William Burroughs Q and A
(following up from last weekend’s postings here and here)
Student: When you did those cut-up techniques with the newspapers and articles and stuff like that, did you just, like.. did you just make the cut-ups and then just, like, pick them out of a hat and piece them together at random?
WSB: There are any number of ways you can do it. For example, you can take a page, cut it down there and across, now you’ve got four pieces and just put them in a new order. You can cut them into fragments. You can use or not use any of the material just as you want. I mean, there are just so many ways of doing it, but the basic point is that you have actually taken a scissors and actually cut the material, cut the words – Yes?
Student: Did you ever consider that the voices might be coming from some other planet..?
WSB: Certainly, yes, I have taken that up in the next lecture, the whole question of the orgin of these voices and the various theories that have been suggested and the objections raised to them and so forth. That’ll be in the next lecture
Student: I’ve done an awful lot of automatic writing. And that’s what I finally came to accept..
WSB: Well, how do you define “automatic writing”? I know there’s no sharp line between automatic writing and writing that’s flowing along, (like (Jack) Kerouac used to do, sit down and just write as fast as he could, letting the associational process lead him). You mean.. you mean – writing that you were not aware of?
Student: Well, I wrote one book. It seemed to be dictated to me in my sleep. I’d get up, I’d just go to the typewriter and the whole poem was already there, you know, it was already written in some way.
WSB: Well, I’ve had that experience myself. That is, just sitting down at the typewriter, it’s like I’m taking dictation, but…
Student: Well, this is different It wasn’t even my personality, it was something totally different.
WSB: Yes, well, well, yes, and I’ve had that happen, and in the style of another writer, but.. you were aware of it tho’?
Student: Yeah, I think, but..
WSB: Well, see, some automatic writing is supposedly produced by the person. Their hand takes over and writes and they are not aware of what they have written.
Student: No, I was..
WSB: That’s kind of a rare phenomena, I think
Student: I heard it often from ( Madame) Blavatsky . She claimed often that, you know, some other agency was making her write, was having the things written for her. (But) a lot of research has shown that quite large texts of her work were taken from other sources, which were not credited. I was wondering, the difference between collages and working with your own cut-ups, where you say that the contact with the dead is academic, in the sense that it can’t be proved or disproved, could it be possible this whole thing is bogus and that the.. just leaving the tape to go on, and having voices appear is like taking pictures of flying saucers, (in the back yard), that you’ve invented ?
WSB: No, because there are ..there are voice-prints and visual diagrams.I mean there are actual scientific ways of telling whether their voices are on tape, andthey need to pass that. I mean they have an actual voice-print.
Student: I haven’t seen voices on tape, but did some of them.. was it communicated by humans on the tape and asserted to some other force?
WSB: They don’t know. I’ll consider the various theories for the voices in the next lecture, but there has been no formal explanation. The simple fact is – here he has recorded, in a soundproof studio (with) no input and there are voices on the tape. That’s the basic fact which has been proven – that they are voices and that they are there.
Student: So from that, is it one conclusion that the voices are there and you need a
soundproof room in order to hear them? And there’s no other input, when they’re running those tapes, there’s no other input?
WSB: There’s no other input on his procedure (because he was interested in proving his case under test conditions). However, a soundproof studio is not at all essential, and the first voices were.. the first voices were someone who was recording birdsongs.
Student: And then heard…
WSB: Yes, Yeah, I take all that up in the next lecture – Yes?
Student: Did you say it was twice the speed, twice the speed of the tape?
WSB: Twice the speed of.. No, twice the speed of a normal voice. Of course, some voices are faster than others, but it’s speeded up.
Student: Right, so when you listen to the tape, you slow the tape down a lot so that it gets (heard)?
WSB: Yeah, he slowed the tape down, yeah – Yeah?
Student; Did you become interested in these experiments to the point that you finally had a feeling that it interfered with your own writing and you had to stop to go back and do so-called “normal” writing ?
