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.

Guerrilla Conditions — Brion Gysin

(Via Brion Gysin).

A Selection from “Hierogylphic Silence” by William S. Burroughs

The following selection is from William S. Burroughs’s “Hieroglyphic Silence,” collected in the totally out-of-print volume The Third Mind, a book of cut-ups Burroughs co-authored with Brion Gysin (you can access the book here via extralegal means). From “Hieroglyphic Silence”–

“I am the Egyptian,” he said, looking all flat and silly, and I said: “Really, Bradford, don’t be tiresome.”

All right, let’s put it apple-pie simple with a picture of a wedge of apple pie there, containing fifty-three grams of carbohydrates.(See the L-C diet.)

Well now, if you don’t know the word for apple pie where you happen to be and want it, you can point to it or you can draw it. So, when and why do you need a word for it? When and why do you need to say, I want apple pie, if you just don’t care how fat you get?

You need to say it when it isn’t there to point to and when you don’t have your drawing tools handy\ In short, words become necessary when the object they refer to is not there.

No matter what the spoken language may be, you can read hieroglyphs, a picture of a chair or what have you; makes no difference what you call it, right? You don’t need subvocal speech to register the meaning of hieroglyphs. Learning a hieroglyphic language is excellent practice in the lost art of inner silence. “It would be well, today, if children were taught a good many Chinese ideograms and Egyptian hieroglyphs as a means of enhancing their appreciation of our alphabet.” If you are able to look at what is in front of you in silence, you will be able to write about it from a more perceptive viewpoint.

What keeps you from seeing what is in front of you? Words for what is in front of you, which are not what is there. As Korzybski pointed out: whatever a chair may be, it is not a “chair.” That is,it is not the label “chair.”So, now try this: pick up your Easy Lessons in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, and copy out the following phrases:

p. 104; They fall down upon face their in land their own.

p. 173; Stood the prince alone in the presence of the gods.

p. 181; The lock of hair which was in.

p. 79; the wind

p. 202; Giver of winds is its name.

p. 190; coming forth waiting for thee from of  old

p. 200; night that of the destruction of the enemies

p. 208; come thou to us not having thy memories of evil come thou in thy form

p. 103; In the writing of the god himself he writeth for thee the book of breathings with his fingers his own.

p. 195; Shall it be that thou wilt be silent about it.

Now, having memorized the above passage, turn to the hieroglyphs on the following page and read in silence.

No Poets Don’t Own Words


No Poets Don’t Own Words” from Brion Gysin’s Recordings 1960-1981. A very cool record, featuring lots of tape manipulation, cut-ups, poetry, and interviews with Gysin on a variety of subjects including censorship, surrealism, and art. We like it much. Much we like. It. Like much it we.