William S. Burroughs’s computer artworks – “Cybernetic Cut-ups”

Roger Holden and William Burroughs Cybernetic Cut-up

William S. Burroughs was known to have an anti-computer stance. According to William Gibson:

When our paths finally crossed, I asked Burroughs whether he was writing on a computer yet. “What would I want a computer for?” he asked, with evident distaste. “I have a typewriter.”

However, it turns out Burroughs DID do some computer art. Roger Holden writes at Reality Studio:

I am privileged in this life to have been a friend of William Burroughs and also a collaborator on his visual art — using the medium of the computer. In 1995 I worked with Burroughs on a series of three-dimensional computer-generated stereograms (similar to the Magic Eye images of the 90s) based upon sampling his paintings. William guided me in the process of what to select for input into the computer so as to obtain results that he thought would be appropriate for this visual holographic cut-up collaborative experiment. […]

Our collaboration was a true “all into cyberspace” experience for both of us. These images allow for a direct altered state of visual perception just as the Magic Eye images do. However, rather than simply entice you with just a dolphin or 3-D heart, the cybernetic cut-up images can be used to experience directly certain information processes of the mind — specifically, those processes that can form our visual sense of the 3D outside world from the input of even the simplest of sampled information.

William was extremely enthusiastic about this collaboration and equally enthusiastic about the results. In essence, samples of his paintings were input as viral info elements into a 3D computer stereoscopic process. The 3D Cybernetic cut-up output resulted in complex holographic-like landscapes and objects. Our collaboration, including studies, involved more than a dozen images. Like all such attempts in art, some worked out better than others. A special few seemed to demonstrate some intriguing synchronicities. I hope to publish someday a compendium of these studies and completed images.

Reality Studio: Collaborating on the Computer with William S. Burroughs


  1. Holy shit. Awesome!

  2. Bill Whitcomb

    May 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I’ve been trying to find a WSB essay that appeared in High Times in the late 70’s where he thought that programmers might save the world. He thought that getting programmers to revise government would create structures that actually worked (sort of like the info agre equivalent of the 20’s Technocracy). I doubt that Burroughs held that opinion for very long, but it was still an interesting piece. However, while looking for a copy online, I did run into this: http://realitystudio.org/bibliographic-bunker/charles-bukowski-william-burroughs-and-the-computer/

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