Order the autumn edition here

To mobilize against today's totalitarian states, neoliberal ideologues and oligarchs

William S. Burroughs. From cut-ups to shotgun paintings
Forfatter: Lars Movin
Forlag: Bongshave (Danmark)

ANARCHISM: A recurring theme in William S. Burroughs is control and addiction, art, (quasi) science as well as ideology – and critique of civilization. This book is an emergence of anecdotes and funny stories.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

Ladies and gentlemen: Lars Movin (b. 1959) publishes a tour de force about the most visionary author of the 20th century – William S. Burroughs, at the Danish publishing house Bongshave. Lars Movin's merits as a writer are always characterized by meticulous research, and this diligent man has in 22 publications written about, among others, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Dan Turell and Captain Beefheart. In addition, he has been the director of several documentaries and co-editor of another 14 books. Thoroughness and precision also characterize this luxury edition, which is almost two books in one. The many photos and illustrations with accompanying text are in fact a book in the book, pictures from various private and public archives have probably not previously been presented as solidly and thoroughly as here. Generous is the word.

Burroughs writing is an art project that projects on the knowledge economy, the experience industry and the financial economy, or in other words the industry that has produced capitalist culture and which in turn has shaped us into passive consumers and through ideological control and propaganda (advertising) shaped our way of thinking. Burroughs is essentially a political writer. Two factors have dominated his writing: addiction and control. Burroughs debut Junkie (1953) sets the premises for the relationship between addiction and control (some would say there are two sides to the same issue), but this book is written conventionally linear.


The linear view is a stylistic move Burroughs definitely left to devote himself to the method he created with Brion Gysin (1916–1986): Cut-up. Cut-up is a way of processing already existing written material / audio tape / film material by exposing it to random methods (cut-up), and where the result gives something completely new and unexpected. Putting oneself above the subjective rational direction, the "misleading" consciousness – which dominates so much of the (indifferent) contemporary art – simultaneously reveals and establishes relations between text and consciousness in a radical, visionary way of working. You bring out a hidden text in the text, make it visible in a way in a collage of images and metaphors, and which is not linearly logical, but which is latent in the material you process through the cut-up method. A poetic constructive deconstruction, in a way.

In this way, the artist avoids the exhausting eternal control that sets the framework for both content and form, and instead activates other ways of creating and practicing an consciousness-expanding art expression, outside the moderately conventional and stylistic modules one otherwise sees as boring in contemporary art. This especially applies to literature and theater, yes, it can be argued that literature is at least 50 years behind the visual arts when it comes to innovation – and especially in poetry and novels.

A partisan against the ruling order using maps, compasses, telephones, tape recorders, technology of the time…

Cut-up has explicit references to Tristan Tzara and Dadaism and Surrealism in the 20s. In the 1960s, Burroughs' cut-up method culminated in the novels of the Nova trilogy The Soft Machine (1961) The Ticket That Exploded (1962) and  NovaExpress (1962), and as mentioned above, are recurring themes with him: control and addiction, art, (quasi) science and critique of ideology and civilization. Burroughs describes the Nova trilogy as "mythology of the space age". That is, now, 2021–2049.

A photo documentary

Movin is an emergence of anecdotes and funny stories, and as a whole it gives us a vivid inspiring portrait of Burroughs, his art (which also includes visual art, film and music), and his contemporaries.

The visual material in the book is a pictorial documentary of bizarre Dadaist performance, hotel rooms in Paris, bars, covers, magazines, and much much more. Burroughs, by the way, denotes TS Eliots The Waste Land (1922) as the first major cut-up collage.

Still photo from the movie Towers Open Fire (11 min.) Shows Burroughs acting as a partisan against the ruling order using maps, compasses, telephones, tape recorders, the technology of the time… We can take it as a hint to combat the storage of power and surveillance with big data and data banks that we exposed to 24/7, which dominates the web with tempting apps (Facebook etc.) and "services" we so obediently obey and let ourselves be served by.

Wsb & Brion Gysin (François Lagarde). All photos are from the book (sent to us by the author)

Situationists and punk

Political anarchists and the situationists with Guy Debord are another direction from modernism in art history that corresponds with both Gysin and Burroughs. In other words, a call to mobilize against today's totalitarian (and hidden) states as well as neoliberal ideologues and oligarchs.

A greeting to the anti-intellectual guru "The Waste Ombudsman" and his disciples.

The paradoxes have never been greater in today's political theater – therefore both thinking and concepts must be given new unpredictable vitality. Burroughs was a galleon figure for punk and revolutionary bands such as Joy Division and Sonic Youth, who took advantage of his aesthetics and ideas and integrated this into the urban soundscape the bands represent so magnificently and viably.

Movin delivers from its cornucopia a gallery of mini-portraits of artists Burroughs became acquainted with and which resulted in several collaborations – among many Keith Haring (1958–1990), known for his subway and street art drawings in the 80's.

As a greeting to the anti-intellectual guru "The Waste Ombudsman" and his disciples, bizarre works of art from the 1950s can be used as a basis for further indignation – cut off the heads of chickens and let them paint abstract expressionism with their blood? It is precisely the fear of losing control that art hatred and various commissions target in the language that is totalitarian in its emergence.

Phenomena of arbitrariness

Burroughs' practice is to allow the subjective to dissolve and see the phenomena of arbitrariness develop freely and creatively, be it in poetry, theater, dance, film or politics, in order to create liberating unpredictability and spontaneous creative chaos in anti-art, actionist anti-capitalism – or counteract anti-intellectualism and ignorance.

Wsb & Patti Smith (Copyright Allen Ginsberg

The book is provided with 16 pages of notes, 7 pages of literature references, including all Burroughs publications, and, as the thorough man Movin is, Burroughs exhibition catalogs (chronological).

Be so good! A book for anyone with an interest in literature and art. Take Burrough's work and critique of ideology seriously and let such practice be a guide to new literature and totally different art – whether it is possible to wriggle out of the conventions' clammy reactionary framework and develop a language no one has thought or seen before.

Terje Dragseth
Author and filmmaker.

You may also likeRELATED

More books