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3 - William Burroughs' virtual mind

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2010

Michael W. Clune
Affiliation:
Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
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Summary

“When you cut into the present the future leaks out. ”

–William S. Burroughs

What are literary experiments? They are, like scientific experiments, repeatable and regularized. But can we speak here of success or failure? At the very least we can expect, both in the experimental text's tendency to thematize its processes, and in the theoretical texts that typically accompany it, accounts of the conditions that would have to obtain in order for the experiment to be successful. The literary experiment (and this is perhaps what makes it “literary”) has a virtual element. It shows us the kind of thing that would regularly happen if the world were different in some particular way. This appears to be especially true of those literary experiments that claim to be mimetic, to represent an aspect of everyday reality. These experiments show us ordinary artifacts suspended in imaginary laws; they show us the everyday processes of a world that manifests a principle of order that is not, or is not yet, recognizable in our own. William S. Burroughs' “cut-up” trilogy of the early 1960s is among the best-known and most influential of postwar experimental works. What happens in the virtual space of those novels has exerted a powerful attraction on the postwar imagination, but the principle of order defining that space remains to be articulated.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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  • William Burroughs' virtual mind
  • Michael W. Clune, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
  • Book: American Literature and the Free Market, 1945–2000
  • Online publication: 23 February 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511674631.004
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  • William Burroughs' virtual mind
  • Michael W. Clune, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
  • Book: American Literature and the Free Market, 1945–2000
  • Online publication: 23 February 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511674631.004
Available formats
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • William Burroughs' virtual mind
  • Michael W. Clune, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
  • Book: American Literature and the Free Market, 1945–2000
  • Online publication: 23 February 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511674631.004
Available formats
×