Making the cut

Tom McCarthy annotates pages from William Burroughs and Brion Gysin's collaborative experiment, The Third Mind

In the 1950s, Brion Gysin accidentally rediscovered the Surrealist “cut-up method”. He had placed layers of newspapers on a tabletop to protect it while he cut some papers with a razor blade; cutting through, Gysin noticed that the sliced layers produced surprising juxtapositions of text and image. He introduced William Burroughs to the technique at the Beat Hotel, and they started experimenting, applying it to audio recordings as well as printed media. They believed they were accessing the true, hidden meanings of things, in a kind of textual divination: “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.” In 1977, the pair published The Third Mind, itself a kind of cut-up of their many collected cut-ups. The following essay by Gysin is taken from this book, which remains a landmark in 20th-century collaboration.

Tom McCarthy is the author of four books, including the novels Remainder, currently being adapted for the screen, and C, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010. In addition, he is founder and General Secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a semi-fictitious avant-garde network of writers, philosophers and artists whose work has been exhibited at venues including Tate Britain and the Palais de Tokyo Paris. For TANK, Tom McCarthy becomes Burroughs and Gysin’s third mind, decoding and recoding what’s between them. §

“Cut-ups: A Project for Disastrous Success” by Brion Gysin. © Brion Gysin, 1964, used by permission of The William S. Burroughs Trust and The Wylie Agency (UK) Limited.

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