Holiday 2014 — THE POTOMAC

Cut Me Up: Mark Nipple Considers Burroughs

and Sees for Miles

  Nitin Jagdish


Like most avant-garde artists, I burn too much energy ignoring questions and advice from well-meaning hecklers. In the interest of justifying our alleged bomb-throwing/wooing potential patrons — I will accept your handout: make checks payable to Mark Foote: "Nipple" is my stage name: more confrontational body parts=box office — I will make the obscured easier to see.

Art happens when a person mutates concrete or quasi-concrete material into patterns that please aesthetically and posit a vision of life. A Main Street artist, regardless of her medium, takes this principle for granted. Her avant-garde counterpart, though, uses this principle/makes her art new. Collectively, the works of an art's avant-garde chronicle an alternate history of that art's development — the aesthetic equivalent of imagining the course of Russian history if the party of Kerensky > party of Lenin.

Consider —

Peter Kubelka selling Schwechater beer with rapid cuts and under exposed images, hijacking a commercial for high art: Junko Wada subverting Bridget Jones-type material to drag cinema into the digital age with marching feet and solid yellows: Eric Symons transforming Starbucks coffee cups into neo-Cornell boxes, mounting a self-aware satire on consumerism: Pipilotti Rist repeating the first line of a Beatles song, confronting in fast-forward the male gaze...

... and William S. Burroughs assembling cut-ups into a trilogy — The Soft Machine/The Ticket That Exploded/Nova Express — speaking truth to the Man.

— Commercial Break —

Mark Nipple appropriating the style of Russian icon paintings to create a graphic novel about Jesus' career as a carpenter, returning Christianity to its working class roots. $15 = a copy for you. Make checks payable to Mark Foote.

—End Break —


Midway upon the journey of his life, Burroughs found that language served as another arrow in "their" quiver to control us — "Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk." Returning to the start of literature — "But Degas, you can't make a poem with ideas, you make it with words" — and birthing new syntactical associations through the cut-up method, Burroughs sought to disinfect language/redeem his art. The Cut-Up Trilogy teases: as apomorphine breaks the control of opiate addiction, so to the cut-up method breaks the control of "the muttering sickness." Marx laughs.

There was more than one way to cut up a text. Nothing=true/everything=permitted. For example, I drew and quartered into rectangles/squares the pages from Call Me Burroughs that describe the cut-up method. Rearranging the pieces revealed this description of the cut-up method:

There were many different methods of cutting up text, made with hashish. Mostly words were wiped off the tape as letters from friends. Cutting up some interesting juxtapositions, of a pure spiritual Islam, freed from Dos Passos. When you cut word lines the future machine-poetry. Tzara's pulling words out of a hat: "I come I kill for Time and Tide."

This was an experiment being done unwillingly and a carryover of Christian reflexes.
Hassan-i-Sabbah himself was impounded by the printer. There were many different methods of cutting text, if it can be destroyed or bettered by the 'cut-up' method, then it is poetry impounded by the printer. Only those lines of literary interest had to sometimes leave the room to throw up.

It is the inalienable right of every American teenager to shake hands with as many stupid ideas as possible. Teenaged Nipple ranting about television: "Zenith is gonna swallow the other brands, man, and then their scientists are gonna invent attachable TV screens and we're gonna be tricked into attaching them to our heads like tele-sombreros and they're gonna bomb us with commercials and the only way to change the channels will be by slapping each other." Teenaged Nipple ranting about metaphysics: "You must stay calm. Breathe. Slowly. Your emotions are nothing but spirits moving in and out of your body. Don't go through life being nothing but a host for these spirits. Control your emotions. Achieve total serenity. You will trap your spirits, and when you die those spirits will become your soul."

Small wonder the Cut-Up Trilogy — metempsychotic episodes: science fiction tropes: insistent motifs of parasitism and control — served as my Bible through high school and college. I was unable/unwilling — Seventies heterosexism survived Bowie and disco — to grasp > half of it. But I committed some sections — "The Mayan Caper" from The Soft Machine: "Gave Proof Through the Night" from Nova Express — to memory, and pasted phrases from the rest — "face eaten by 'I need more'": "Suburban galaxies on the nod" — into my songs.

> 100 years ago, Laura Lee Burroughs spat William Seward Burroughs II into this world. Marking the centennial of her act, Grove Press published a new edition — with introductory essays and textual notes by Oliver Harris — of the Cut-Up Trilogy. Saluting my younger self, I bought it. Question: did middle-aged Nipple groove on the trilogy like teenaged Nipple?


Because —

Demanding traditional pleasures from William Burroughs' work indicates unrepentant imbecility. His novels live as literary standup routines on whatever subject strikes his fancy. Everything else — plot: character: emotion — is an afterthought.