WSB: No, because I don’t think there’s any line between, say “normal” writing, and. I get.. I’ve gotten quite a lot of material I can use out of the Raudive tapes. That is, I think they’re very interesting from a purely literary and stylistic point of view, quite without regard to the, you know, the possibility of their being out of a paranormal source. I think one could get quite a reputation just as a poet, just using these phrases
Student: There was this place in Persia, this one particular castle, where the Shah of the castle had his best musicians play in this room that had somehow..was lined with mirrors that reflected the sound back and forth, and for a number of years, it was like this, this stereophonic room, that just the.. the mirrors kept this sound continually going so that it was audible, and (he) would invite guests into the room. And the room was destroyed by the French when they invaded. Now, is it possible that a lot of these voices are just sound currents. I mean, they’re just.. somewhat the sound that everybody talks just stays floating around the planet, and you just pick up on what’s there, that’s been said at some particular time previously.
WSB: It’s quite possible. That’s one.. that’s one, I think, of many theories, But, of course, they don’t have to have one source, they can have very many sources – Yes?
Student: What do you personally think is the relationship between schizophrenics and this type of occurrence?
WSB: Well, it just seems to me that the schizophrenic seems to be tuning in on these levels, and that the psychiatrists say that anyone that tunes in on these levels is crazy (unless they keep it to themselves, or, put it in an academic context) – Yes?
Student: You said that you could use as much of the material in the cut-up.. as you wanted to, and I was wondering if you’d lose a whole lot that way, by cutting your originality down, or does that mean that you could (pick) it all up, and that would be..
WSB: No, I don’t think that… I think originality is sort of a myth anyway. It’s a myth.
Lots of the phrases that I got for Naked Lunch somebody said, I heard them. It wasn’t original at all. And any writer does that. He’s getting material from all sorts of sources. I mean, there’s nothing that is purely his own unless he’s in a condition of sense-deprivation.. I mean he’s always getting input of voices.
Student: So it’s alright to use as much of the other person’s material as you want to, is that it?
WSB: Certainly. Why not? – You’re going to do it anyway. – Yes?
Student: There was an article in Loka where you mentioned that you were going to do a retreat maybe without a typewriter?
Anne Waldman: Speak louder!
WSB: Yeah, I heard him.
Student: There was an article to the effect that you might consider doing a retreat without a typewriter, and I was wondering if you ever did that?
WSB: Yes. I did a two week retreat without a typewriter. I had a pad and pencil! (but I only used it about five or six minutes a day – so I just walked around – it was beautiful weather)
Student: What sort of experience was it to be without your writing apparatus?
WSB: Oh, just like a rest. I do that sometimes. I go to the beach or something. I don’t write for two weeks, just a rest, not much more than hat – Yes?
Student: These beings – Hitler or whoever – whose voices are being picked up, why do you think they’re stuck sort of half-way between one birth and another?
WSB: Well, I don’t know that they are. See, I.. I’m not at all sure of any of the theories that have been proposed .. that whether or not these actually come from the dead or not, is truly an open question. They haven’t checked any of them out with.. none of them have checked out with voice-prints, as far as I know (and god knows, they’ve got plenty of voice-prints of Hitler to compare with, anyone purporting to be Hitler on the tapes, but as far as I know this hasn’t been done)
WSB: Well how are they? how good are they? That’s the question.
Student: Unfortunately her ability in musical notation is not up to it, but she takes down these notes (I mean this was reported on tv, which amazed me anyway)
WSB: Well, I would neither say yes or no, I don’t know …
Student: I thought you might have heard of it.
Student: Why are you separating out these ideas, these paranormal ideas from normal ideas or supernatural ideas from regular ideas?
WSB: It’s exactly what I’m not doing. I’m saying there is no line between the normal and the abnormal, between the supernatural and the natural, that it could be..
Student: Could you talk more about the place between them?
WSB: Well, it’s more like a spectrum. Say, you have something that is really pretty subjective way over here. Say, somebody was in a sensory-deprivation chamber, to all levels, whereas what they’re hearing over here may be more or less completely objective (because all sorts of people are hearing it). So that there’s no either/or line at all, but rather a gradient spectrum. And also, for example, the difference between telepathy and knowing what’s in someone’s mind by visual clues or the body language, their eyes, so on – there isn’t any line. It’s both, both may be in operation in.. to varying degrees.
Student: If we’re starting to think a lot about the voices that appear when there’s noone to speak them, what are we to think about the silences?
WSB: Well…you mean the time when there’s nothing on tape?
WSB: I don’t know. What do you think?
Student: I was wondering.. It seems suddenly.. suddenly very important to me. And also when I heard the (Brion) Gysin recording, the first one of “ I am that I am” , when he would take the whole phrase and cut it.. I don’t know how fast it was..
