Cut-Up Method for Creating a Short Story

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William S. Burroughs was the first writer I had ever heard about that did something called “the cut-up method“. I think it is a well known practice by now, and in fact, many famous songwriters and modern writers follow the same example of writing or exercising of the writing mind.

I had tried it in the past, and never got too far, but looking back on the experience I think my obstacle had to do with control. I really wanted to craft the “perfect story”. A story that could be award winning, and because of this need of perfection when I wrote I could never really let go. This cannot work when doing a cut up. In the art of the cut up you must let go. The cut up can be likened to staring at clouds, only when you relax your eyes can you see the multitude of images and stories rapidly unfolding above you. 

I didn’t follow Burroughs guidelines exactly but I followed the basic idea which was to see what could be created out of what was already there. It isn’t plagiarism, the story is completely new, it’s just the words that are taken from a context or source and then put together like a puzzle.  The following short story is completely created from the cut up exercise I did recently using the same concept as the cut-up. I had taken and article from a magazine and I began placing words next teach other based on how they sounded in a sentence. Sense did not matter to me. In fact, the more illogical the more freedom I had in the creation. When I did I revision that is when I put in a little cohesiveness and order, but not much. I worked quickly, not allowing myself to “craft” a story and just allowed the words to find the best fit. It was the most fun I had writing in a long time.

As I had mentioned in the previous paragraph, the story posted below is a cut-up story.

Lessons From Hilla

Passing Hilla on a street in Potsdam, a visual figure came to the stages of my mind, and because of this image of a figure, I decided to follow her on her lifelong postwar journey.

You may ask me what war is she post of? She is post all wars. She is the story teller of struggles, she is the recorder of our destructions, and she holds the secret to our peace. Her oeuvre is inextricably fused to her backbone like a lamppost, and I walk secretly beneath her light. If she had been a photographer trained in the art of lighting she would have noticed my shadow as it swung beneath her feet or off to her side, but she was not, she had studied typography, and had no interest in looking at what blocked the light. If you are asking yourself with a snide sharp snuffing that comes from the top your nose, “how can a topographer have an oeuvre?” I say to you: ask yourself, if you can not see the subtle and sublime in the surface of the earth then how can you say you know what art is?”

Hilla hopped from one region to another like jumping puddles the primacy of which was to discover at what point of oppression does the artist reveal itself to a person if that person never believed they were an artist in the first place. Hilla believed great works of art came from the oppressed as a form of final expression of the human condition.

 

You may wonder how one can survive when they spend their life following in the shadows three to five feet from another human being in order to find the answer to the great questions because one, myself as the one, believed with reverent faith that no other than Hilla could carry those answers. It may seem an unusual occupation to you, but I had obtained labor in the business of carrying umbrellas on particularly bright days. I will admit that in the moment I had found the proposition unusual, but it payed me well enough to survive and it did nothing to interrupt my followings. All I had to do was await a call early in the dull light of the day that would inform me of what umbrella to carry, and where to procure the chosen umbrella of the said day. I had never thought, under my obligations of carrying umbrellas on days that it never rained, that is was Hilla who hired me to carry the umbrellas. I was under the impression that I was stealth and invisible. I often muttered thoughts out loud because  Hilla never listened to me because I was not really there. I was invisible and had always been so.

“All my future friends are artists who comprehend the complexity of a simplified map situated between historical contradictions of east and west,” Hilla was speaking her voice hard and Germanic in accent, “—notice how no one ever says North or South, other than the Americans of course because that was their only on-soil war. If you listen carefully you will hear people say that all the wicked witches are from the east.” Hilla was giving a lecture to the pigeons, and I was taking notes under my umbrella. Obviously, it was a bright and sunny day and my unknown employer had requested I carry the light coral satin umbrella which coincidentally matched Hilla’s shoes. Remember reader, I did not at this time know who my employer was and therefore still felt that I was a man hiding in the shadows inconspicuously holding a light coral umbrella on a sunny day.

I had just written down the words, all wicked witches are from the east, when I muttered to myself, “she wasn’t the most wicked; she was heartbroken, after all her sister had been murdered by a house.”

“Halt-“ Hilla barked. “Stop with the melancholia of cultural continuity and bring me some euphoria of resuscitation— you post-fascist cosmopolitan.”

 

I must clarify that at the times that Hilla did speak to me I only believed she was speaking toward me as if I were a photograph that she did not take. She spoke to the aspect of me which in her limitless archival of archetypes broke down to her speaking to herself or the pigeons or whatever she was standing beside. This is what I believed. Paradoxically, I was aware she was speaking to me by the architecture of her language, especially when she built sentences with words like post-fascist. I thought she had often mistook my compassion for misused communism commonly regarded as socialism and never looked at as pacifism, but truly was only compassion —wasn’t it compassionate to see the witch as mourning her sister’s death? The ruby slippers were only a side-note.

