UDE ALUS Symposium 2019 Abstracts

Alexander Greiffenstern (UDE) From the “Composite City” to A Thousand Plateaus: William S. Burroughs’ Urban Experience and the Simultaneity of the Cut-ups

The “Composite City” (1953) is the central text for understanding the work of William S. Burroughs. It is a collage of diary and letter fragments that describes a dream city, which Burroughs modeled on the big metropolises that he loved and knew at the time: New York City, Mexico City and Lima. Subsequently, the collage technique and the “Composite city” became part of Burroughs’ most famous book Naked Lunch (1959). Following an idea by Brion Gysin, he developed the cut-up and fold-in technique, which ultimately leads to the simultaneous reading of several texts. In the course of the following decades this technique was applied by artists from all kinds of fields and it can also be observed in the rapid cuts of the video culture of the 1980s. The cut-up, which can be regarded as consequence of collage texts like the “Composite City,” became one of the best artistic tools to present the urban experience of the 20th and 21st centuries. Furthermore, Burroughs’ cut-ups appear as a surprising example in Deleuze’s and Guattari’s “Rhizome,” the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus (1980), which itself became a philosophical and practical guidebook for artists and scientists from many different fields, including architecture and urban development as urban planer asks themselves whether it is possible to plan “in the Spirit of Deleuze and Guattari?” (Mark Purcell and Branden Born, “Planning in the Spirit of Deleuze and Guattari? Considering Community-based Food Projects in the United States and Mexico,” Urban Geography 2017, 38:4: 521-536.)

Alexander Greiffenstern studied comparative literature, history and computer science at Bielefeld University. In 2008/9 he was a member of the international research group “E Pluribus Unum” at the ZiF, Bielefeld. Between October 2009 and 2015 he worked and taught at the University of Duisburg-Essen. His PhD-project is called “William S. Burroughs: Aesthetics of Becoming.” He is the co-editor of the essay collection Interculturalism in North America: Canada, the United States, Mexico and Beyond (Inter-American Studies | Estudios Interamericanos 8, Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier & Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, 2013) and contributed to the recently published Routledge Handbook of International Beat Literature (2018).