How Burroughs and Digitization Expand Our Understanding of Texts and Archives

FSU Digital Scholars

Dr. Gontarski’s talk on Tuesday, October 20, concerned the current project of digitizing the William S. Burroughs archive held at Florida State University, which included the history of how FSU eventually obtained manuscripts that were largely unknown to scholars and the larger public. Because I have been involved with the archive since January, much of the information Dr. Gontarski gave was familiar to me; however, I was very interested in many of the ideas and questions that came up during his talk and in the discussion afterwards.

One of the issues raised was, “what is an archive?” We often think of digitization as a process of copying, of creating an image—a stand-in—for something that exists in the “real world” of materiality. People have online avatars that are meant to pictorially stand in for or represent them in some capacity; we scan and upload pictures and make digital copies of documents…

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Burroughs’ Lasting Legacy: Digital Cut-Up and Transmedia Storytelling

FSU Digital Scholars

In preparation for our meeting on Tuesday and Dr. Gontarski’s presentation on the Burroughs Archive, I feel as though I’ve had a miniscule exposure to the “Cut-Up Trilogy” in the form of Oliver Harris’ “Introduction to the ‘Cut-Up Trilogy’” trilogy. Looking across the three introductions, we see some commonalities in terms of chronicling the changes across editions and Harris’ repeated assertion that to call these three books a “trilogy” is a misnomer. I wonder if Harris envisioned himself amassing his own sort of word hoard when drafting each of these introductions, repurposing sections from one to fit into the introduction for another volume. What I find most interesting is Harris’ assertion that the trilogy isn’t a trilogy, considering the many revisions each work underwent—ultimately giving us a total of 6 volumes, with no clear beginning, middle, or end of the “series.” Whether it was Burroughs’ intention or not, the…

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Cutting Things Up:  Mapping the Political Interface of William S. Burroughs

FSU Digital Scholars

William S. Burroughs is remembered and renowned as much for his unique character – the deviant, queer, drug-addicted radical of the Beat Generation – as he was for his controversial writing. Dr. Stanley Gontarski’s work with the William S. Burroughs Archive at Florida State University demonstrates the importance of historicizing and visualizing the “life” of William S. Burroughs as it exists inside the editing, writing, and the cut-up processes of Burroughs’ experimental writing projects.

Famous for his highly experimental writing style and the elaboration of Brion Gysin’s “cut-up method” in novel form, Burroughs’ writing practice cannot be separated from his personae.  Form and content merge as Burroughs “cuts-up” the capitalist power structure of history and travels into the future through “viral signifiers” (Harris, Nova xiii).  His overtly queer writings are intertwined with his radical anti-capitalist politics as well as his scientific and creative study of communicative and linguistic systems of…

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