“You are making excuses for pedophiles and murderers because you like their paintings.” Hilla shouted. “He makes great literature, he diddles children. It is yes indeed great literature, but he still diddles children there is no excuse to make for the behaviour of that madman or her cruelty accept that you love the work of a pedifile. The art and the deed have been done and neither can be changed regardless of how influenced and inspired they had at one time made you. Were you inspired by the crime or the art? Lines in the sand, lines in the dirt everyone drawing lines for others, for themselves and no one being honest.” Hilla threw a handful breadcrumbs to her rapt audience of pigeons each one flapping their wings in grand applause. They always gave her standing ovations.

I had supposed she may have been correct.

 

As I continued to follow Hilla through the industrial mapping of her language I noticed my own structure of vocabulary was beginning to breakdown or perhaps it was already broken and crumbled; washed away by a chromatic ocean searing tonal cliffs and swallowing too many sailors. It came over me like a prophetic revelation that Hilla was rigorously imposing enforced limitations to my thought patterns and therefore she was creating a little oppression in my mind, perhaps to test the capacity I had for finding expression under her personal regime. She could do all this without ever acknowledging my existence.

“You should learn to spell.” She said as she made drawings of bees gathering pollen. “Your writing looks like a holocaust of the English language; each misplaced vowel and consonant is a massacre of the alphabet. You should be accumulating languages not slaughtering your own.” Hilla was at the top of her game in the absence of humans and often criticized the pigeons and bees of their misuse of the English language. I had always thought this was a little insensitive since english was not their first language.

 

I have yet to describe Hilla. What could be so compelling in a woman that one would follow her across a post war world while suffering at an angle her slings of insults and accusations of post-fascist beliefs. Physically she was a goddess of imagery. She was built like a water tower and had hard nipples the color of coal that you could see through her light colored and often times white linen blouses. Her nipples may have been pink and soft at one time only darkening when touched by the cold or excited fingers, but she dyed them black so many times they stained and eventually hardened. I had heard her say that it gave her great pleasure to watch the leering faces rotating in lust to get a better look at her breasts only to quickly dissolve in expression to that of horrored discomfort with the realization that there was something very unnatural about a pale white woman with onyx volcanic nipples. If those uncomfortable with the discovery didn’t quickly avert their faces with their potential quips stuck in their throats, but instead lingered on her appearance a little longer they would realize that she was really very white, but not that of a natural skin tone. She had painted her skin the color of canvas so that she was blank and new and always ready to create herself. The average man and woman did not understand this and you could see it written on their faces. Often times, since I was a few steps behind, carrying an umbrella of whatever color was requested for the day, I would quickly pass on the following comment, to a person who had completely taken in the look of Hilla, as I wanted to contribute to the novel on their face.

“You should see her vagina.”

It was a marvel to me as I think she would sometimes hear me, this was of course before the days that I had discovered my employer, and she would turn to the overly shocked and pre-disgusted person and say, “You should see my vagina. It is the most beautiful cerulean blue like a deep sea waiting to swallow too many sailors. I have a penis as well and it is as grey as a whale.”

She always used the words vagina and penis so that she could easily create the acronymic anagram VP for very perfect. It was a part of her architecture. No one knew what was true because her lovers never spoke about her they only blushed at the mention of her name.

 

“A minimalist in thought is a minimalist in the mind, but a minimalist in space is a purist of ambivalence.” She said tossing more crumbs to her loyal birds. I continued to copy word for word her lectures. It occurred to me that I was recording- in my own dystopian way, a catastrophe of enlightenment. I was on a mnemonic journey after a woman with nipples like coal and a vagina with a whale of a penis. Very pretty.

 

“It is no longer adequate for you to appear so uncannily close to my shadow.” She said. This time I knew she was addressing me, in fact I felt quite, certain as she turned to face me and looked directly into my face. It had been many years’ since I had passed her on a street in Potsdam, so many that I had forgotten how old I was and where we had traveled. I was struck with dumb sentiment when she had demanded me to hold her umbrella directly above her as she was tired of the sun. She was aware of me, so much so that she had been my benefactor. My keeper.

“Tell your own stories”, she said. “Mine are the literalization of my heart and mind. You may inquire clear-eyed with unrestrained curiosity to the sources and inspirations of my literature; you are even welcome to decode them, but don’t fool yourself into believing any of my thoughts are your achievements— after all is said and done, when everything’s right with your world you’ll uncover your authenticity of your fetishized trauma and lick the scabs of your wounds till they heal. I propose you find you your child-self.”

And with that, she knocked the umbrella out of my hand and left her puddles of regime for me to reflect. She turned on her heels like the Morton salt girl, my childhood crush, and faced the streets of music of which she followed all the way to Latin America where the colors are brighter, and left me on a monochrome street on a day of heavy rain in Stuttgart where the tanks had once rolled in and out.

 

“Don’t fool yourself about the tanks”, she had once said, “they are everywhere.”

 

I was wounded and plagued at her sudden parting. Assemblages of my twenties self that had shattered while I was attempting to tell my child self what to do, confettied the ground at my feet. I felt my fear of a million years flood my face in an ephemeral shower, and that’s when I saw it– my enlightenment- suspended between water and concrete; those were not regimes they were only puddles spinning out my illusions of desire.

 

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