William Burroughs 1976 Q & A (continuing from yesterday)
WSB: Are we in a go condition here? yes?
Student: Have you ever had any, like, internal conversations. like, that precluded your understanding of anyone else speaking?
WSB: I don't understand the question.
Student: If a conversation is going on in your head, perhaps between two or three different selves, to the point where, when other people come to speak with you, you may use the sounds of their conversation in your own conversation with yourself. but you don't actually hear what they're trying to say, (or, like), or at least according to their logic..
WSB: Well, of course, having conversations in my head is my business. That's the way you get dialogue.
Student: But I mean to a point where you literally can't understand their language.
WSB: No. No, I mean, that would be a point where there's a sort of loss of control (and) getting on the areas of what they call "psychosis", where you can't hear what people are saying to you. No, I've always been able to understand what people were saying to me.
Student: I was wondering.. your opinion.. your opinion - Can you really have something be true poetry and its interpretation depend solely upon somebody who's reading it and not upon who created it.
WSB: I don't understand the distinction. Well, alright, lets take Shakespeare, for example, right? - there's sort of a consensus of opinion that this is good poetry, right? - So, what…
Student: I wasn't asking whether it was good or not. I was just saying that, you know, as a part of a medium.. usually, you have a writer and a reader, and if you really create something out of.. either maybe a computer, or.. if you get into technologies sufficiently advanced, you can create a random word-generator, preferably someone will come along and read it, and it might mean something with that person, and to someone else who comes along, it means something else, and you can't deny that that meaning exists.Is that really poetry?
WSB: Well, I don't know what poetry really is. I don't have any hard and fast definition for poetry. People have made poems, as you know, John Giorno, particularly, has made poems out of phrases from the newspaper and advertisements and things like that. I don't have any hard and fast criteria as to what is poetry and what is not, because it's purely a matter of interpretation. Some people might say this is poetry that I've written. Someone else comes along and says that it isn't.
Student (2): The meaning is even what you're doing in the process of cutting it up. Meaning is what you're discovering with what you do with the language, too. It's not just the point made..
Student: Are there many experiments where computers use a random word, or just letter, generator?
WSB: I don't know much about computers, frankly, but I have heard.. you've heard the computer record? - The computer did make a..
Student: How? Did the computer speak?
WSB: Well, the computer made music, sort of Bach-like music, and also the computer sang (Daisy) "A bicycle built for two", in an Irish accent! And that was used in 2001 (A Space Odyssey). You know, where the computer, Homer, I think [Editorial note - Hal] is going to sing the only song he knows, as he's disconnected, and that's it. But that was quite a while ago. I don't know exactly how it's done, frankly, But the record is there if you want to listen to it.
Student: I'd have the computer generate letters, have them strung continuously, forming words from those
WSB: Oh, indeed, there've been pages and pages and pages of this stuff, that is, made by the computer, computer-poems, or, well, whatever you call them, made by the computer. But they don't seem to fall stylistically into this area. These are obviously voices made by the..made by the mind, in the widest sense - Yeah?
[Konstantin Raudive (1909-1974) - Pioneer of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) Research]
Student: These tape-recordings that picked up voices, were these done in some kind of special environment or something? It's hard to imagine that being done just anywhere that has to be quiet.
WSB: Well, yeah, soundproof studio. In other words they were done under what might be called "standard studio conditions", which is soundproof, or relatively soundproof, and, of course, but of course, there are people there and they're breathing and moving around, so there is some noise. You're not supposed to.. but, of course they.. talk.. to say anything that would ruin the experiment, but they didn't…
Student: They didn't go to some place where these kind of voices were supposed to have been heard, or some kind of…?
WSB: No. They didn't make that experiment, and I think that's one of the experiments that would be interesting. There are certain places where the voices would be more, shall be say, available, or potent, or whatever.. (if) they'd do it in a pyramid, you know, or a haunted house, or what have you. They haven't carried.. they haven't been very imaginative about their experiments, actually - Yes?
Student: Have you read (Bob) Dylan's book, Tarantula?
