A: That's very difficult to say. I think that the novelistic form is probably outmoded and that we may look forward perhaps to a future in which people do not read at all or read only illustrated books and magazines or some abbreviated form of reading matter. To compete with television and photo magazines writers will have to develop more precise techniques producing the same effect on the reader as a lurid action photo.

Q: What separates Naked Lunch from Nova Express? What is the most important evolution between these two books?

A: I would say that the introduction of the cut-up and fold-in method which occurred between Naked Lunch and Nova Express is undoubtedly the most important evolution between these books. In Nova Express I think I get further from the conventional novel form than I did in Naked Lunch. I don't feel that Nova Express is in any sense a wholly successful book.

Q: You wrote: "Writing is fifty years behind painting." How can the gap be closed?

A: 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 writer does not yet know what words are. He deals only with abstractions from the source point of words. The painter's ability to touch and handle his medium led to montage techniques sixty years ago. It is to be hoped that the extension of cut-up techniques will lead to more precise verbal experiments closing this gap and giving a whole new dimension to writing. These techniques can show the writer what words are and put him in tactile communication with his medium. This in turn could lead to a precise science of words and show how certain word combinations produce certain effects on the human nervous system.

Q: Did you use the techniques of fold-up and cut-up for a long time before moving on to the use of the tape recorder? What were your most interesting experiences with the earlier technique?

A: The first extension of the cut-up method occurred through the use of tape recorders and this extension was introduced by Mr Brion Gysin. The simplest tape recorder cut-up is made by recording some material and then cutting in passages at random--of course the words are wiped off the tape where these cut-ins occur--and you get very interesting juxtapositions. Some of them are useful from a literary point of view and some are not. I would say that my most interesting experience with the earlier techniques was the realization that when you make cut-ups you do not get simply random juxtapositions of words, that they do mean something, and often that these meanings refer to some future event. I've made many cut-ups and then later recognized that the cut-up referred to something that I read later in a newspaper or in a book, or something that happened. To give a very simple example, I made a cut-up of something Mr Getty had written, I believe for 'Time and Tide.' The following phrase emerged: "It's a bad thing to sue your own father." About three years later his son sued him. Perhaps events are pre-written and pre-recorded and when you cut word lines the future leaks out. I have seen enough examples to convince me that the cut-ups are a basic key to the nature and function of words.

Q: For you the tape recorder is a device for breaking down the barriers which surround consciousness. How did you come to use tape recorders? What is the advantage of that technique over the fold-in cut-up technique?

A: Wel, I think that was largely the influence of Mr Brion Gysin who pointed out that the cut-up method could be carried much further on tape recorders. Of course you can do all sorts of things on tape recorders which can't be done anywhere else--effects of simultaneity, echoes, speed-ups, slow-downs, playing three tracks at once, and so forth. There are all sorts of things you can do on a tape recorder that cannot possibly be indicated on a printed page. The concept of simultaneity cannot be indicated on a printed page except very crudely through the use of columns and even so the reader must follow one column down. We're used to reading from left to right and then back, and this conditioning is not easy to break down.

Q: When you have arrived at a mix or montage, do you follow the channels opened by the text or do you adapt what you want to say to the mix?

A: I would say I follow the channels opened by the rearrangement of the text. This is the most important function of the cut-up. I may take a page, cut it up, and get a whole new idea for straight narrative, and not use any of the cut-up material at all, or I may use a sentence or two out of the actual cut-up. It's not unconscious at all, it's a very definite operation...the simplest way is to take a page, cut it down the middle and across the middle, and then rearrange the four sections. Now that's a very simple form of cut-up if you want to get some idea of one rearrangement of the words on that page. It's quite conscious, there's nothing of automatic writing or unconscious procedure involved here. You don't know what you're going to get simply because of the limitations of the human mind any more than the average person can plan five moves ahead in chess. Presumably it would be possible for someone with a photographic memory to look at a page and cut it up in his mind, that is, put these words up here and those up there...I've recently written a film script on the life of Dutch Schultz, now this is perfectly straight writing. Nonetheless I cut up every page and suddenly got a lot of new ideas that were then incorporated into the structure of the narrative. This is a perfectly straight film treatment, quite intelligible to the average reader, in no sense experimental writing.


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