William Burroughs felt he was possessed by the Ugly Spirit, and being under the constant threat of possession, his only choice was to write his way out. His writing, especially the cutups, embraced a similar idea, a duality. The Ugly Spirit, however, was replaced by "the Other Half" and several other sets of entities.
"The ‘Other Half’ is the Word. The ‘Other Half’ is an organism. Word is an organism," says Burroughs in The Ticket That Exploded. On one hand, there is your body and your non-verbal thoughts, on the other is the Word. Though for some time the two halves have had a successful symbiotic relationship, "from symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The Word is now a virus." It does seem to exhibit viral characteristics: it has no life of its own, can’t do anything without a host. And it has achieved what would be the virus ideal: symbiosis. In The Electronic Revolution, Burroughs notes the absurdity of the idea that a virus’ purpose is to harm. A virus cannot do its work, namely making more of itself, without a host. Why then, would it want to harm the host? From this point of view, it would seem that most viruses have failed... Then what are the Word Virus’ functions? Control, and spreading more of its own. Burroughs notes that is someone holds up a sign that says "ROSE," you must sub vocally repeat the word "ROSE" to yourself before you can manage to conjure up a visual image of the flower. In hieroglyphics, you can bypass that step.
The Word Virus is closely linked to Control Addicts and Association Blocks. The former are people (or entities) with sets of human coordinate points they use to feed their control addiction. Burroughs notes that control is not a means to any usable end, it can only propagate more of itself, "like junk." The latter lock the mind into conventional patterns of perceiving things, controlled perception patterns undoubtedly spread by the Control Addicts. "I feel that the principal instrument of monopoly and control that prevents expansion of consciousness is the word lines controlling thought feeling and apparent sensory impressions of the human host."
Rather than sit back and forget you’re being controlled, Burroughs encourages one to revolt. Cut the word lines, and break the association blocks. How? Attack the word directly and physically. Use procedures such as the cutup method to beat the word at its own game. Record you body sounds and "splice them in with air hammers.. Splice your body sounds in with anybody or anything. Blast jolt vibrate the ‘Other Half’ right out into the street... Communication must become total and conscious before we can stop it."
Not only is the symbolism dualistic, the method is as well. To make a cutup, first you cut the page in two horizontally, then halve it vertically. "Now rearrange the sections placing section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page." He describes "a writing machine that sifts one half one text one half the other through a page frame on conveyor belts--(The proportion of half one text half the other is important corresponding as it does to the two halves of the human organism)."
A variation of the cutup method is the fold-in method. A page is folded in half and placed on top of another page, and the composite text is then typed out. "The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track-For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred-I insert the resulting composite as page ten," says Burroughs.
The power of the cutups lies in their randomness, the fact that the resulting passage is mainly a product of chance, which creates "alterations in consciousness" of the reader and writer alike. Ann Douglas wrote that Burroughs was using methods such as random juxtaposition "to register not the prepackaged information he was programmed by the corporate interests or artistic canons to receive, but what was actually there." He was trying to escape his own association blocks, as well as to not impose them on the Gentle Reader.
Burroughs notes the obvious similarities between cutups, collage and montage. When you look at a scene, you seen it in a montage-like way. "You have seen half a person cut in two by a car, bits and pieces of street signs and advertisements, reflections from shop windows.." And we certainly do not think in the way presented in the traditional novel. We do not always use complete sentences, paragraphs, or even use words at all. We do not always progress logically from Point A to Point B. Yet writing "is still confined in the sequential representational straitjacket of the novel a form as arbitrary as the sonnet and as far removed from the actual facts of human perception as that fifteenth century poetical form." People have become comfortable with the novel, people have begun to fear the changing of that form, and in consequence the novel has stagnated.
"When people speak of clarity in writing," says Burroughs in The Job, "they generally mean plot, continuity, beginning middle and end, adherence to a ‘logical’ sequence. Any writer who hopes to approximate what actually happens in the mind and body of his characters cannot confine himself to such an arbitrary structure as ‘logical’ sequence. [James] Joyce was accused of being unintelligible and he was presenting only one level of cerebral events: conscious sub vocal speech. I think it is possible to create multilevel events and characters that a reader could comprehend with his entire organic being."
The cutup was not, however, limited to the written word. The Control Lines were also present in other media: music, film, photos... And thus the cutup method was to be applied here as well. "The simplest variety of cut up on tape can be carried out with one machine like this record any text rewind to the beginning now run forward at arbitrary intervals stop the machine and record a short text wind forward stop record where you have recorded over the original text the words are wiped out and replaced by new words do this several times creating arbitrary juxtapositions you will notice that the arbitrary cuts are in many cases appropriate and your cut up tape makes surprising sense ," Burroughs says in The Ticket That Exploded.
A better method is connecting the recorders by leads, or, today one can just get an multitrack player or connect a line to a double deck cassette recorder. (A more advanced method would be to record and splice sounds digitally on your computer. The exact same principles apply).
"Take your arguments and complaints and put them on T.R.1 and call that machine Tom or Dick or Harry you name it it's yours. On T.R.2 put all the things he or she said to you or might say. Now make the two machines talk: T.R.1 play back five seconds T.R.2 record. T.R.2 play back five seconds T.R.1 record. Run it through fifteen minute half and hour now switch intervals. Run the interval switch you used on T.R.1 back on T.R.2. -- (you will find that the intervals are as important as the so-called context) -- listen to the two machines mixing it around and around. Now for T.R.3 -- (Who is the third that walks beside you?) -- With T.R.3 you can introduce the factor of "irrelevant response" so put just any old thing on T.R.3 a sad old tune a sad old joke a piece of the street TV radio and cut T.R.3 into the argument T.R.1 "I waited up for you last night till two o'clock" ...T.R.3: "And now if you will excuse me . . The soccer scores are coming in from the capitol . . one must pretend an interest . ."--The Ticket That Exploded
Although Burroughs noted that cutups could be a very good source of entertainment, he never strayed from his stance that they could be used for much more serious endeavors. In The Electronic Revolution, he explains how such tapes might be used as weapons.
And of course they were useful in the fight against the "Other Half." "A tape recorder is an extension of the human nervous system." You break the Control Lines by splicing in your body sounds with anyone or anything. You videotape yourself, speed it up, slow it down, splice in in with news broadcasts, other people’s pictures, etc. You cut up pictures of people down the center of their body and paste it on a picture of your body.
"The ’Other Half’ is ’You’ next time around--born when you die--that is when it kills you and takes over--take a talking picture of you. Now stop the projector and sound track frame by frame. stop... go go go... stop.. go go... Stop. When the sound track stops it stops. When the projector stops there is a still picture on the screen. "
Burroughs says that since we are so used to our visual body and our audio body sounds working together, if one stops, the other will stop. "Death is the final association of the sound and image tracks." When your sound track stops you die. So far as anyone knows, only the image track, that is, the body, remains. You are convinced by association that when your sub vocal speech stops, when the "Other Half" shuts up, that you sound track must stop also. "The Word is spliced in with the sounds of your intestines and breathing with the beating of your heart."
"However, once you have broken the chains of association linking sub vocal speech and body sounds shutting off speech need not entail shutting off body sounds and consequent physical death... Try halting you sub vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word."
If chance plays any role in a literary passage, a film, or in music, the Control Addicts have no power over it. Unpredictability is the only way to escape the Control Lines. "You cannot will spontaneity," Burroughs says. "But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors."