Tom McCarthy on William Burroughs’s Verbal Remix Software

A passage from Tom McCarthy’s essay “Transmission and the Individual Remix:”

It might be inferred, from what I’ve said, that any old remix will do. Not so: there are good and bad ones. Tristan Tzara cutting Shakespeare sonnets up and pulling their words from hats is an exercise in randomizing. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin mixing poems in with sliced-up pages of The New York Times is quite another matter: it is assiduous composition—composition understood in all its secondary nature: as reading, tracing, reconfiguring. Using the same technique, Gysin comes up with a few clumsy permutations along the lines of “Rub the Word Right Out . . . Word Right Rub the Out” and so on—whereas Burroughs generates such gorgeous sequences as:

Visit of memories. Only your dance and your voice house. On the suburban air improbable desertions . . . all harmonic pine for strife.


The great skies are open. Supreme bugle burning flesh children to mist.

Why does Burroughs conjure so much more richness from the same source material? Because (unlike the painter Gysin, whose skill lies primarily in the domain of images), he has uploaded the right verbal remix software. He has read and memorized his Dante, his Shakespeare, his Eliot—to such an extent that his activity as a composer consists of giving himself over to their cadences and echoes, their pulses, codas, loops, the better that these may work their way, through him, The New York Times and any other body thrown into the mix, into an audibility that, booming and echoing in the here-and-now, transforms all the mix’s elements, and time itself.

This is what all good writers are doing, and always have been.

Liquefied Brain So Backs, It


When Biblioklept’s Chief Science Reporter Nicky Longlunch sent us this article about coked-up bees from The New York Times, we knew we had to give it the old Dada treatment, or in this case, the new Dada treatment. In 1920, Tristan Tzara gave the following directions:

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

Of course, scissors and cutting and actual papers and bags can be messy and tiresome, not to mention terribly old fashioned. Luckily for us, there’s a hypertext version, and we used this Dada poem generator to make our own poem out of the NYT article. Here is our poem:

liquefied brain so backs, it

liquefied brain so backs, it
scientists Australia dropped freebase cocaine
freebase liquefied brain so in
in Australia freebase cocaine bees’
circulatory backs, dropped it brain
freebase on bees’ backs, so

much judgment, their behavior makes
like stimulates their behavior and
humans much their enthusiastic them
much humans cocaine judgment, their
much like alters their their
react bees makes like enthusiastic

its odor exhibit plummets syrup
exhibit coked-up bee cold turkey
bees symptoms stop test of
bee its score standard test
turkey its test associate syrup
exhibit turkey test of bee

The real article’s actually kinda sorta better. Try this (any of it) at home.