Yay!: A Moving Times Supplement (An In-Depth Examination of My Own Mag)

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

In 1963, the Times Literary Supplement announced the arrival of Dead Fingers Talk with a cry of Ugh! Later that year, Burroughs received the first issue of My Own Mag and responded with a resounding, Yes! In Jeff Nuttall, Burroughs found a fellow traveler who delighted in tweaking the noses of the establishment. For the next two years, they created some of the most interesting work of the mimeo revolution.

MOM 3Here on RealityStudio, I have attempted to cobble together a history of My Own Mag with bibliographies, chronologies, essays, personal histories and, of course, images. The first issue of Mimeo Mimeo featured a 2500 word essay on My Own Mag that was distilled from a larger 8000+ word mishmash of notes and commentary delving deep into Burroughs’ work in My Own Mag. I have hammered this material into readable shape and offer it here as a supplement to the material already available on RealityStudio.

Some of the material will be familiar to those who have read the various essays on RealityStudio or Mimeo Mimeo, but there is also lots of new information as well. The new sections include close examinations of mimeography as a process and how it shaped and influenced the work of Burroughs and Nuttall. As far as I know, linkages of this type are in the early stages. Stenciling, inking, cross-hatching, paper size, printing techniques, and typography are all put under the microscope, particularly in The Dutch Schultz Issue in My Own Mag No. 13. In addition, links have been made beginning the process of connecting My Own Mag to underground comix and graphic novels, particularly the collaborations with Malcolm Mc Neill.

This is by no means a final statement on My Own Mag. It is in fact a request for information. If any readers have further insights or corrections, please past them along. I would be particularly interested in hearing from anybody with a working knowledge of the mimeograph process. Any details on other mimeos, like TISH, C: A Journal of Poetry, Fuck You, a magazine of the arts, Floating Bear, particularly on how they were created and how that process influenced the content would be appreciated. My knowledge of mimeo is second hand and far from fully developed, and I would love to build on it. Please forward any articles, manuals, or other material on mimeo that you might have.

Desperate Times

Jeff Nuttall published the first issue of My Own Mag in a time of desperation. Despite the excitement generated by the Beatles and the development of an active youth culture, England in 1963 had yet to awaken into the full bloom of the Swinging London of 1966. Occupationally, Nuttall was stuck in a rut teaching at an English art school. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), in which Nuttall staked his political hopes, had stalled. The marches and speeches of CND seemed like dull pantomimes forcing Nuttall to frustration over their lack of relevance and effectiveness. Artistically, Nuttall’s plans for an art installation were stillborn, and the participating artists could only twiddle their thumbs until the logistics of what Nuttall suspected would be a dull show could be resolved.

Nuttall, Bomb CultureNuttall decided to start a mimeo literary magazine. Nuttall commandeered the art school’s mimeo machine. Bob Cobbing, a fellow poet and publisher, taught French at the school. He provided technical know-how and encouragement. The first issue was a mere three pages, but it packed a wallop. In Bomb Culture, Nuttall’s memoir / study of the underground, he writes, “The magazine, even those first three pages, used nausea and flagrant scatology as a violent means of presentation. I wanted to make the fundamental condition of living unavoidable by nausea. You can’t pretend it’s not there if you are throwing up as a result.” Nuttall mailed the first issue to roughly twenty people he thought might be interested, including Anselm Hollo, Ray Gosling, and William Burroughs. The inclusion of Burroughs testifies to his legendary status in the underground. In the 1960s, he was hardly “el hombre invisible” — he appeared seemingly everywhere on the little magazine circuit. Like Charles Bukowski, Burroughs first gained an audience from the alternative publishing scene, and he remained extremely active there even as his reputation grew in the 1960s.

In 1963-1964, William Burroughs stood at a crossroads as well. In the foreword to his bibliography, Burroughs writes, “1964… No. 4 Calle Larachi, Tangier. My Own Mag… smell of kerosene heaters, hostile neighbors, stones thudding against the door. Jeff Nuttall sent me a copy of My Own Mag and asked me to contribute. I recall the delivery of the first copies to which I had contributed was heralded by a wooden top crashing through the skylight.” The activities at No. 4 Calle Larachi (drug use, homosexuality, the constant comings and goings of British and American expats) raised the ire of Burroughs’ Arab neighbors who proceeded to harass him on a daily basis. Burroughs wanted to escape from this desperate and potentially dangerous situation. In addition, Burroughs’ attempt to connect with his son Billy failed in late 1963. Burroughs sent his son back to the States to live with his grandparents, so he was exhausted and upset by the experience. The first issue of My Own Mag provided some much needed comic relief. Burroughs inscribed the first issue of My Own Mag from collector Nelson Lyon’s complete set that was put on the block by Pacific Book Auctions in 1999, “this rare item My Own Mag cheered me when I was under siege in Tangier.”

Creatively, Burroughs also needed cheering. Grove Press planned to publish the final cut-up novel, Nova Express, in hardcover, in the summer of 1964. Burroughs realized that the cut-up novel was something of a dead end, but maybe more distressing was the fact that he had run out of usable source material. The seemingly endless Word Horde of notes, manuscripts, and drafts that resulted from the writing and editing of Naked Lunch was exhausted with the upcoming publication of Nova Express. The Yage Letters was published by City Lights in 1963, so Burroughs had mined his correspondence. Most of the letters to Ginsberg were too painful and too personal to publish. Similarly, Queer, Burroughs’ other manuscript from the 1950s, still cut too close to the bone for Burroughs to think of bringing it before the public eye. Burroughs needed a new direction.

