In 1959, the painter, Brion Gysin, “accidentally” cut through a pile of newspapers with a Stanley Knife and changed the future of writing. William S. Burroughs, who would popularize this “cut-up method” would prefer to say that Gysin “cut into the future,” but regardless of semantics – “art is merely a three letter word, my dear” – that which was done could not be undone. Burroughs worked to hone the technique from purely haphazard to a careful, almost scientific, process wherein cut-ups acted as inspiration. Though it had, arguably, been done before by the founder of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara, the cut-up method became Burroughs’ obsession during the 1960s, spilling out of his prose and into the wider culture.
In 2014 Burroughs turned 100 years old, or at least he would’ve had he not moved off to another dimension, having discovered the meaning of life. (Spoiler: the answer is “love.”) This kicked off a year of celebrations called the Burroughs Centenary. Books, essays, articles, and inspiration have abounded. Burroughs was always influential, but this year has been a concentrated sludge of literary and non-literary brilliance. From this veritable Word Hoard have come some genuine fragments of genius, including This is NOT an Anthology, edited by Chris Kelso and featuring a collection surrealist stories, poetry, and artwork by artists living and dead.
Though This is NOT an Anthology is not explicitly linked to the Burroughs Centenary, and the contributions are not necessarily cut-ups, it is a decidedly Burroughsian read, with the birthday boy’s influence never far away. Burroughs and Gysin themselves even make posthumous contributions, and many of the contributors will be familiar to those with an interest in the Burroughs Universe or, for that matter, that of the Beat Generation. With its spliced together assortment of component parts (remember, this is NOT an anthology…) it cuts through the shit, cuts through time, cuts through the mask, and exposes the reality of the world, which, at the end of the day was what both Burroughs and Tzara intended.
Of particular interest to Beatdom readers is surely the section on Claude Pélieu and Mary Beach, featuring work by Charles Plymell, William S. Burroughs, and Brion Gysin, and photos of Beat Generation figures, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. Pélieu and Beach had been attracted to the more surrealist elements of the Beat ethos and helped it evolve into the post-Beat and eventually hippie movements of the sixties, while translating their work for French audiences. This book serves as a reminder of the prevailing philosophy through all these movements, which could be said to function under the banner of postmodernism, which is the deconstruction and reinterpretation of the world.