Student: Is there a certain literature, like Gertrude Stein maybe?, that you.. that falls into this category, like these works?
WSB: To some extent, yes. But Gertrude Stein doesn't appear among..the dead..the VIPs.
I would have expected both (James) Joyce and (Gertrude) Stein, and also T.S.Eliot to be very much present.But now it's just (Adolf) Hitler and Jesus Christ - second-runners like that!
There's obviously… Interestingly enough, most of the literary lights - these unusual phrases don't come from them at all (they seem to have very little to say), these are sort of anonymous voices that Raudive doesn't understand what the phrases mean (Oh, the "cucumbers" (reference) came ftom Jung..)
Anne Waldman: Came from where?
WSB: (Carl) Jung
Anne Waldman: Jung?
WSB: Yeah. (I can answer) a few more questions. Over there..
[Carl Jung (1875-1961)]
Student; Are you familiar with Jung's work on.. he had a long German name for it that I can't recall [sic] - it meant coincidence on top of a coincidence
Student (2): Synchronicity
Student: Is that what it was?
WSB: Synchronicity is something different.
Student: You mentioned earlier that the cut-up at times seemed to be prophetic?
WSB: Yes. Like dreams.
Student: Okay. Can you make any connection between those two? Would you care to?
WSB: Well, I think the connection is obvious. I don' t think there's any such thing as a coincidence (a coincidence is just a meaningless phrase, that you have something for something for which you have no explanation)
Student: Alright, now, connecting the cut-ups to.. the cut-ups, which are, like, a cause of one thing, something very concrete, connecting those to words coming across on tape-recorders, are you almost suggesting some kind of loosening process to keep yourself in tune with those things, that are going around?
WSB: Well, I would suggesting that we all are hearing voices all the time and the various ways in which these can be tuned into. And the cut-ups is one, dreams, deliriums, schizophrenic speech, these phenomena on tape recorders, yes, I'm suggesting a very definite connection, if only a stylistic one - they seem to have a distinctive literary style. Let's see.. any more questions? -Yes?
Student; Is this kind of study interesting to you to inform the voices that we hear normally - or is there some other preoccupation?
WSB: I don't understand.
Student: What I'm used to hearing - the sound of my own voice or the sound of your voice seems to be still of primary importance. I was wondering if you see it otherwise?
WSB: No, as I said, there's no..there's no line between…
Student: Yeah, but. like, what I'm used to hearing, what I'm used to thinking about in my normal everyday kinds of experiences and the way I'm perceiving and thinking about something.
WSB: Yes, Well, which would be quite different for you than for me, right? Yes - well, of course, these..these areas, since I've been doing these cut-ups so long, and, you know, studying schizophrenic speech and what-not, are what I think about (together with a number of other things), I mean, there is no line, at all, I mean, your thought processes contain all the data available to you, some of it is objective, some of it is street signs, radio broadcasts, some of it's dreams, some of it's fantasies, and so on. There's no line there, really - Yes?
Student: I was interested in what you said of all these critics of Raudive's work, you know (that) these open the door to black magic and all sorts of psychic dangers. I happened to write an article in Psychic magazine about this because one of these writers (I can't remember what his name was) had written an article saying the dangers of automatic writing, and all this… But, you know, the thing is, we can't be shutting the door to all these things, we can't possibly. We may be mutating here, or evolving to some higher purpose.
WSB: Yes. It's always been my feeling that it's much more dangerous to shut the door than to leave it open in such matters...
Student: That's how I feel, because surely….
WSB: ..because somebody's going to open it and you should know, have some idea what they are doing (the CIA, particularly) - Yeah?
Student: Do you feel that there is a sound environment has given weight to words, phrases, and all, in a way, a certain kind of logic that really synchs to your own mind, your own bio-computer?
WSB: Well, sure, all the time.
Student; But have you found any particular place? Do you feel like where you're living now is in any way re-enforcing to your own…
WSB: No, I've.. as I say, I've lived in various places and some seem to be more conducive than others. Naturally, there's always the question of noise, too much noise.
