31 October 2009

Burroughs and the Computer

INTERVIEWER: Have you done anything with computers?

BURROUGHS: I've not done anything, but I've seen some of the computer poetry. I can take one of those computer poems and then try to find correlatives of it -- that is, pictures to go with it; it's quite possible.

INTERVIEWER: Does the fact that it comes from a machine diminish its value to you?

BURROUGHS: I think that any artistic product must stand or fall on what's there.

INTERVIEWER: Therefore, you're not upset by the fact that a chimpanzee can do an abstract painting?

BURROUGHS: If he does a good one, no. People say to me, "Oh, this is all very good, but you got it by cutting up." I say that has nothing to do with it, how I got it. What is any writing but a cut-up? Somebody has to program the machine; somebody has to do the cutting up. Remember that I first made selections. Out of hundreds of possible sentences that I might have used, I chose one.

//1966 interview with William S. Burroughs, reprinted in The Third Mind

[Burroughs'] archive clearly demonstrates how intimately Burroughs dealt with the materials of print culture. Burroughs was particularly fascinated by that epitome of mass print culture: the newspaper as well as magazines and journals. ... [he] sought to detourn mass print culture and turn it back on itself. How mass print culture operated, disseminated, and influenced public opinion intrigued Burroughs. He was also intensely involved with the materiality of print. The printed word was an object to be manipulated. The cut-up and his use of collage in scrapbooks highlight this. Writing on a computer lacks this materiality. Of course this is not true as data recovery makes clear. Even a deleted document leaves a trace burned into the hard drive. Yet the immediacy of the typewriter biting into paper is not there, to say nothing of the pleasure of the act of handwriting. Cutting and pasting digitally lacks the obvious physical effort of scissors and glue. We come back to Burroughs’ pleasure in the tactile.

//Jed Birmingham, "Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs and the Computer"

Of course, William Seward Burroughs I invented the adding machine that would found the Burruoghs Corporation, building a fortune that William Seward Burroughs II, the Burroughs who requires the trace of typewriting on the page, would not inherit..



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