Friday, April 10, 2009

My Manifesto: or whatever

Dear Brave Readers,

I thought I should take a pause and explain what I’m up to.

I’ve been fascinated by the act of collage for many years. I get a great thrill in the idea of taking things that already exist, ripping them apart, and re-combining them in ways that create meanings far removed from those offered by the original objects.

Filmmaking always does this, every time a filmmaker grabs something out of a library to help make his point. Writing does this all the time by reusing bits and pieces of language – typically words, but longer phrases as well – and creating new expressions and ideas through their fresh new juxtapositions.

I’ve always loved the work of bands like The Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd, and The Beastie Boys – not to mention countless rappers like Eminem and the list goes on and on – for how they draw from culture’s endless bank of sounds, musical and otherwise, to create exciting new compositions.

I’ve long been fascinated by “Naked Lunch” and “The Wild Boys,” two novels by William S. Burroughs. They are heady reads and I won’t even dare claim that I understand them at all fully, but there is poetry about them, and themes emerge through them, and they have a sense of mood and character that is unforgettable.

It was only recently, though, that I came to understand a major element of Burroughs’ working method – the Cut-Up. Now, I’d heard about it. Gus Van Sant talked of its being his inspiration for making “My Own Private Idaho” which combined elements of several unfinished scripts and a short story he had collecting dust. But then, I read a webpage about how, exactly, Burroughs would create his strange compositions.

By taking existing texts, literally cutting them apart, down the middle, side to side, diagonally, and randomly reassembling the pieces of paper; Burroughs would create the raw text for his “new” works. Then the writer (or maybe more accurately editor) in him would be set free to paper over the cracks and massage the words into a final product, reflective of his authorial voice.

My pieces so far like “Do cats eat bats?” and “Donate my dead car” follow this approach exactly, and, if nothing else, it is a great form of self-entertainment – I got some good laughs out of working on both.

(By the way, my source material for all of my compositions so far (except “Kilm”, more on that in a moment) was the first chapter of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Michael Moore’s latest letter on his website, a news article I found on Rush Limbaugh’s website, and a few random articles from the United States Constitution. I dunno. They all just seemed to belong together, somehow.)

Recently, I’ve come across the films of Craig Baldwin – and through his film “Sonic Outlaws” – the music of Negativland. I’ll be exploring – and writing about – both of their works here on this blog as well. They essentially do with film and music, what Burroughs did – and I’m attempting to do – with writing.

As for “Kilm,” it is an experiment that I doubt I’ll be repeating. I took a review of “Milk” I had written about a month prior and ran it through a computer program I found online. It cut it up and randomly reassembled it, and then I went to work, polishing it up. I kind of like the results, but something gets lost when too much randomness enters the picture. With “Kilm,” shards from the beginning, middle, and end of the review might end up side-by-side. With Burroughs’ approach, connected fragments tend to remain in somewhat closer proxity in the finished work. So far, I tend to find this result more satisfying.

The other weakness of “Kilm” is that all of the material came from the same source. I find it much more interesting to “mash” together material from widely and wildly different sources. In a way, that’s the whole point of doing this sort of thing.

Todd Ford

No comments:

Post a Comment