Please note: No original text has been deployed in this cut-up treatise on William S. Burroughs’ political science of occupying tape.
Listen all you boards, syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever.[i] Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged.[ii] It is obese. It has reached its limits, its maximum.[iii] Now you and this cesspool you call a television station, and your people who wallow around in it, your viewers who watch you do it, they’re rotting us away from the inside.[iv]
The border between social reality and science fiction, social fiction and science reality, is an optical illusion.[v] Images are more real than anyone could have supposed.[vi] If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.[vii] Therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television.[viii] You are a programmed tape recorder set to record.[ix]
The Nova Mob[x] keeps this tired old show on the road.[xi] The board is a group representing big money who intend to takeover and monopolize[xii] the Reality Studio.[xiii] Yes we know the front men and women in this organization, but they are no more than that…a façade…tape recorders…the operators are not there.[xiv] At any given time recorders fix the nature of absolute need and dictate[xv] our sense of the past, present and future.[xvi] All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality Control’, they called it.[xvii]
The basic nova technique is very simple:[xviii] If all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. [xix] Suppose I make a recording of the conversation, alter and falsify the recording, and play the altered recording back to the two actors. If my alterations have been successfully and skillful applied[xx] the two actors will remember the altered recording.[xxi] ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’.[xxii]
This is obviously one aspect of a big picture… what looks like a carefully worked out blueprint[xxiii] to falsify, misrepresent, misquote, rule out of consideration as a priori ridiculous, or simply ignore or blot out of existence: data, books, discoveries that they consider prejudicial to establishment interest.[xxiv] Now you may well ask whether we can straighten out this mess to the satisfaction of any life forms involved, and my answer is this: [xxv]
Their Immortality Cosmic Consciousness and Love is second-run grade-B shit.[xxvi] Reality Film is the dreariest entertainment ever presented to a captive audience.[xxvii] And you can see that the marks are wising up, standing around in sullen groups, and that mutter gets louder and louder[xxviii]—What’s this reality con?[xxix] Who the fuck are you and what are you doing in my image track?[xxx] Who monopolized Love Sex and Dream? Who monopolized Life Time and Fortune? Who took from you what is yours?[xxxi]
It is true, what many of you have heard.[xxxii] This machine strategy and the machine can be redirected.[xxxiii] The same technology that has constructed the audiovisual machine has put the means of configuring its products into the hands of the audience. But when two-thirds of global copyrights are in the hands of six corporations, the capacity to rework one’s memories into the material symbolic form of individual testament and testimony is severely constrained. We rarely own the memories we are sold.[xxxiv]
Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one.[xxxv] The counter move is very simple.[xxxvi] If you want the world you could have in terms of discoveries and resources now in existence, be prepared to fight for that world.[xxxvii] We think of the past as being there unchangeable. Actually the past is ours to shape and change as we will.[xxxviii] The cut is the mechanism whereby[xxxix] we transgress into the utopian terrain of time travel: back into history, forward into the future, or down into the depths of the “now”.[xl]
You are to infiltrate, sabotage and cut communications.[xli] Breaking into and breaking up the film[xlii] creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork.[xliii] The more you run the tapes through and cut them up the less power they will have.[xliv] Remember you do not have to organize similar installations but merely to put enemy installations out of action or take them over—a camera and two tape recorders can cut the lines laid down by a fully equipped film studio.[xlv]
The experiments described here were explained and demonstrated to me by[xlvi] William S. Burroughs.[xlvii] But there wasn’t any video then, not that people could get hold of. That was in ‘69.[xlviii] The history of history-writing has come a long way since then.[xlix] What has happened is that the underground, and also the Nova Police, have made a breakthrough past the guards and gotten into the darkroom where the films are processed.[l] It’s to do with technology, the Internet and the past that’s put everything out there like an archival universe.[li]
Anything, in any medium imaginable, from any culture, which is in any way recorded and can be played back is now accessible and infinitely malleable and usable to any artist.[lii] We are splintering consensual realities to test their substance: utilizing the tools of collision, collage, composition, decomposition, progression systems, random chance, juxtaposition, cut-ups, hyperdelic vision and any other method available that melts linear conceptions and reveals holographic webs and fresh spaces.[liii]