Student; Well, for instance, like, some African languages have, like, clicking sounds happening in the back of the throat, and certain factories would have continuous clicking for twenty-four hours, and I just wonder if those languages are part of the gestalt, you choose the place you live in because that place seems to...
WSB: Well I'm sure that if you had a clicking language, you could probably scan something out of factory clicks, undoubtedly. Yes?
Student: After doing cut-ups for so long do you find yourself thinking in cut-ups without having cut up anything?
WSB: Sure, Everybody's making cut-ups all the time. I can grab a piece of the street-sign over there and a piece over there, scramble them around..
Student: But without even consciously trying to put them together, just having these as part of your mind..?
WSB: Oh well, my point… one of the points that I've made about cut-ups is that cut-ups happen all the time. Every time you walk down the street and out the door, your whole consciousness is being cut by random factors. You walk dow the street you suddenly see a Coca-Cola sign which may remind you of a Coca-Cola that you drank twenty years ago.
So Life is a cut-up, and as soon as you look out the window, you're cutting up. So you don't have to leave your apartment - you're glancing around, you see a book, or a newspaper, or a magazine, you're looking here, you're looking there, you're cutting your data up all the time, actually, The cut-ups simply make this process that goes on all the time explicit.
Student: Have you ever experienced ESP or mind-reading?
WSB: Well, the time.. everybody does - in varying degrees. I mean, have you ever seen two horse-traders working? Here you see ESP, and all kinds of other factors, where the one…you see a price in one man's mind above which he won't go, and in another man's mind, below where he won't go. You can see all this in operation - or (in) a poker game. ESP is something that happens all the time. Anybody that's good at anything operates on what he calls "hunches" (whether he's a lawyer, a doctor, a cop, or whatever). If he didn't he wouldn't be any good. I went to a lawyer and he said, "I can walk into a case, look around, and tell just what's going on", (probably who's going to win the case - a case, say somebody else's case). Anybody who's good at anything works on hunches, which are probably partly ESP, their past knowledge, all sorts of things, no lying? - Yes?
Student: If you could take the beat of music and apply it to poetry, can't you?
WSB: Why, of course!
Student: Now is there any particular rule that you have to follow for that? Somebody here was saying in poetry that there was, and I was wondering if there was any sort of...
WSB: Not, not that I know of. There are of course various metrical and musical conventions. It's just a question of whether you want to apply those - (but) music isn't my area at all. Anybody else? - If there are no more questions.. oh.. Yeah?
Student: Well, if you say "Life is a cut-up", it seems it wouldn't be necessary to go ahead and cut it up again. And I was wondering..
WSB: Yes, because you may not be at all aware of this. In other words, as I say, cut-ups put you in touch with something you know but don't know that you know. There are all sorts of things that you know on some level and you don't know that you know them, and expansion of awareness is becoming more aware of these…
WSB: And by doing something explicitly, then you become more aware of it
Student: But just generally increasing your awareness might be all that you need to do instead of cutting up..?
[William Burroughs and Brion Gysin - Collage Cut-Up from The Third Mind]
WSB: Well this is a method of increasing your awareness. It's a method of becoming aware of more, of more, by becoming aware of what you're actually doing. In other words, if you become aware of the cut-up process, then you become more aware of all the things that you know and don't know that you know. See, people can walk down the street and they are noticing these things on some level but it's not..it's not in their consciousness, because they're not really doing it explicitly. That's all -Yes?
Student: Was there anything but voices on those tapes?
WSB: Ah, you mean any music or anything like that?
WSB: So far as I know, no, but, I haven't checked them all out, but they seemed to be mostly voices, but the fact that they.. that some of them seemed to be chanting might indicate that there was a musical factor there. I don't know. But, there's, so far as I know, no instruments
Student: No sounds of animals, cars, anything else?
WSB: Not that I know of - Yeah.. Well, no more questions , You have until [next class] Thursday. Thank you.
[Audio for the above can be heard - here (plus the full audio of the class and the Q & A can be heard - here]