WSB: Permutate it, permutate it
Student: Permutate it..The spaces between them creating another rhythm, then the speech. Is that something that you…
WSB: Well, I think silence is, in a way, in a context of voices, is as significant as the voices. It’s sort of a punctuation. Now Dutch Schultz was there for twenty-four-hours – two-thousand words – that means there were long periods when he wasn’t talking and those periods may have been quite significant but they’re not recorded. It was a police stenographer. Unfortunately, they didn’t have tape-recorders so we don’t know what it sounded like, Yes?
Student: When you put a book together based on material like that, how do you organize it?
WSB: Well, you can organize it in all sorts of ways. You can have say a narrative, very clear narrative line and use only parts of this material (perhaps to indicate precisely confusion, delirium or disorder of some sort, or as a sort of a background, a chorus or commentary. But there’s no difficulty in organizing really, because you, you make the decisions, you’re not obliged to use all the material, you only use what material you find useful or applicable – Yes?
Student: Yeah, I would like to hear you elaborate on a recent piece of yours in Crawdaddy!, the section on psi, magic and mind-war, in which you said that the conference in Glassboro, New Jersey , (the) summit conference [in 1967], between ( Alexei) Kosygin, I believe, and (Lyndon) Johnson, at that time, might have been the first psychic warfare, that conference. . How much of that was an educated guess and how much…..
WSB: I think that material you can find in Jack Anderson‘s back columns. There’s no secret to the fact that the United States has been engaged in various psychic projects, not only the United States but other countries as well, and I can give you several references on that. Another is a book called Real Magic by someone named Bonewits (Isaac Bonewits), and I heard many rumors of this from people sort of in the know, but they have been, apparently, definitely experimenting with psi areas, psychic discoveries – Yes?
Student: Is it true that as a result of the USSR’s psychic work that they outlawed meditation? I was told this by a teacher once.
WSB: I have never heard any such thing. Apparently, the Russians are ahead of us in psychic research, and.. they may have outlawed it for the general public but they have certainly been very active in psychic research and the application of psychic discoveries to military and espionage purposes – Yes?
Student: You began by speaking of using cut-ups as an exercise. It seems when you publish them.. or, in any event, they’re an end itself, and I was wondering, I mean there seems to be a lot of material for everybody, and I mean, how do you.. how do you look at that? – as an exercise? or as an end in itself? or as something to fill up dry spells? or what?
WSB: I would regard it as an exercise in watching..in touching and handling your medium. You see, the painter touches and handles his medium, the writer doesn’t. This is a way of doing that, of actually moving the words around and seeing what happens. That’s one aspect certainly. And then you do get some very useful material. Often, I’ll cut-up a page you’ll only get a sentence that I can use and I will use that in straight narrative, so, no-one reading that would necessarily know that that came from a cut-up. It often gives you a whole new angle on what you’re writing. So it’s a technique and an exercise that’s maybe useful at some times. to some writers, and other times not.
Student: And you don’t make any distinction between that and what’s produced, say, when you get up in the morning and all of a sudden, you come to your seat and you write?
WSB: No, you can… As I’ve pointed out, there are similarities between cut-ups and dream utterances, and often I’ve gotten whole characters and sets from dreams or from a sentence in a dream. Or, you can take something that you’re writing, if you’re not getting anywhere with it, and cut it up and see if you get something new or some new tack.
Student: Did you say that you have not made tests yourself?
WSB: Well, since this was written, I tried a few experiments, you know, just making a tape (this was under no controlled conditions, such as (in) an apartment (which means you can never be sure that you’re not hearing a radio broadcast down the pipes or something), and I only got two words out after a couple of hours, one was “yes” and one sounded like “missed out”
But some investigators have spent months, you know, before they got any voices and there is equipment, there is equipment, something known as a “diode circuit” that seems to potentiate this, but the whole thing is very carefully described, just how this is done, and various procedures, and the results, and if anybody can find Professor Walter Uphoff who, presumably is at the University of Colorado, now he’s done a lot of experiments, he’s talked about it and has made a lot of recordings, and, you know, is well up on the whole scene – Yeah?
Student: Are the cut-ups are based on chance?
WSB: On the what?