Science fiction becomes the discourse best equipped to contend with this new state of things.[liv] Wormholes, modes of teleportation, paranormal substances and mental powers of psychokinesis suggest that the rational behaviour of form and matter is open to infinite possibilities within the digital realm.[lv] Nobody can control the whole operation. It’s too complex.[lvi] Not even[lvii] Uncle Fishhook[lviii] understands what’s going on in the system now.[lix]
Without necessarily striking an alarmist or disapproving tone[lx] I would like to sound a word of warning.[lxi] In the post-sampling post-Internet era[lxii] the presence of the past in the present is massively increased. But this spatialisation of time causes historical depth to drop out.[lxiii] This leads to a tricky question[lxiv]—how can we prevent this telescoping of cultures and styles from ending up in kitsch eclecticism, a cool Hellenism excluding all critical judgment?[lxv]
The key to this dilemma is in establishing processes and practices that allow us to[lxvi] open up a space where ideas about history can be generated.[lxvii] The cut-ups will give you new material but they won’t tell you what to do with it.[lxviii] Alongside it we will develop multiple metaphors, alternative principals of evidence, new loggias, catastrophe theories, and new tribal ways to separate our useful fictions and archetypes from useless ones.[lxix] It’s the academic equivalent of Kurtz: the general in Apocalypse Now who used unorthodox methods to achieve superior results compared with the tradition-bound U.S military.[lxx]
The crucial move today is to[lxxi] upset the set patterns that plot the established moral and political orders of the entertainment. [lxxii] It remains true that as soon as accident becomes a permanent possibility, history ceases to be programmable and predictable.[lxxiii] But this is not enough.[lxxiv] Tristan Tzara cutting Shakespeare sonnets up and pulling their words from hats is an exercise in randomizing. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin mixing poems in with sliced-up pages from The New York Times is quite another matter.[lxxv] It generates a critique by using the material left behind by the enemy. Like jujitsu, using the weight of the enemy against himself…[lxxvi]
Listen: I call you all. Show your cards all players.[lxxvii] I offer you nothing. I am not a politician.[lxxviii] A revolution can be neither made nor stopped. The only thing that can be done is for one of several of its children to give it a direction by dint of victories.[lxxix] Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us. But if we are to be prepared for it, we must first shed our fear of it.[lxxx] Prisoner, come out. The great skies are open.[lxxxi] Wise up all the marks everywhere. Show them the rigged wheel of Life-Time-Fortune. Storm the Reality Studio. And re-take the universe.[lxxxii]
[i] William S. Burroughs, Nova Express (New York: Grove Press, 1992), 3.
[ii] Sherrie Levine, “Statement 1982,” in Appropriation, ed. David Evans (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), 81.
[iii] Treatise of Slime and Eternity, dir. Isidore Isou, in Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954 (1951; Kino Video, 2007), DVD.
[iv] Videodrome, dir. David Cronenberg (1983; Universal Studios, 1998), DVD.
[v] Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun (London: Quartet Books Limited, 1999), 84.
[vi] Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1979), 180.
[vii] Matrix, dir. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (1999; Warner Home Video, 2007), DVD.
[viii] Videodrome, dir. David Cronenberg.
[ix] William S. Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded (London: Fourth Estate, 2010), 165.
[x] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 44.
[xi] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 104.
[xii] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 108.
[xiii] Burroughs, Nova Express, 59.
[xiv] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 17.
[xv] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 43.
[xvi] Arjen Mulder and Joke Brouwer, “Introduction,” in Machine Times, ed. Arjen Mulder and Joke Brouwer (Rotterdam: V2_Publishing, 2000), 5.
[xvii] George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Random House USA Inc., 1998), 32.
[xviii] William S. Burroughs and Daniel Odier, The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2008), 35.
[xix] Orwell, 1984, 32.
[xx] Burroughs and Odier, The Job, 35.
[xxi] Burroughs and Odier, The Job, 35.
[xxii] Orwell, 1984, 32.
[xxiii] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 16.
[xxiv] Burroughs and Odier, The Job, 177.
[xxv] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 44.
[xxvi] Burroughs, Nova Express, 6.
[xxvii] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 116.
[xxviii] Burroughs, Nova Express, 14.
[xxix] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 118.
[xxx] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 31.
[xxxi] Burroughs, Nova Express, 5.
[xxxii] Matrix Reloaded, dir. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (2003; Warner Home Video, 2003), DVD.
[xxxiii] Burroughs, Nova Express, 74.
