The Beats 1950s and 60s

Example image from the collection.The Beats, a group of young writers coming of age in the Cold War, the Korean War, the McCarthy era, and the consumerism of the post-war period, rejected the dominant vales propagated by the mass media. While Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassidy outlined a new counter-culture lifestyle in their work, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin developed the critical collage method of the cut-up. They saw society as a series of texts written by the powerful. In order to critique and resist that power and control, they began, not unlike the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, to cut up texts and rewrite them by connecting the fragments differently. According to Burroughs, "The control of the mass media depends on laying down lines of association. When the lines are cut the associational connections are broken." Their cut-ups of other author's texts put into question concepts of authorship and language as property. At the end of his cut-up novel The Ticket The Exploded (1962), Burroughs states: "only way to break the inexorable down spiral of ugly uglier ugliest recording and playback is with counter-recording and playback..." This new "playback" or Rewrite in the form of a text collage is not unlike the Surrealists' intervention by juxtaposition disparate images and words. Yet Burroughs and Gysin sensed the presence of control everywhere, in mass media, in the concept of identity, in consciousness, and ultimately in words. Language, even cut-ups of their own cut-up works, still contained traces of control. "Rubbing out the word" was their ultimate escape.