WSB: On chance? Not as such, no. A cut up is.. Well, yeah, I’ve cut-up music. Musical cut-ups of course have been around for a long time. A medley, in a sense, is a musical cut-up – Yes?
Student: As a writer, I guess the intersting-ness lies in releasing the voice in the words, in some sense, so that there’s somehow an eternal voice that takes on the character, you know, of characters in history, (or words themselves as characters), and looking for, you know, for that voice in the language, by playing with it.
WSB; Well, yes, that’s true, but, in another sense, of course, when you cut up material you get all sorts of voices, all sorts of different voices, like in Raudive, you see, he gets male voices, female voices, voices in different accents, and often mixed, often two or three languages in one sentence (like “buena cosa, man”) – Yeah?
Student: I can see how these things are all related, what you’re talking about, (It’s like) I’ve been trying to figure out for myself what the cohesive principle is, what it’s a class of, and I’m having a little trouble, in the sense of trying to define for myself what’s not (in the class)..
Student; You wouldn’t want music to be in there presumably?
Student; I presume you wouldn’t want music to be in there.
WSB: Well, I think that Brion’s poems, like “I am that I am” are concrete music. And there’s no line between music and poetry. I mean, all these arbitrary lines, really, in fact, don’t exist.
Student; So what is it a class of?
Student; What is it a class of?
WSB: Well.. alright.. say, what has this got to do with poetics? – Well, what is the basic material that writers and poets use? – words and voices – showing something about how words and voices behave and what can be done with them. I’ll go into that in much more detail in the next lecture – Yes?
Student: (Are) all those phrases and things in Breakthrough all heard and translated, or recorded, by the one person, or are there several people here?
WSB: Oh, several people heard them, and they check out on voice-prints as actual voices, yeah. He only uses the ones where there’s some consensus, although there is a matter of interpretation. Yes?
Student: What kind of sources do you go to for these cut-ups? I mean, do you (use) your own poetry?… What other places would you look?
Anne Waldman: Sources. What sources?
WSB: You mean, who has done actual cut-ups?
Student: Yeah, what kind of material do you use, like magazines…?
WSB: You can use anything, magazines, the Bible, Shakespeare, anything you want.
Student: You can get it good enough out of any of those?
Student: You can get it good enough out of any of those kind of places, using magazines or newspapers..?
WSB: Sure. You can make cut-ups of anything. Although, if you do it for a long time, you find that certain material might give you more interesting results than other material, you know, it’s just a question of effort(s)) – Yes
Student: Allen Ginsberg seems to be interested in presenting>a transcription of his mind to his reading public, and I was wondering if you have any similar motivation behind your writing – enlightening (a) person through your writing,presenting something…
WSB: Well, I don’t think that you think in those terms when you’re writing that, “I’ll go into that point”, but, a lot of what I write, and a lot of what I think any writer writes, seems to come (and that’s what I”m talking about in these voices), that it seems to come from outside sometimes, so that it isn’t really recognizable, whereas something you yourself wrote, devised.. So you don’t…you don’t approach writing (at least I don’t approach writing) with the idea of how I’m going to enlighten somebody.
Student: Right, So would you say that’s somewhat in Allen’s presentation?… He seems to emphasize it.
WSB: Well, I don’t know. Ask him! – He’ll be here tomorrow. I wouldn’t like to speak for Allen in any way – about his basic motivations, particularly! – Yes?
Student: Why are you going away from your self so much and not using your own words but always these other people?
WSB: Now listen, man. What words do I have. As I say, so much in Naked Lunch was something I heard from somebody else, often the best parts. Now “the County Clerk”? – I actually went to visit the County Clerk. Now I didn’t say everything that he said in there but he said enough so that I could then enlarge on that. So any writer is using all sorts of other words.
Student: Well, I guess my question is more.. you were talking about directions – the Soviets being ahead in psychic research. What kinds of movement do we get ultimately, or you think we might get ultimately, to keep carrying this further and further, to the point where we’re recording empty space and getting voices and then we do something with those voices? I mean…
WSB: Well I don’t know. We haven’t carried it that far. How would I know yet? – Yes?
Student: I think all the writers are getting it from somewhere…
WSB: Well, of course! They’ve always said that. They’ve always talked about their “muse” and so on..
Student: You know Jack Spicer had this idea about..that every poet…even a lousy poet (if he’s serious) sooner or later will run into this dictated, dictated poetry.