[xxxiv] Victor Burgin, The Remembered Film (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2004), 110.
[xxxv] Matrix, dir. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.
[xxxvi] Burroughs, Nova Express, 74.
[xxxvii] Burroughs and Odier, The Job, 224.
[xxxviii] Burroughs and Odier, The Job, 35.
[xxxix] Mary Ann Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2002), 224.
[xl] Mulder and Brouwer, “Introduction,” 5.
[xli] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 86.
[xlii] Burgin, The Remembered Film, 8.
[xliii] Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” in Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2007), 26.
[xliv] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 168.
[xlv] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 86.
[xlvi] Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, 167.
[xlvii] Jack Sargeant, The Naked Lens: An Illustrated History of Beat Cinema (London: Creation Books, 1997), 169.
[xlviii] Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, “Throbbing Gristle Interview,” in Re/Search #4/5: A Special Book Issue (San Francisco: V/Search Publications, 1982), 80.
[xlix] Ellen Blumenstein, “Andre Romao: The Vertical Stage – History, Theatre, Democracy,” in Andre Romao: The Vertical Stage (Berlin: Künstlerhaus Bethanien GmbH, 2010), 76.
[l] William Burroughs and Sylvère Lotringer, Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs, 1960-1997 (Los Angeles and New York: Semiotext(e), 2001), 70.
[li] Simon Reynolds in Dan Fox, “Music,” Frieze Magazine 140 (June-August 2011), 45.
[lii] Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, “Thee Splinter Test,” in Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult, ed. Richard Metzger (New York: Disinformation Company, 2003), 33.
[liii] Breyer P-Orridge, “Thee Splinter Test,” 32.
[liv] Scott Bukatman, “Who Programs You? The Science Fiction of the Spectacle,” in Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, ed. Annette Kuhn (London and New York: Verso, 1990), 200.
[lv] Jose Da Silva, “Sam Smith,” in Premiere of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award (Brisbane: Gallery of Modern Art, 2008), 32.
[lvi] Burroughs and Lotringer, Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs, 1960-1997, 81.
[lvii] Burroughs and Lotringer, Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs, 1960-1997, 81.
[lviii] Sylvère Lotringer and Jack Smith, “Uncle Fishhook and the Sacred Baby Poo-poo of Art,” in Hatred of Capitalism. A Semiotext(e) Reader, ed. Sylvère Lotringer and Chris Kraus (Cambridge: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press, 2001), 243.
[lix] Burroughs and Lotringer, Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs, 1960-1997, 81.
[lx] Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 2012), 424.
[lxi] Burroughs, Nova Express, 7.
[lxii] Reynolds, Retromania, 420.
[lxiii] Reynolds, Retromania, 425.
[lxiv] Reynolds, Retromania, 424.
[lxv] Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How art reprograms the World, trans. Jeanine Herman (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2005), 44.
[lxvi] Bourriaud, Postproduction, 46.
[lxvii] Craig Baldwin in Kevin Attell, “Leftovers / CA Redemption Value: Craig Baldwin’s Found-Footage Films,” in Cabinet Magazine, no.3 (Summer 2001), 16.
[lxviii] Burroughs and Odier, The Job, 32.
[lxix] Breyer P-Orridge, “Thee Splinter Test,” 34.
[lxx] Simon Reynolds, “Renegade Academia,” in Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2008), 171.
[lxxi] Reynolds, Retromania, 416.
[lxxii] Burgin, The Remembered Film, 8.
[lxxiii] Sylviane Agacinski, Time Passing: Modernity and Nostalgia, trans. Jody Gladding (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 31.
[lxxiv] Susan L. Hurley, Justice, Luck and Knowledge (Cambridge, MA and London: First Harvard University Press, 2003), 100.
[lxxv] Tom McCarthy, Transmission and the Individual Remix (Vintage Digital, 2012), 26.
[lxxvi] Craig Baldwin in Kevin Attell, “Leftovers / CA Redemption Value: Craig Baldwin’s Found-Footage Films,” 16.
[lxxvii] Burroughs, Nova Express, 4.
[lxxviii] Burroughs, Nova Express, 6.
[lxxix] BrainyQuote.com; “Napoleon Bonaparte Quotes.”
[lxxx] Matrix Reloaded, dir. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.
[lxxxi] Burroughs, Nova Express, 4.
[lxxxii] Burroughs, Nova Express, 59.