Even so, the Cut-Up Trilogy stumbles. The cut-up method negates many of the pleasures associated with his work — sustained comedy routines: precisely rendered sense of place: evocative juxtapositions of the preposterous with the realistic. Burroughs was always susceptible to repetition — certain phrases stalk the reader from book to book — but by encouraging different permutations of the same text, the cut-up method degrades this stylistic tic into a numbing compulsion.

For a long time while rereading the trilogy, I would fall asleep. I would encounter a soporific passage — dense cut-up section: fatuous description of an orgasm — and drift off before I had time to think "I'm going to sleep": wake up an hour later: my face wet with drool. Worse, dreams=boring. Fair specimens —

The Man Makes the Clothes. I dress like a hobo: my two kids embarrassed: my daughter accuses my wardrobe of sabotaging my son's dating life: they buy me a suit: I wear it right away: anything for Samantha and Aubrey: at night I discover it's rigged with NSA bugs: the kids keep saying sorry: the suit = my new skin:

Art Jocks. Troy Polamalu crashes the office Christmas party: raving about James Turrell: Tom Brady laughs: declares Wilhelm Hammershoi > Turrell: Troy and Tom fight: pouring eggnog on each other: Dewey Evans brings peace: pronounces Robert Breer > Turrell and Hammershoi: I try saying Breer didn't paint: sing the '86 Mets theme song instead:

Pries On the Eyes. Wife and I are visiting her late parents: I am cutting their bacon: feeding them only fat scraps: mother-in-law insists I slather her fat scraps with mustard: asks me to feel her muscles: only bone: father-in-law arguing with wife about my design for a charity event poster: Anita reminds her dad that his opinion=not credible: his eyes keep falling out.

The cut-up method mitigated Burroughs' reservations about language/irreparably weakens the trilogy. "And what shall it profit an artist, if he shall gain philosophical closure, and lose his own muse?" - Mark Nipple 8:36.

—Commercial Break—

All things equal, I like repetition. My short video — Filibuster — consists of nothing but first-person POV shots of me riding up and down escalators of different DC metro stations. $25=a DVD copy for you. Make checks payable to Mark Foote.

—End Break—


One of deconstructionism's lasting glories was its destabilization of the literary canon. Poking holes in the official story promised new ways of perceiving beauty. Tastemakers betrayed this promise, weakening existing literary standards instead of creating new ones. Deconstructionism's upshot = inflating potboiler merchants — no names necessary — at the expense of true literary artists like Jackson Mac Low: Harryette Mullen. The party of Lenin collapsed — drunks/thugs/kleptocrats took its place.

Thus, Burroughs' place in the pantheon depends on popular studies that rigorously champion his work. Ted Morgan's Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs — judiciously/comprehensively/passionately critiquing of Burroughs' oeuvre: identifying Burroughs' literary context: analyzing Burroughs' literary thought — provides a strong starting point. Oliver Harris' editorial efforts on the republished Cut-Up Trilogy — advocating the Cut-Up Trilogy's canonization: animating Burroughs' working methods: exploring the Trilogy's unstable structure — continue Morgan's work. While they inflate the achievements of Burroughs — The Wild Boys is his only claim to genius — and his friends — the Beats = only the second best literary movement to emerge in mid-50s New York — their works comprise a persuasive brief for Burroughs' importance as a literary artist.

— Commercial Break —

Years ago, I adapted a chapter from The Wild Boys — "The Chief Smiles" — for a video short. The video = a series of posters done in Pop Art style + voice actors/I made my Marker. $25=a DVD copy for you. Make checks payable to Mark Foote.

— End Break —

Barry Miles' work on the Burroughs archives — discovering lost manuscripts: creating his first spoken word performances — led me to believe he would expand Morgan and Harris' brief. Instead, Call Me Burroughs = fixation on Burroughs the man/Burroughs the pop cultural figure. It ignores literature — a meeting with a possible doppelganger, James Merrill receives one sentence: Burroughs' relation to the avant-garde escapes unexamined: literary influences are cited superficially — and Burroughs work — misquoted/misremembered passages: an absence of textual analysis: zero reckoning of the work's literary impact. Reading this book will anger anyone who cares about securing Burroughs' place in the pantheon. Leave cults of personality to the dictators.

I have nothing against Barry Miles as a person. I like him very much. He strikes me as the kind of man who would give directions to a stranger looking for a pub, walk with the stranger to make sure he found it, and then buy the stranger a round. I would very much like to buy Miles a drink someday. One of my daughter's friends is expecting a boy. The next time I see her, I'll tell her to name him after Barry Miles. I'll also tell her that she shouldn't buy Call Me Burroughs: neither should you.

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