WS: Yes. I’ve always felt that the best, best of my writing has been of that character -something that I just didn’t quite recognize as myself that came in. Yes?
Student: Were the recordings in the silent room done with an in-put from a microphone or was there no in-put, technically?
WSB: Oh yes, they were done in various ways. Some of them were done with an actual microphones (just like you’d set up a recording session), others, they didn’t have the microphone, and some they tuned into a blank radio..
WSB: Yeah..or a blank television station. There have been various ways in which these have been done.Yeah
Student:Would you elaborate a little bit on the fact that there is no difference for.. or no distinction between, poetry and music? Did you mean in terms of a spectrum, not literally no difference?
WSB: No, I certainly mean that there is no sharp line. What is singing? As soon as you sing it, it becomes music. And then there’s the sort of half-singing, like chanting. So you can’t just drop down a line and say, “here is poetry and here is music”. That’s all, it’s just that, yes, they overlap.
Student: Maybe this is what (Sigmund) Freud had in mind, like eliciting voices out of silence, or bringing back dead cells – the idea of just allowing that silence, so voices across that spectrum can speak.
WSB: Well what we’re dealing with here is voices that have actually been recorded on tape, objectively recorded on tape. Now, there’s a number of theories of this. You see, some say that this is imprinted from the unconscious mind. But there are technical difficulties to account for the voices. So it’s still an open question. – Yes?
Student: You said, in an old interview in The Paris Review, you were talking about..that your writing was going out instead of in, you were trying to open the vision more, and, as you, like, walk down the street, you had friends and they would say, “Did you see that guy over there?” and you’d go “No”. So you had your old notebooks laid out and you had pictures and you had your memory of a certain spot years ago. Do you think that having those notebooks helped you open your vision, like, in that way?
WSB: Well, sure, the notetbook is simply an account of it, but, if you keep your eyes open when you walk down the street, you’ll see a lot more than people ordinarily see, because I’ve asked people who’ve lived in a place of a year, “What’s the store next door?”, and they won’t know. Well, I think a writer should keep his eyes open because that’s where your material comes from, is its in-put. Let’s see…
Student: Do you know about any experiments that have been done using blank film instead of tape like that, or.. I was thinking in terms of the thing I was reading recently about a device that they developed for people to use for some type of (ESP) meditation, which they would, like, take a ping-pong ball, and cut it in half and tape it over the eyes, and it gives.. there are no corners, or no.. it seems to give a clearly undifferentiated field of vision, like, I’m thinking in terms of, like, you know, like taping something like that over a camera lens or something and just using blank film.
WSB: Well, that question.. I’d wondered right away whether, say, you.. you did the same experiment.. the corresponding experiment by…taking a blank screen. Frankly, I doubt if you’d get anything. You see, the two phenomena are not at all similar – aural and visual.
Student: Why not? Isn’t it just different wavelengths and different frequencies?
WSB: No, one’s travels at..what is it? – seven-hundred-feet-per-second, and the other travels the speed of light. That’s one difference, for a start..
Student: What, but it’s a qualitative thing…
WS: They arrange it by different parts of the brain. The whole thing is different, but there is some there.. you know about Kirilian photography and.. well, there’s a description of that in here (sic) – That’s sort of aura–photography. There’s this man who can look at cameras and imprint a picture on them. I think that’s also described in here. So there are.. there have been some experiments, positive experiments of photographing something that wasn’t normally there (at least not there by the usual normal limits of vision) – Yeah?
Student:It seems that, chemically, sound vibrations are assumed to end, (and that its origin is silence), and I was wondering that, at a certain time, people can, not hallucinate the same thing but, (imagine) unusual audio.. (but), I was wondering, have these tapes been made public?, or have the sounds that have been heard.. are they really distinct? – or perhaps due to people’s suggestion, or auto-suggestion, that agreed that it’s the same sound as that which they’d said..
WSB: No, no, no. He has a record out (which I want to get). He’s got, as I say, thousands of hours of these recordings, and he’s made some selections for a record, so you can listen to the record and see what you hear. I want to get it but I haven’t been able to get it yet.
to be continued
tape transcription continues and concludes tomorrow
[Audio for the above can be heard – here– beginning at approximately forty-seven minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-five-and-three-quarter minutes in]