cut ups part 8


This is the last in a series of three “stories” I made using the William Burroughs Cut-Up technique to combine a passage from my book Eating Việt Nam — Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table with a passage from The Quiet American by Graham Greene.

His life lurked under the gutters of coconut. Thoughts came from eight thousand miles away.

The most obvious scraps : those hardworking in Bloomsbury Square, where the Foreign Office was, the portico of Euston, the scarlet epaulettes, swashed across Montague Place. He turned. Here, through the humid shadows, were the brush brooms and bundles of waste, who would hear everything.

He exhaled on a Vinataba. In the north, home had shifted; the trees, the cyclo driver’s pedals and the circle of enemies at the High Lypse..

When he first came, he stood on guard. There were men, crouching. Those rough tobacco machines like schoolboys down on Neon Street. So quiet. He couldn’t care a damn.

He was tied to the real background burr of those quick reports at 73 : of the rice fields that sucked might-be grenades, of springtime in the old abbot’s and of the inevitable release of silk-trousered figures.

Bulbs, would-be shells, noodles, deep browns, bags and the kitchen garden. The women would gather together, punctuated by mountains that they’d sling into their night dogs. He counted the days, pushcarts and wheel car-exhausts, to the collection point, marking them off.

On two or three nights, the sight of those calendars, the buckets here and there, dressed and broken cups, bicycle-riding hookers, a life time washed up, a T-shirt rolled upon his chair, the whispered sweet nothings of the repairing girls and he’d go to the road where they tracked potential customers. The gold : And the glow of a cigarette : Young : Green : And the other late night bars.

He wanted a day, half-hidden by the boulevards. A cool belly. He might, from between the few dim lamp posts, catch the occasional plea. He wanted to keep exiting where there were the women in a hidden doorway, moving with grace and working throughout.

He’d learn for himself what was left of street corners. You could, at its most blissful, smell the gold : A bus passing out their wares, from the creak and the cups of tea, on the local in Torrington, goods between the breath as he and his commercial, out in the square, stuff at a markup. He’d wait for the junk of sellers, laying almost barren, but, at noon, he wanted the mollusc hats, waiting to divvy, if you looked, or listened.

At ground eight, a mine had burst : Who’d sell the street cleaners?

Using stiff commissioners : the bright dresses city : they were the night they swished in their hats. He would have to find the flower and fruit chested of the south that held you as the 2AM gloom : largely oblivious, black clothes and, like mosquitoes, many haggling traders, the clandestine drone of planes with his bed in markets all over the Hanoi of his assignment.

Photo by me

cut ups part 7


This is the second in a series of three “stories” I made using the William Burroughs Cut-Up technique to combine a passage from my book Eating Việt Nam — Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table with a passage from The Quiet American by Graham Greene. This is the only “story” of the three that I assembled at random without even looking at the text.

It was a tarp for the birds, but this was the garage and the idea entered that it was actually a door. The usual Chinese commercial gobbler brokered a dish of bun ca fish.

The graphic abstractions were on the desk. They brought fruits. From there, I came down and went through the locked door. The keys seller was on the edge, in front of the tree, as I opened the door. Birds sang from behind, but no one, or maybe everyone, unsharpened their pencils with a bottle of gum.

Nguyen wrote postcards, the teapot and three cups in the daytime. I went back into unwritten picture gaps, in their cages, back there was the mighty noodle soup. At numbers, for some reason, the birds socialised with a small office at the Eiffel Tower.

York Harding was in between, pecking at a calendar, littered, he hung them on the Third Force. Two adding machines sang to each other. There were a lot of desk price lists and local men bringing out their thrushes and some paper-clips.

There were seven or more cages in all that morning. The Hanoians sipped tea behind their bars. There were one or two Bulbuls opposite and lemons jammed into the back wall. It was a house called Trieu. Other birds, from among the pencils, looked through the bars for seeds and quarters.

Photo by me

cut ups part 6


For part 6 of the cut ups series, which coincides with #NationalHandwritingDay, I decided to jot down the first line of everything I could find on my desk; books, notebooks, newspapers, twitter, pieces of paper, contracts etc. that was written in English. Here’s what I got,


Maces Spring, Virginia, home of the Carter Family, circle unbroken. After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat. For years, the rainy season would bring up bodies that had lain where they were slaughtered. As the pig’s uterus landed on the blue plastic table in front of me, I knew I’d made a mistake. Think maybe non-food sections specific sections are too long, but inclined to let editor rip that up for me. What will the world look like in 100 years? the text of a work of non-fiction as written by Author and delivered to Publisher consisting of approximately 80,000 words. 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, 100 days, no sunlight. It was mid-way along the noodle aisle of Pat’s Chung Ying Chinese supermarket. Each card features in full colour a famous place, scene or building from all over the world. Richmond Hill is straight until The Victoria Inn where the road curves slightly to the left. America, America is killing its youth. Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. A man standing the shop was inspecting swift, cool, all-round eyes ran over the ceiling, noted. Assassination, jewellery shop heist Edgware Road, reported by journalist. Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law. Russia to seek immediate ceasefire at Ukraine talks. Please fold or cut in half. Do not photocopy. A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.

I cut it up.


Re-arranged it.


And adjusted some grammar, opened books at random to find nouns to add, and this is what I got. Not the best cut up so far. I kinda like the highlighted bits, or at least find them ‘interesting’.

I can’t be sure that a man of non-fiction, at least as it is written, would stand in the swift, cool, with his all-round eyes consisting of approximate indolence, and run a jewellery shop heist.

A bundle of mugwort was found at 100 Edgware Road. It was reported and went out in the morning. The noodle aisle, to the left of his shop, was nominally a famous place in Maces Spring, Virginia.

In front of me, I knew Richmond Hill was after dinner. I had seated specific sections, curved slightly down to Rue Catinat. For years that ripped up before me. Mother died today, that had lain in the text of a workshop. I was inspecting features in full colour, during the ceasefire in Ukraine.

The ceiling was noted for Assassination all over the world. I found a photocopy by a merry journalist, Mr Verloc, he raised the alarm that the road was in charge of killing its youth. Rick Deckard, according to the Author and his brother-in-law from Russia, said that the circle remained unbroken for 80,000 words.

“Please fold or cut room”, he asked. Over the days, there is no sunlight and just a little surge of electricity to bring up the bodies at Pat’s Chung Ying Supermarket.”

The mood organ, beside his pig, was on the blue plastic table that had been delivered to the Publisher. It was a scene or a building from non-food thinking.

20 cloves of garlic and straight he went until The Victoria. I was inclined to let the editor pass, it was mid-way along the left towards America. An America that was looking like it was 100 years old.

He reached for a card or maybe, yesterday, the uterus landed. It sought the immediate home of The Carter Family. I’d made a mistake in half and did not want to wait for Pyle. In my mind, I’d spent too long, piped by automatic speaking.

The rainy season would will the world from bed. Once awakened, they were slaughtered.

cut ups part 5


From a 2013 interview with Donna Tartt about her novel The Goldfinch on She uses cut ups,

You’ve got some bravura passages in this book depicting post-traumatic disorientation. The first is Theo’s experience in the Metropolitan Museum of Art after the terrorist bombing and the second, which I won’t describe because it happens much later on, is the immediate aftermath of a violent incident in Amsterdam. It’s very striking in that you depict him as being in an altered state. I assume you wrote the museum scenes after 9/11?

Some of it I did, but some of it I didn’t. Actually, the mechanics of that bombing are very different. It’s not high in the air. The model I was working from was Oklahoma City: Down on the ground.

When Theo is in this state, the sentences become merely nouns, or he doesn’t always understand where he is or who’s with him.

I wrote that first and then cut it up, and fragmented it. Literally, like a [William] Burroughs cut-up. Mix things around, out of order. That was very hard to write. And there was also a lot of research because a bomb going off in a building like the Met — that’s never happened in real life. I had to construct that. There would be huge amounts of white powder, huge amounts of dust. It’s not like anything we’ve seen, a different kind of physical event. Oklahoma was a different kind of structure. There was a lot of research just figuring out what it would look like.

Photo from Vanity Fair

cut ups part 4

Another way of cutting up the present, after cutting up Twitter, is to cut up Instagram. Take ten words from a current news story:

The former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has called for a new surveillance compact between internet companies and the security services in the UK and US in the wake of the Snowden revelations. In his first speech since standing down as “C” at the end of last year, Sawers said the two could work together as they had in the past to prevent a rerun of events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack and the blunt threats from places such as Yemen and the advance of Boko Haram in Nigeria. From The Guardian 20 January, 2015

Search for those words on Instagram, grab the most recent grams, reassemble them, et voila… your very own CutUpGram:

#GoodMorning #Technology..#invading your #privacy. #surveillance

A photo posted by da1brownhornet (@da1brownhornet) on

The Man with the X-Ray eyes

“I walked with Jesus and He would say”

“As if by magic, the Shopkeeper appeared”


A photo posted by @al.exz on


M Ice Cream

#two #things #prevent #us #happiness #living #past #observing #others

A photo posted by Línskÿ (@linskyz) on

Cod soul.

Dream baby dream

It seems people at work think we name our food for fun #threats #thestruggleisreal #saw

A photo posted by Steph Purser (@stephpurser) on

Office life.

#money #around #the #world

A photo posted by •Marco Primavera (@marcoprimavera) on

“Out of college, money spent. See no future, pay no rent”

One man’s protest is another man’s riot.

As Burroughs said, “To be read every which way”.

Cut ups part 1, part 2, part 3.

cut ups part 3


Many musicians have used Burroughs’ cut-up techniques to make music and write lyrics; Iggy Pop, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Brian Eno and Bauhaus among others. Possibly as a result, much of the lyrical output of these bands sometimes appears pretentious and impenetrable.

Bauhaus, and others, would often defend their lyrics along the lines of – ‘you need to find your own meaning’ or ‘there is no meaning’ or ‘the lyrics exist just to conjure up images’ etc. which is fair enough, but it’s also a bit of a cop out.

Books are different (obviously). There is no backing band inside a book. The words have to deliver meaning and create images at the same time. Literary images are created with metaphors, similies and other ‘interesting’ and ‘unusual’ combinations of words.

Which brings us back to cut-ups.

The cut-up technique, it seems to me, is a ‘short cut’ to discovering unusual, interesting and sophisticated snippets of word play that you are unlikely to find by staring at a wall or gawping at a thesaurus.

‘borrowed tonality’ ‘bucolic recording’ ‘depressing sipping’ ‘hostage album paddies’ ‘old rocks recover’ ‘jungle champagne’ link

‘ducts of death’ ‘like dead ears’ ‘swollen distant drumming’ ‘the bundle of the mosquito cloud’ ‘empty privilege’ ‘a large squash of water pipes’ link

I’m not sure I’d want to produce an entire book using cut ups. They are one tool in a large bag. A very useful tool nonetheless, especially if you don’t happen to possess the genius of David Mitchell,

Sometimes I think that creativity is a matter of seeing, or stumbling over, unobvious similarities between things—like composing a fresh metaphor, but on a more complex scale. One night in Hiroshima it occurred to me that the moon behind a certain cloud formation looked very like a painkiller dissolving in a glass of water. I didn’t work toward that simile, it was simply there: I was mugged, as it were, by the similarity between these two very different things. Literary composition can be a similar process. The writer’s real world and the writer’s fictional world are compared, and these comparisons turned into text. But other times literary composition can be a plain old slog, and nothing to do with zones or inspiration. It’s world making and the peopling of those worlds, complete with time lines and heartache. link

See also cut ups part 1, part 2, part 4.. Photograph of Bauhaus from here.

blow up

Get the structure wrong and you blow up shortly after takeoff. Get it right and you save yourself an aborted manuscript and months and months of wasted writing. Make your structure original and you may end up with a novel that looks unlike any other. link

David Mitchell on writing in The Paris Review.

cut ups part 2

Eating Vietnam OK for US readers

This is an experiment to adapt the cut-up techniques of writing, first developed by the DaDaists, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, to the modern day.

Burroughs thought that “language is a virus from outer space”. That it was a means of control. And that, by cutting up text, you disrupt the structure of language, break control, possibly find truer meaning, or even, he thought, predict the future. As he said,

When you cut up the present, the future leaks out.

To ‘cut up the present’, he used to cut up newspapers and reassemble them. Burroughs wrote some of the best books of the 20th century using these methods.

So, I wondered, how we might go about using the cut-up method, to cut up the 21st century? It seemed obvious that we’d need to start with Twitter — the barometer of our present. Here’s one way to cut into it.

Take a sentence or small paragraph of text. It could be from a news report, a favourite book, the back of a cereal packet, a tweet, anything… I took a sentence from my soon-to-be released (plug, plug) book, Eating Việt Nam — Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table

A slew of teenagers cruised around Hoàn Kiếm Lake on a repetitive circuit that took in much of the Old Quarter, turning the picturesque heart of Hà Nội into a groaning, tooting, sticky, fume-filled jam of testosterone, tittle-tattle, and two-stroke.

I selected every second word from that sentence. If I’d already used one of the words, I chose one next to it:

A slew of teenagers cruised around Hoàn Kiếm Lake on a repetitive circuit that took in much of the Old Quarter, turning the picturesque heart of Hà Nội into a groaning, tooting, sticky, fume-filled jam of testosterone, tittle-tattle, and two-stroke.

Then, I pasted each of those words, in turn, into the Twitter search box. I then copied and pasted the first text only tweet in English that I saw. (I ignored any tweets with links, pics, @’s, RT’s, MT’s, hashtags, smilies, or jibberish) Using those 20 words marked in bold above over lunchtime on Friday, 16 January. 2015, here’s what I got:

So sorry and also not sorry at all if you followed me for like, intellect or whatever, and was instead met with a slew of dick jokes. My parents don’t realize I’m a pretty good kid compared to a lot of teenagers these days. I’d rather be in a relationship where you playfully joke around and are sarcastic with me than be all sweet and lovely dovely all the time. miss kiem said must get 90% for tomorrow’s test, she must’ve mistyped 09% hmm.. Fina world premier a new song never heard on v103 listen now. Drake stupid for tryin to drop a mixtape. He got enough buzz to put out another album & sell. Fans gonna get tired of that repetitive content. The most depressing thing about the first profile photo meme is that I’m old enough to have profile photos I can’t recover… Another hostage crises in paris 3 hostages 1 gunman armed with AK47 and grenades in a post office. Tact is the art of saying NO with the tonality of a YES! A true art to master…… Black and white old films are always better. (sound of a page turning). Are those picturesque paddies a bucolic paradise, or a muddy, parasite-laden hell? Don’t stop doing the little things for others,,Sometimes those little thing occupy a big place in someone’s heart. In “Welcome to the jungle” there is a line borrowed from Hanoi Rocks’ song “Underwater world”. And without a docket recording an offense, a case cannot go to trial. Oh wait! It’s Friday? How’d that happen? Wasn’t I just sipping champagne and tooting a horn? Seems like some people will only be happy when they find Ched Evans in a fume filled car. Very civilized indeed. Testosterone or twitter poetry. You can’t have both, buddy. A few years ago, a pal of mine who was in the corporate travel business told me some tittle-tattle about a well-known Scottish entrepreneur. I fully support building a videogame system powered by a two-stroke engine. The disc drive is spun by a drive chain.

For a series of entirely random tweets, it’s surprisingly coherent. The effect is a bit like listening in on a room filled with strangers who are on the phone. There’s news, gossip, motivational speak, criticism, all sorts… To cut it all up, I pasted the text into the Cut-Up Machine.

The CutUp Machine mixes up the words you enter in a form, a la William S. Burroughs and the Dadaists. This creates new and often surprising juxtapositions of words that can inspire creativity.

Below, is what I got. I’ve highlighted the phrases I find most interesting.

album premier miss Hanoi grenades like, I’m and How’d ago, recording they you that some engine. parasite-laden now. with me jungle” champagne bucolic are a v103 disc both, of a find It’s heard profile hmm.. champagne two-stroke A meme in the indeed. big to 1 tryin playfully sorry those So song recording album borrowed things of “Welcome with always He those premier the Black champagne buddy. thing enough told borrowed of both, will met little in drive that enough happen? 09% to and How’d was and offense, hostage album paddies sorry My a a indeed. when lovely old spun things depressing civilized compared in some or Wasn’t instead borrowed tonality and entrepreneur. indeed. who of out time. Tact with of 1 Friday? with years in heard a A get than dovely Black the enough must of photo 90% a a a fully for and have test, buddy. spun I’m photo me me some to Fina engine. years whatever, jungle” The now. tittle-tattle and a of for have a whatever, of me enough I in v103 new Another of filled paradise, bucolic recording parasite-laden around be paradise, tooting and a of also a My gonna got and cannot miss met doing master…… building a that can’t first always on those a was kid someone’s repetitive met must’ve for in horn? tooting playfully I’d a only I never occupy little to only can’t there sorry big in post have (sound civilized mixtape. to me Hanoi you thing with the Fina Seems In master…… by of twitter Fans new listen of enough dovely is can’t is horn? is to support have hmm.. joke recover… depressing sipping or a than relationship line thing stop old of Scottish stupid old Rocks’ recover… few who v103 tired world”. 09% the another realize (sound Ched instead or with jungle” to never must’ve wait! they never another mistyped of kiem profile on I for saying profile all some is like, champagne drive a Drake to better. a a good content. instead Ched by time. sorry tonality relationship tryin never “Underwater Are to

Clearly, it’s mostly incoherent. The Cut-Up Machine also seems to repeat words. You might get better results by printing the text and cutting it up the way Burroughs used to.


Other possible ways you might ‘improve’ upon the resulting cut up:

– sort the grammar out

– insert any missing words by opening a book at random and using the first noun, verb, or whatever it is that you need, that you see and using that

– use a single phrase or sentence, like the ones I highlighted in the cut up text, and build upon it. What are ‘hostage album paddies’? How do ‘old rocks recover’? What’s ‘jungle champagne’? These are important questions.

For me, the benefit of using cut-ups is to warp the imagination just enough that you reach an unexpected and sometimes very interesting, literary destination.

Also, see Cut ups part 1, part 3, part 4.

cut ups part 1


I made this using the William Burroughs Cut-Up technique. I combined a passage from my book Eating Việt Nam — Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table with a passage from The Quiet American by Graham Greene.

I had run a long way. I was condemned to the chance I envied the least : the homesick wall in the middle of weeping. I sat at the far end, furthest from the ducts of death. The wall was as dry as the hot iron bars.

I could see a room across Neon street. It only had a washing line. I remembered dinner, sitting on the second floor of Blackfriars Station, and then I entered the living fizz, the capital’s Old Quarter, the musty air. Hanoi.

I wondered about the humidity. The air was a heavy dab. There was no air conditioner. I closed the aged memory like dead ears. At the landing, opinions rained. A table in the centre of the building, near my immediate right, was surrounded on all sides by pictures of Lord Salisbury. In the middle, news from Saigon : Over 90 percent of apartments were leaning.

From the ceiling fan, I heard muffled shrieks and squeaks. I was to have armchairs and a small examination room. I went up a set of wooden stairs : my last hope, a water tap, there in the house.

The house was in an experience match. The edge was built the last. It played in the sexual net like swollen distant drumming. Even the limited future foreign editor, who had prematurely arrived in the concrete blocks of my future, trumped that bare room.

At the grim Victorian tap, the dripping cold, there was no hot water, only a plaque of Hanoi. I sat on my bed with the bundle of the mosquito cloud overhead. A reporter, no longer.

At half past three, I headed up a floor in truth. I hadn’t all the others. I was deprived of the three-story new home. It had been a combination of houses, shops, shacks and good humidity from behind my desk.

Before I entered, for that empty privilege, I took the door, and leaned against the contest room-cum-office. There was the desk and chair. Through its game of youth, my virginity was 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The door switched three yards away. Twelve months later, there were two glowing from the officer room. A bookshelf by the neighbours and a large squash of water pipes. By the only window, I sat down. I didn’t want my neighbour’s house, not in these parts of Hanoi. As though their balcony and their TV was the only morsel I could glean.

Also, see Cut ups part 2, part 3, part 4. Photo by me

by accident


“The cut-up method brings to writers the collage, which has been used by painters for seventy years. And used by the moving and still camera. In fact all street shots from movie or still cameras are by the unpredictable factors of passersby and juxtaposition cut-ups. And photographers will tell you that often their best shots are accidents… writers will tell you the same. The best writings seems to be done almost by accident but writers – until the cut-up method was made explicit – …had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.” link

Photo of cows in Dakar by me.