INTERVIEW with GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE and DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF for ARTHUR Magazine 2002.
D: The thing that started interesting me as I read and looked at the kind of stuff leading up to your new book was the way that cut n paste, the role and the place of cut n paste, in our civilization‚s, or our culture‚s, development towards an experience of genuine co-authorship. In other words, it seems to me that we move from kind of passively absorbing the information, the datastream, that‚s presented to us. Then we move into, maybe with the Protestant Reformation, and the printing press, the ability to interpret this information for ourselves, to some extent. Then, with cut n paste, the ability to take what‚s been presented to us and move it around a little bit. But now finally with computing, and with the internet, with the ability to actually author what for lack of a better word would be original‚ material, you know...now we move into artistry. But the interesting moment, to have been a part of that, most of us younguns missed, was that first cut n paste moment, that first moment of, Okay this is being fed to us, BUT we can do this with it, and get something else. I'd be interested in hearing what was it like to be part of that moment.
G: Hmm. Well probably the preamble would be that in the early '60s I started to discover Dada and Surrealism. Somewhat parallel to beginning to be aware of the beatniks. And actually the first time I‚d heard of cut n paste as a creative, what would be the word, not an intrusion--
D: Just a politic, or-- G: I think it was [Raoul Houseman?], and one or two of the Dadaists, did the classic idea, and Brion Gysin actually gave credit to this as one of his inspirations: of cutting up words from one of their poems and putting them in a hat, and then drawing the words out of the hat, and that was the poem. So it actually, in a way, the first world war and its horror and the bitterness and the anger at the way that control over information and culture in society just led to this armageddon, this hell on earth. Their reaction against that, which was that the Irrational had to be more than.... [INDECIPHERABLE] and uh...than reason, which leads to this. There was a big moment, round about the time of the great [INDECIPEHERABLE] early 20th century, where the more emotionally based artists, the ones who were actually involved in feeling human as well as just glorifying creativity, became very disconnected from the concept of linearity, and material concepts of the world. That's really where the first step came, is that disconnection from, and obsession with, a finished, perfect result that was owned‚ by the artist that made it. One of Brion Gysin's greatest poems, which I didn‚t understand until very recently, was ŒPoets don‚t own words." He would do a permutation, "Poets don‚t own words, words poets don't own, own words poets don‚t" and it was only recently that I actually experienced it in a visceral way, that, that‚s been the big change, which is what you were talking about. That we are blessed, or gifted, or pushed, by various events to deal with the information that‚s coming at us. Society and culture are, if you like, another form [tf] solidity, that inertia, that solidity that‚s based on the inertia and linearity is oppressive. And in order to even begin to be anything one might label free‚ or "liberated"... as Burroughs used to put it, First you have to short-circuit control‚...because control is ultimately an oppressor. Control really does contain all the feedback loops of consumer culture that you've talked about so astutely. I'm know I'm kinda going in a weird loop, but basically the point is that during the middle of the last century, that built up: first of all, the idea of having to be an Artist who owned each thing. Cuz with the Dadaists especially, they did live events, and they did collaborations, they did The Exquisite Corpse, where they would do a drawing, fold it, next person would draw some more, fold it, and then the result was the art. And of course no one could say, I did that.‚ They all did it, but it also made itself. That process intrigued, I think, the more interesting artists from then on. And always parallel to what's happening in the art world, it's always good to look at the equivalent of alchemy and then it becomes science and physics and the big moment, really, is just after the Second World War, when, this to me, this is my interpretation, that we learnt to split the atom and we also learned to split consciousness with psychedelics, more or less the same time. Almost exactly the same time. And then you also had people like Brion Gysin and William Burroughs also learning to split the cultural atom with cut-ups in a much more methodical and conscientious way. Instead of it being a reaction against the Horror, it was actually a considered and very carefully and very meticulously observed process of...in a sense they challenged themselves, How do we short-circuit linearity and control. Let's experiment, and let's be methodical, let's CHOP THINGS UP, just like a scientist would, and see what the building blocks are. And in their case of course it would be language. So they started to chop up words.
