Cutting up a network: the cut-up method of Brion Gysin

Media Control

It is beautiful?

Is it what attracts us and wins us over the things

The common interest are those of “us”,

the businessman

the workers,

the housewife

That’s all “us”


Feeding, killing some

Reality fed off a human, mixed their blood

We want to be together

have things like harmony and Americanism

working together

the last demon leaves this

“I don’t like vampires”

I’m going to take and stand and say

Know this then

Just kill me.


The Harvest

Funny, consider

There’s those bad strikes

How much practice I’ve had


old ones.

Prophecy girl

dragging me

the body

and the due balance between any of its limbs

which is shode

like waters

unless there was beauty and grace in them.

We produced these two poems in attempting our own cut-up method of Brion Gysin. To be honest, I probably couldn’t have written better poems than the random rearrangements of the cut-up texts. William S. Borrughs introduction to the cut-up method emphasizes the factor of unpredictable spontaneous in creating new works. I seek to interrogate this factor of randomness by situating the cut-up method itself in the metaphor of a network.

The Cut-Up method requires a few things: a repertoire of texts, the tool of “cutting”, and an actor to ‘cut’. The spontaneous nature of the cut-up method is constrained at all three levels.

I can’t help my use my personal experience as a TA to demonstrate the first point. As first years, being a novice in conducting research and just taught how to use PRIMO, their papers become repetitive in sources, topics, and ideas. The platforms in which we access research materials such as Google or school’s library search engine with its own algorithms and politics, give visibility to only a certain repertoire of text which can end in sterile and repetitive papers. The platforms offer certain affordances to particular set of ideas while limiting our access to others. As Jodi Dean argues in ‘communicative capitalism’, the promise fulfilling our democratic potential online are captures in “intensive and extensive networks of enjoyment, production, and surveillance”. Predicating circulation in a fantasy of participation severely limits our democratic potentials. Thus, we are free choose, to cut-up, to order but only within the limits of the menu.

As a more experience researcher, however, we are better formulating key words and an embodied know-how in utilizing our research tools. Our relations with the repertoire of texts changes. The actor has more agency than simply reassembling random cut-ups that seems to take a life of its own. The embodied nature of the actor cannot be forsaken as the body is localized in its own networks and embodies its own situated knowledge. As a healthy able-bodied woman, I cut up the texts with confidence and structured the texts that suits my gendered bodily production. I imagine my frail grandmother with her constantly shaky hands will pick the one closest to her, only to randomly place it one after another for no understanding one single word in English.  We experience the world through our bodies, and our perception is situated in such being-in-the-world.

In Latour’s example of the hammer in Morality and Technology we see the materialization of technology itself. Now there is a limited number of resources the day we did the activity. Having one-pair of scissors for three people already created unequal power distribution. Who has the scissors for the longest, who did the cutting, how did they do the cutting? On to the scissors itself, how blunt was it; how fast did it cut? What kind of things can it cut? I end up ripping my texts, which means I didn’t end up getting pieces of prose but blots of words. Perhaps when we think of the technology we use to cut and paste we can see the materialization of technology as a factor of constraint. The cut-up method implies a methodology with a goal of creating something new through a spontaneous process while cut-and-paste has no such implication. Winner reminds us, artifacts have politics, and while scissors can cut paper, what can cut-and-paste allow us to do? The ease we can cut-and-paste, assemble and dissemble certain things, while being restricted to do others in the enclosure of the digital commons has consequences. The relationship between the actants and actor are all entangled together in a network, and this network is situated by contingent relations that are nevertheless shaped by various materializations.


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