Agent Mozilla — an experiment on Burroughs’ cut-up word technique


Musing about literature (probably stoned out of their heads), William Burroughs and Alan Ginsburg concluded that writing as an art form was in decline — at the very least it was years behind painting. Pondering these things, they began to cut up words from books and magazines, shuffle them in a box, then randomly take them out and piece them together. “Wow! Now we have a collage of words,” Burroughs exclaimed. “This is revolutionary … this is real literary art.” What a discovery. At last writing had evolved.

“You cut into the words and the truth pops out,” Burroughs said, pasting randomly selected words together. “This will change the face of literature forever …”

The BBC got wind of the idea and broadcast the technique on the radio. Fans listened in awe as Burroughs and Ginsburg read a story composed of words arbitrarily cobbled together from thousands in a box.


“Calling all stations/man walk hump/dress sense in hotel come brush/nail water in foam thing …” and so it went on, line after line of nonsensical sentences all strung together in a meaningless bead of creative writing. Listeners swooned with admiration as Ginsburg and Burroughs spat out the words. Fans thought they were in the presence of Gods. “Hearing them read aloud was like having a religious experience,” one later confessed.

Burroughs went on to write two books, each made up of 75000 cut-up words, most notably, The Ticket That Exploded. The fact that they were virtually unreadable is to miss the point. He had created a new form of writing. Dedicated readers imagined that somewhere within the jumble of words there was a life-changing message. It had to be there. “You cut up the words and the truth pops out,” Burroughs had said. To the uninitiated it seemed you needed the patience of a saint to find it.

Needless to say the cut-up technique died almost as quickly as it was born. People realised that labouring over a book to discover even a modicum of meaning was more work than a pleasure. One began to wonder if the artists were as deluded and meaningless as the work they produced.

Not to be outdone I concocted my own little cut-up experiment. Call it ego, self indulgence, a piss-take, call it what you like, but here it is. The following nonsensical gibberish was taken from three or four emails. Because I could not physically cut the words up (I have a spinal injury, remember), I got somebody else to do it and then I put them in a tin and tip them out.


Agent Mozilla needs an urgent answer. Smith was long term sick, unemployed and received £9000 per week. Police cracking down on people said John.

Your views on these matters are urgently requested. However, the truth of any assertions made by you must accompany your letters.

A squad dedicated to the removal of the offensive sort gave the impression it was already in existence. However, who are we to believe? Did CX know the squad was not yet operational? Members for such a squad in hold up.

This lady had no qualms about her personal compliance. She found it appropriate to jocularly admit she was rubbish and revolting. She turned to Johnston without success. She was upbeat about the workmen now they are on overtime. These workmen check on the validity of self. Phenomenal increase when customers find themselves boxed in. The CX discovered why a rented vehicle sat idle.

Smith had been found with several questions unanswered. Is he a fit original? Did he disclose the expenses and was he given time? Did he disclose his position following the spirit of embarrassment or will the opposition become unbearable? Is this pool available to all members? He first approached the police and subsequently restricted the user’s pool. With responsibility for community proceeds, the agent failed.

I leave the reader to make there own judgement

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