D: [interrupting] Right, I mean-- G: This is all leading up to where, I came in around this point, you see, that suddenly it‚s ALL up for grabs. I kind of came to fruition in the 60s because I was born in 1950, so 1960 I'm ten, my mind‚s beginning to really think, make thought processes as well as just observe and absorb, and so I was *really* blessed in that the material world, the world of consciousness, and the world of accepted forms of writing and painting and so on, even music of course, as people would imagine, they all suddenly came up for grabs, they all became malleable. And the rulebooks were, at least to many people, they were thrown out. And I don't think it's just coincidental, I think that it was a very important evolutionary moment, that we still haven't fully grasped. And it has, as you said, TOTALLY affected the culture on every possible level to degrees...people just have not stepped back, most of them not stepped back and considered. They watch television and all the adverts are just cut-ups. So. For me it was just incredible. I mean, I came, I was being educated in an English public school and the basic bumper sticker for those is, We're building the leaders of tomorrow. The leaders of tomorrow were supposed to be the shepherds and farmers of inertia: to maintain the status quo and the establishment. And I think that, um... [pause] There was a book that came out that was called The Shock of the New. [pause] Lemme think about what it felt like. I'm just trying to track back, so this is just a little moment... [pause] I guess I... hmm... I remember, this seems weird to say this, I remember the Cuban missile crisis, right? And I remember going to school, being told, You may not come home tonight because there might be an atomic war. And I was on a bus, with my face on the window of the bus, and I suddenly imagined the glass just melting around my face. If there was an explosion like that, and it kind of enfolding me in molten glass, and being preserved in this shell of molten atomic glass. And it was at that moment that I thought, that image it somehow to me it both suggested the idea of preserving oneself and also that the shell that is oneself is invisible and transparent and that in fact everything I‚d been told about reality just wasn‚t true. Don‚t ask me why that image made that happen for me but that was my epiphany. And that was when I decided to seek out...alternative methods of reporting upon experience. Because in a way I think that what we've always looked for is methods and media and techniques to report back upon what experience and being alive is. And as social life and civilization and Western Culture, which is what I know, as they developed, and get more and more and more complex, you would think that that implies some kind of shimmering atomic kaleidoscope that would be really vibrant and exciting: more and more complexity. But the irony is, it just seems to be more and more BINDING. It's actually more like threads binding rather than atomic splitting. Okay?
So. [laughing] Ha ha, this is very abstract, I'm sorry. Um... What happened was, I was given a tape recorder by somebody at around the same time. And it just became *natural* to, because I had very little tape, to go back and use the tape more than once. And it didn't take long to notice that as I used it, I got these weird intersections of sound. So on my own by a mixture of poverty and desire, I discovered that I could actually change the order of time and reality and information. And it was exciting. And so as I also then started to look for other ways of describing what I was feeling because what I was being told was a description of being alive and reality just didn't fit what I was feeling. As I say, I came across the Surrealists, the Dadaists and the Beatniks, and it was actually at that time not well documented that the beatniks were cutting up and pasting. But because of my own experiments and these little bits of information from the Dadaists, when I did see little references to tape recorder experiments, it had a really profound resonance for me, and I started to seek out all the information I could, and later on get to know the Beats too. And at the same time I started getting involved with all the underground press and so on. What you really end up doing is, you surrender to the idea of oblivion. At some point you have to wipe absolutely clean every preconception that‚s given to you both by the senses and by the culture--the datastream that you talk about. You have to actually at some point dismiss it totally and then you can start to make choices about what openings you wish to allow back in.
D: Right. I mean it seems to me a lot like, what you‚re talking about is the kind of shift of perspective that occurs in a full-fledged renaissance. So in other words if you look back at the original capital-R Renaissance, you know what you have is, you have perspective painting, successful circumnavigation of the globe, the printing press, and calculus, and then the sonnet, which is really an extended metaphor. Each of these 15th-cenutry innovations are all about being able to see three dimensions where there had formerly been two. Or being able to relate two dimensions to three as in calculus, being able to go around the globe, which is to experience the planet as three-dimensional rather than as flat. And then you look at the 1940s to the present, and you have a series of analogous innovations. Instead of being able to circumnavigate the globe, we can blow the globe up!
G: Or go into space and look at it.
