Parsons Paris

Cut-up Method: Writing the city with William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin

Example of a cut-up text based on a metro map, documentation photographs, personal notes and newspapers clippings from a website.

In Integrative Seminar 1 taught by Emmanuel Cohen, students were tasked with retelling their urban and/or local experiences while walking. The course exposed them to a variety of writing styles, from memoir-based ones with Gertrude Stein or Patti Smith to more experimental ones.

One of the writing techniques employed was the “cut-up method” developed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. Building on the avant-garde technique of the collage — used by visual artists like Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, and writers such as Tristan Tzara — Gysin and Burroughs developed a writing method that was supposed to allow for unexpected, uncurated content to manifest itself, in an almost psychoanalytical way. This technique moved part of the creative agency from the writer/author to the city or material itself, as correspondences between the heterogeneous elements would arise and form new, nonlinear narratives. 

With this exercise freely borrowing from this approach, students collected memorabilia from their walks, from photos and sketches to available documentation (flyers, metro maps or newspaper articles from that day and time), before ripping them to pieces and reconfiguring them on their desks in a random order. Creating new pathways between images and texts, newspapers’ titles and personal annotations, this exercise produces a new matrix for writing.

Applying methods emanating from visual arts to writing, in Integrative Seminar and Studio 1, students are encouraged to rethink the connections between making and thinking, researching and producing.

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