Developed into the fold-in method by William S. Burroughs, the cut up technique requires a text to be cut into four sections, which are then rearranged into any order. The composite text is then read from left to right, making new words, sentences, and paragraphs.
For Burroughs the cut up technique offered a new way of writing, of authoring texts that resulted in a disorientation of the narrative paralleling his own experiences as a long-term drug addict. By dissolving both the act of writing and the notion of narrative, Burroughs established a new means of communicating experience through the written word: the combined texts generate a new way of perceiving language and narrative sequence by often having two narratives occur not only at the same time but also within the same sentence. Like the painters marks, the random words combine to form images free of narrative but rife with association.
Cut Up Method
Take a block of text, either your own writing or a found text and cut it into four sections - through the middle of both the horizontal and vertical axis of the text.
Randomly rearrange the four sections: for example placing section four with section one and vice versa or, if the text used is printed on both sides, turn sections two and three over so that they combine with the original sides of sections one and four. Read the text from left to right.
This method can be developed by cutting a number of different texts into the four sections and mixing them together in various combinations or by simply laying them out into one continuous row.
Fold In Method
Developed from the cut up method by Burroughs, the fold in requires minimal manipulation as one simply folds a text in half and places it over one half of another text. Again, the text is read from left to right.
Burroughs used this method to write the novel The Soft Machine. Burroughs fully explored the implications of the fold in method within novel as he took the resulting text from two different fold ins and folded them together. This created a repetition in word, description and narrative event, creating what Burroughs described as either a flash forward or back within the normal narrative.
The combination of the same text over and over again also resulted in expanding character description, providing the reader with increasingly fragmented images of an individual and the events that surround them.
Newspapers and magazines are printed in a cut up format: the authors text is formatted into a series of columns, effectively cutting the block of text into four as in the method described above.
Select a page from one the broad sheets and, simply, read across the columns, from left to right. The fragmented sentences join in a much more coherent way than the other methods, primarily because the text has been formatted into chunks of five to seven words per column, so giving a sense of coherence whilst the narrative becomes confused.
Using Your PC
Word processing packages can be used to create cut up texts by reformatting a standard block of text with the columns facility.
By converting the text into two, three or four columns, one can instantly create cut ups by simply reading across the columns, from left to right.
Although the random element remains, for the computer decides how many words can fit within the column, there is a certain amount of control through the amount of columns the text is formatted into: the less columns there are the more sense the text will make, the more columns there are the more fragmented and confused the text will become.
The Internet has a considerable number of cut up related sites, all of which predominately discuss the history of the process and Burroughs contribution to it. These sites predominately contain the cut up texts by the site authors.
In addition to this there are also on line cut up machines.
Of those that are currently available, the Grazulis cut up machine is recommended as it allows the writer to control the final text by altering the number of words in each sentence from the two texts before it is cut together.
The Grazulis cut up machine can be found at: