What Happens When the Books in William S. Burroughs’ Personal Library Get Artistically Arranged — with His Own “Cut-Up” Method

If your Face­book news feed looks any­thing like mine, you wake up each morn­ing to a stream of not just food snap­shots and self­ies but pic­tures of books, whether stacked up, dumped into a pile, or arranged neat­ly on shelves. Why do we post dig­i­tal pho­tos of our print­ed mat­ter? Almost cer­tain­ly for the same rea­son we do any­thing on social media: to send a mes­sage about our­selves. We want to tell our friends who we are, or who we think we are, but not in so many words, or rather not in so few; a few of the books we’ve read (or intend to read), care­ful­ly select­ed and arranged, does the job. But what if, instead of assem­bling a self-por­trait through books, some­one else entered your per­son­al library and did it for you?

Artist Nina Katchadouri­an (she of, among many oth­er endeav­ors, the air­plane-bath­room 17th-cen­tu­ry Flem­ish por­trai­ture) recent­ly took on that task in the Lawrence, Kansas home of famous­ly hard-liv­ing and furi­ous­ly cre­ative beat writer William S. Bur­roughs. She did it as part of her long-run­ning Sort­ed Books project, in which, in her words, “I sort through a col­lec­tion of books, pull par­tic­u­lar titles, and even­tu­al­ly group the books into clus­ters so that the titles can be read in sequence.

The final results are shown either as pho­tographs of the book clus­ters or as the actu­al stacks them­selves, often shown on the shelves of the library they came from. Tak­en as a whole, the clus­ters are a cross-sec­tion of that library’s hold­ings that reflect that par­tic­u­lar library’s focus, idio­syn­crasies, and incon­sis­ten­cies.”

Kansas Cut-Up, the Bur­roughs chap­ter of Sort­ed Books, fea­tures such arrange­ments as How Did Sex Begin? Unin­vit­ed GuestsHuman ErrorMem­oirs of a Bas­tard Angel A Night of Seri­ous Drink­ingA Lit­tle Orig­i­nal Sin, and Amer­i­can Diplo­ma­cy / Phys­i­cal Inter­ro­ga­tion Tech­niquesIn the Secret StateThom Robin­son of the Euro­pean Beat Stud­ies Net­work describes Bur­roughs’ book col­lec­tion as “a selec­tion of large­ly Euro­pean works whose con­tents include para­noia, the­o­ries of lan­guage, pseu­do­science, mor­dant humour and drugs: in ret­ro­spect, it’s easy to imag­ine the own­er of such an idio­syn­crat­ic library pro­duc­ing the melange of Naked Lunch. Per­haps for this rea­son, it seems hard to resist reorder­ing the books which Bur­roughs owned in 1944 in order to empha­sise the most recog­nis­able ele­ments of the lat­er Bur­roughs per­sona.”

Some­times Katchadouri­an seems to do just that and some­times she does­n’t, but her method of book-sort­ing, which she explains in the episode of John and Sarah Green’s series The Art Assign­ment at the top of the post, bears more than a lit­tle resem­blance to Bur­roughs’ own “cut-up” method of lit­er­ary com­po­si­tion. “Take a page,” as Bur­roughs him­self explained it. “Now cut down the mid­dle and cross the mid­dle. You have four sec­tions: 1 2 3 4 … one two three four. Now rearrange the sec­tions plac­ing sec­tion four with sec­tion one and sec­tion two with sec­tion three. And you have a new page. Some­times it says much the same thing. Some­times some­thing quite dif­fer­ent.” And just as a rearranged book can speak in a new and strange voice, so can a rearranged library.

via Austin Kleon’s newslet­ter (which you should sub­scribe to here)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art Assign­ment: Learn About Art & the Cre­ative Process in a New Web Series by John & Sarah Green

How to Jump­start Your Cre­ative Process with William S. Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Tech­nique

The 321 Books in David Fos­ter Wallace’s Per­son­al Library: From Blood Merid­i­an to Con­fes­sions of an Unlike­ly Body­builder

115 Books on Lena Dun­ham & Miran­da July’s Book­shelves at Home (Plus a Bonus Short Play)

Dis­cov­er the 1126 Books in John Cage’s Per­son­al Library: Fou­cault, Joyce, Wittgen­stein, Vir­ginia Woolf, Buck­min­ster Fuller & More

The 430 Books in Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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