D: Or go into space and see it from a distance. Instead of the printing press, we have the internet, which rather than just allowing the individual in his drawing room to interpret a piece of literature, they can write one themselves and disseminate it through the whole thing. Instead of just having perspective painting which allows you to see three dimensions on two, you get the holograph, which allows you to see four dimensions on two: you know, the bird waving its wings, or the girl winking her eye as you walk across the plate. And then instead of calculus, which allows you to relate, say, the second dimension to the third, or the third to the fourth, you get fractals...
G: Chaos maths and...
D:...which is about fractional dimensionality. You know, this thing has two and three-quarters dimensions, and what does that mean. Instead of the sonnet, which gave us the extended metaphor, we get hypertext, which allows us to make anything into a metaphor for something else. You just pick what there'll be an allegory of. And essentially also, if you look at the result of the original Renaissance and the ability to interpret, for most of Europe overturned the Catholic Church, led to the Protestant Reformation, eventually to bloodbaths. But before then, it was kind of a positive, every man-can-interpret-religion-for-himself. And we get I think a similar result...If.... We are going through something like that, obviously at a much faster pace, between say 1940 and the year 2000, where we have all the Isms come through, this increased amount of dimensionality, this sense of, which is what happens during any Renaissance, of Anything can go. What do we want to bring back in.‚ As if a renaissance is this moment of shift in dimensionality where you‚re gonna have a rebirth. Literally, renaissance, or re-birth, of old ideas in a new context. What do we want to let back in? And then you look at a little bit of almost a battle for ideas, about well, which ideas are going to make it back in, now that everyone has the ability to re-frame this thing. Maybe what we're in now, in the 21st century, is this struggle over authorship, this struggle over story, this global debate over narrative. In other words, whose narrative is going to be...um...
G: And of course the answer is --
D: -- [infused.]
G: -- no one owns the narrative anymore. That‚s the thing that‚s disturbing and frightening so many people, is the displacement of ownership in a very, very fundamental way.
D: It's a sense... We won. But uh oh. [laughs]
G: Well yeah because even DNA is no longer a finite fixed program, which was once God‚s book, you know, that--
D: Can be rewritten.
G: We can engineer the genetic book, the nearest we have to a source book of the intended unfolding. There is no longer a fixed unfolding.
D: And, well, as I would see it, there may never really was an intended -- and we were [talkover]
G: No but in...But for the first time we're confronted with having, we've actually almost surprised ourselves... By suddenly.. Instead of looking in the mirror, the mirror literally dissolved and maybe that's what that glass was about. That metaphor.
G: And you‚re absolutely right. I was looking at the television just yesterday on the news and there was a person from a Muslim country and they were talking and they said Well you'll never understand because you're all Christian. And their assumption is still that the narrative in the West is ultimately a linear narrative that has an author, as you were saying, that its an unfolding linear story; that if you‚re not Muslim, you must be Christian, and that your whole behaviour is based upon Christian dogma, because theirs is based on their dogma. So obviously that‚s the problem. The problem isn‚t that at all. The problem is we‚re, in their sense, amoral. We don't care! Most people over hear DON'T CARE what they are, they don't label themselves Christians‚ or anything else. The majority in the West are irreligious. They don‚t have a faith. I'm not saying that's a good thing, but they don't. They're a godless people. And in a sense, maybe, God is supposed to be the author in the past, that was the ultimate author. D: Right! G: Well, guess what? We always said we wanted to challenge and be like god-- [now] we‚ve just fallen, you know? [laughs] It‚s as if the story of the fallen's just happened. I was thinking about that too.
G: In a way, we've just got, we just started to reap the rewards of having decided to ask the questions.
D: Right. But you know you and I used to joke about, you know after we saw Robert Anton Wilson, who pretty much believes in nothing, we used to say Oh well, that‚s door number one? Okay, now what‚s behind Door Number Two?
G: [agreeing] Oh yeah...
D: I've gone back now and thought, Well, what if? You know, what if the painful truth really is, that we are a fungus on a rock crawling through cold and meaningless space.
D: To me--
G: [laughs] Oh, I think about that every day! D--it doesn't really matter, because just as easily as the idea that God could've created us with meaning, is the possibility that just as life emerged from this cold and meaningless rock, that Meaning can now emerge...from us!