I don’t know about where fiction ordinarily directs itself, but I am quite deliberately addressing myself to the whole area of what we call dreams. Precisely what is a dream? A certain juxtaposition of word and image. I’ve recently done a lot of experiments with scrapbooks. I’ll read in the newspaper something that reminds me of or has relation to something I’ve written. I’ll cut out the picture or article and paste it in a scrapbook beside the words from my book. Or, I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll suddenly see a scene from my book and I’ll photograph it and put it in a scrapbook.... I’ve found that when preparing a page, I’ll almost invariably dream that night something relating to this juxtaposition of word and image. In other words, I’ve been interested in precisely how word and image get around on very, very complex association lines. I do a lot of exercises in what I call time travel, in taking coordinates, such as what I photographed on the train, what I was thinking about at the time, what I was reading, and what I wrote; all of this to see how completely I can project myself back to that one point in time.
In one sense a special use of words and pictures can conduce silence. The scrapbooks and time travel are exercises to expand consciousness, to teach me to think in association blocks rather than words. I’ve recently spent a little time studying hieroglyph systems, both the Egyptian and the Mayan. A whole block of associations -- boonf! -- like that! Words, at least the way we use them, can stand in the way of what I call nonbody experience. It’s time we thought about leaving the body behind. What I want to do is to learn to see more of what’s out there, to look outside, to achieve as far as possible a complete awareness of surroundings.
Try this. Carefully memorize the meaning of a passage, then read it; you’ll find you can actually read it without the words making any sound whatever in the mind’s ear. Extraordinary experience, and one that will carry over into dreams. When you start thinking in images, without words, you’re well on the way.
I think that words are an around-the-world, oxcart way of doing things, awkward instruments, and they will be laid aside eventually, probably sooner than we think. This is something that will happen in the space age. Most serious writers refuse to make themselves available to the things that technology is doing. I’ve never been able to understand this sort of fear. Many of them are afraid of tape recorders and the idea of using any mechanical means for literary purposes seems to them some sort of a sacrilege. This is one objection to the cut-ups. There’s been a lot of that, a sort of a superstitious reverence for the word. My God, they say, you can’t cut up these words. Why can’t I? I find it much easier to get interest in the cut-ups from people who are not writers—doctors, lawyers, or engineers, any open-minded, fairly intelligent person—than from those who are.
Any narrative passage or any passage, say, of poetic images is subject to any number of variations, all of which may be interesting and valid in their own right. A page of Rimbaud cut up and rearranged will give you quite new images. Rimbaud images—real Rimbaud images—but new ones. It’s part of the paradox of anyone who is working with word and image, and after all, that is what a writer is still doing. Painter too. Cut-ups establish new connections between images, and one’s range of vision consequently expands.... You find it often makes quite as much sense as the original. You learn to leave out words and to make connections.
Cut-ups make explicit a psychosensory process that is going on all the time anyway. Somebody is reading a newspaper, and his eye follows the column in the proper Aristotelian manner, one idea and sentence at a time. But subliminally he is reading the columns on either side and is aware of the person sitting next to him. That’s a cut-up. I was sitting in a lunchroom in New York having my doughnuts and coffee. I was thinking that one does feel a little boxed in New York, like living in a series of boxes. I looked out the window and there was a great big Yale truck. That’s cut-up—a juxtaposition of what’s happening outside and what you’re thinking of. I make this a practice when I walk down the street. I’ll say, when I got to here I saw that sign; I was thinking this, and when I return to the house I’ll type these up. Some of this material I use and some I don’t. I have literally thousands of pages of notes here, raw, and I keep a diary as well. In a sense it’s traveling in time.... That’s my principal message to writers: for God’s sake, keep your eyes open. Notice what’s going on around you.
For exercise, when I make a trip, such as from Tangier to Gibraltar, I will record this in three columns in a notebook I always take with me. One column will contain simply an account of the trip, what happened. I arrived at the air terminal, what was said by the clerks, what I overheard on the plane, what hotel I checked into. The next column presents my memories; that is, what I was thinking of at the time, the memories that were activated by my encounters; and the third column, which I call my reading column, gives quotations from any book that I take with me. I have practically a whole novel alone on my trips to Gibraltar.
People say to me, “Oh, this is all very good, but you got it by cutting up.” I say that has nothing to do with it, how I got it. What is any writing but a cut-up? Somebody has to program the machine; somebody has to do the cutting up. Remember that I first made selections. Out of hundreds of possible sentences that I might have used, I chose one. I see that as very much like the photographic darkroom where the reality photographs are actually produced.
When I sit down to write, I may suddenly think of something I wrote three years ago which should be in this file over here. It may not be. I’m always looking through these files. That’s why I need a place where I can really spread them out, to see what’s what. I’m looking for one particular paper, it often takes me a long time and sometimes I don’t find it. Those dresser drawers are full of files. All those drawers in the closets are full of files. It’s pretty well organized.
I get up about nine o’clock and order breakfast; I hate to go out for breakfast. I work usually until about two o’clock or two-thirty, when I like to have a sandwich and a glass of milk, which takes about ten minutes. I’ll work through until six or seven o’clock. Then if I’m seeing people or going out, I’ll go out, have a few drinks, come back, and maybe do a little reading and go to bed. I go to bed pretty early.
I don’t make myself work. It’s just the thing I want to do. To be completely alone in a room, to know that there’ll be no interruptions and I’ve got eight hours is just exactly what I want—yeah, just paradise. I use the typewriter and I use scissors. I can sit down with scissors and old manuscripts and paste in photographs for hours; I have hundreds of photographs. I usually take a walk every day.
I do definitely mean what I say to be taken literally, ...to make people aware of the true criminality of our times, to wise up the marks. All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable. Like the advertising people, ... I’m concerned with the precise manipulation of word and image to create an action, not to go out and buy a Coca-Cola, but to create an alteration in the reader’s consciousness. You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I’m creating an imaginary—it’s always imaginary—world in which I would like to live.