Paris Review Interviews William S. Burroughs

Paris Review: You seem primarily interested in bypassing the conscious, rational apparatus to which most writers direct their efforts.

Burroughs: I don't know about where fiction ordinarily directs itself, but I am quite deliberately addressing myself to the whole area we call dreams. Precisely what is a dream? A certain juxtaposition of word and image.I've recently done a lot of experiments with scrapbooks. I'll read in the newspaper something that reminds me of or has relation to something I've written. I'll cut out the picture or article and paste it in a scrapbook beside the words from my book. Or, I'll be walking down the street and I'll suddenly see a scene from my book and I'll photograph it and put it in a scrapbook...
I've been interested in precisely how word and image get around on very, very complex association lines. I do a lot of exercises in what I call time travel, in taking coordinates, such as what I photographed on a train, what I was thinking about at the time, what I was reading and what I wrote; all of this to see how completely I can project myself back to that one point in time.

PR: What do cutups offer the reader that conventional narrative doesn't?

Burroughs: Any narrative passage or any passage, say, of poetic images is subject to any number of variations, all of which may be interesting and valid in their own right. A page of Rimbaud cut up and rearranged will give you quite new images. Rimbaud images-- real Rimbaud images-- but new ones.

PR: You deplore the accumulation of images and at the same time you seem to be looking for new ones.

Burroughs: Yes it's part of the paradox of anyone who is working with word and image, and after all, that is what a writer is still doing. Painter too. Cutups establish new connections between images, and one's range of vision consequently expands.

PR: You believe that an audience can be eventually trained to respond to cutups?

Burroughs: Of course, because cutups make explicit a psycho-sensory process that is going on all the time anyway. Somebody is reading a newspaper, and his eye follows the column in the proper Aristotelian manner, one idea and sentence at a time. But subliminally he is reading the columns on either side and is aware of the person sitting next to him. That's a cutup. I was sitting in a lunchroom in New York having my doughnuts and coffee. I was thinking that one does feel a little boxed in New York, like living in a series of boxes. I looked out the window and there was a great big Yale truck. That's cutup-- a juxtaposition of what's happening outside and what you're thinking of.