The cut-up method is best-known as a literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The cut-up has received some mainstream recognition as a way of brainstorming in the “creative industries.”
In the 1950s, Artist Brion Gysin had stacked newspapers on top of each other to protect a tabletop and noticed, upon cutting them with a razor, that the clippings interacted with each other in his head to produce interesting results. He accidentally rediscovered the cut-up method, a technique that can be traced back to at least the 1920s, even to this 1883 poem from Lewis Carroll (who wrote Alice in Wonderland):
For first you write a sentence,
And then you chop it small;
Then mix the bits, and sort them out
Just as they chance to fall:
The order of the phrases makes
No difference at all.
Gysin then introduced his friend, the author William Burroughs to the technique at the Beat Hotel. Burroughs went on to create a number of experimental novels that drew on text revealed by the cut-up method.
Try it for yourself!
Text mixing desk
A Cut-Up Generator
Quoted from Saved by a Poem, by Kim Rosen, about poet C.C. Carter (pages 27-29)
C.C. was not always so at home in herself and her body. At the age of 11, she wanted to die. Her father was a minister and had to change parishes frequently, so her family was constantly moving.
On top of that, her body started to change. “I was from a family of very full-figured women.”
“I literally wanted to check out of here. My grandmother sensed this and gave me Dr. Angelo’s poem ‘Phenomenal Woman.’ She told me to put it on my mirror. Every morning before I walked out of my room I was to read it.”
That poem saved C.C.’s life. Its medicine brought her back to herself from the barrage of insults, invasion, and loneliness she faced at school.
“I learned how to use poetry to silence my enemies—spouting off to the bullies in the hallway, ‘You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies. / You may trod me in the very dirt. / But still, like dust, I’ll rise.’ Or to the mean, snotty girls, ‘Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. / I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.’ Every time I hit an obstacle, there was Dr. Maya Angelou, and a poem, and my grandmother.”
Listen: Dr. Maya Angelou Recites Her Poem "Phenomenal Woman"
Psychiatrist John Beebe has watched film all his life and lectured and written about movies as a way to examine the drama of therapy. His comments below are taken from a 2011 interview with The Huffington Post, in answer to the question he was posed “can watching a movie be like therapy?”
Beebe: Yes, a good film can help us metabolize our life experiences. I think the problem for all of us is finding a coherent narrative out of our existence. Like therapy, a movie does that for us, distilling years of experience into a story. When the story works, it has an animating effect on us. We walk out of the theater feeling better; we don’t know why we feel better, especially when there has been a lot of pain in a movie, but we do. If we don’t, something is wrong with the film!
Movies, which are the reflections of a filmmaker responding to the human condition, are also models that show us how to develop the capacity for reflection. They enable the audience to hold complex states of mind in a creative way — a state that’s not unlike our dreams. We do the same thing when we go into therapy. We’re not master filmmakers, but if we watch our dreams over a period of time, they show a process of reflection on our experience. Working with them in therapy can strengthen our consciousness; as consciousness grows, so does our ability to fully engage with this life that is so perplexing and upsetting, but also marvelous.