On a more positive note, Burroughs for the first time in his life was in a secure financial position of his own creation. He received a sizable advance from Grove Press for Nova Express. In addition, Grove Press, unlike Olympia Press, provided royalty checks on a regular basis. These revenue streams provided him with the freedom to pursue the non-commercial cut-up to the fullest. Creatively, the cut-up provided a much needed outlet. As Burroughs realized, he just skimmed the surface of the technique’s possibilities in the cut-up novels.

MOM Issue 1What cheered Burroughs in that first issue of My Own Mag? In an editorial note on the cover, Nuttall writes, tongue firmly in cheek, My Own Mag “will appear every now and then… will be devoted to creations of unparalleled nobility… morals of unquestionable soundness high literary standards of traditional finesse. No dirty pitchers.” Nuttall’s flaunting of good taste, his sense of humor, and his willingness to toy with obscenity laws appealed to Burroughs. Burroughs saw in Nuttall a kindred spirit, and more importantly, a kindred spirit with a literary outlet.

Possibly, Burroughs was also drawn to the fact that My Own Mag was a mimeo production. The idea of taking the means of production into one’s own hands and out of the clutches of the established publishing industry went in line with Burroughs’ feelings towards the mainstream media. Burroughs understood the power of the corporate press, represented by the Time-Life Empire, to manipulate word and images. In the essay “Ten Years and a Billion Dollars,” Burroughs writes, “Journalism is closer to the magical origin of writing than most fiction. That is, at least a few operators in this area — people like the late Hearst and Henry Luce — certainly quite clearly and consciously saw journalism as a magical operation designed to bring about certain effect. And the technology is the technology of magic; in the case of newspapers and magazines, mostly black magic.” Yet as Burroughs wrote in the Talking Asshole section of Naked Lunch, “there’s always a space between, in popular songs and Grade-B movies, giving away the basic American rottenness.” The mimeograph revolution served as a “space between” or “technology of magic” that could foster oppositional sentiment. In a letter to Nuttall reprinted in My Own Mag 9, Burroughs writes, “Well I hope pamphlet publication gets going have always yearned nostalgically for the old pamphlet days when writers fought in the streets.” Alternative publishing dovetailed with Burroughs’ ideas of smashing control.

Nuttall understood the creative and ideological possibilities of the mimeograph, and he drew attention to the mimeo process from the earliest issues of My Own Mag. Issue 1 is subtitled “a Super Absorbant (sic) periodical.” Images of Kleenex and toilet paper come to mind. The link to a tampon is especially strong given the cover illustration of a woman’s vagina and the text referencing childbirth. The idea of My Own Mag as a disposable, inconsequential “rag” is foregrounded. Yet “super absorbant” (sic) also refers to the process of transferring ink to paper that was such a delicate art with the mimeograph.

MOM 2The foregrounding of the mimeo process continues in issue two subtitled “an odour-fill periodical.” The reference to toilet paper dovetails with the scatological impulse of Nuttall. The title conveys the impression that the contents of the magazine are “shit.” But My Own Mag is good shit, as in a powerful drug. The subtitle plays on the distinctive odor of mimeo and ditto machines. In his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson writes, “Of all the tragic losses since the 1960s, mimeograph paper may be the greatest. With its rapturously fragrant, sweetly aromatic pale blue ink, mimeograph paper was literally intoxicating. Two deep drafts of a freshly run-off mimeograph worksheet and I would be the education system’s willing slave for up to seven hours.” Bryson’s memory is a little fuzzy as he is probably confusing the spirit duplicator or the rexograph with the mimeograph. Nuttall used a Roneo or Gestetner mimeograph machine that utilized stencils. Like the urban legend of smoking banana peels, the myth of the intoxicating smell of the mimeograph is strong. A Google search of “smell of mimeograph” highlights its power of association. For many, the mimeograph triggers trips back to childhood and school. Nuttall working and printing in an art school would be well aware of the odors surrounding various primitive print technologies as well as the myths surrounding them.

The idea of printing cut-ups in a mimeo must have appealed to Burroughs. Burroughs frequently suggests that the cut-up causes a derangement of the senses and possesses intoxicating qualities. Interestingly, Burroughs cut up the writings of Rimbaud in the early experiments included in Minutes to Go. In The Third Mind, Brion Gysin links reading cut-ups with getting high. In “Cut-ups: A Project for Disastrous Success,” Gysin writes, “I hope you may discover this unusual pleasure for yourselves — this short-lived but unique intoxication.” In the same essay, he equates the permutation poems with an ether experience. These examples show that Burroughs would be receptive to the druggy in-jokes presented in My Own Mag and may have seen mimeo as uniquely suited for publishing cut-ups.

There is a tenuous link between the mimeograph and Burroughs’ family history. Any business machine, such as a mimeograph, computer, or typewriter, conjures up images of Burroughs’ grandfather William Seward Burroughs, the inventor of the adding machine. In The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of the Typewriter, Darren Wershler-Henry writes of the importance of the typewriter to Burroughs as a writer. Wershler-Henry writes, “With a family tree entwined so explicitly with the history of the technology of typewriting, it’s not surprising that William S. Burroughs uses the typewriter as a metaphor for God.” Burroughs realized that he could use the typewriter as a weapon against the corporate system and against his family legacy. Both were represented by Burroughs Adding Machine Company. Although Burroughs Corporation did not manufacture mimeograph machines, the adding machine resides in the same family of machines as the mimeograph: a combination of typewriter and printing technologies. The mimeograph is another business machine that Burroughs could use as a force for rebellion. 

My Own Mag Issues 1-4: The Cut-up Method as Feeling Out Process

MOM 2, BurroughsBurroughs’ first appearance in My Own Mag gives little indication of just how far Nuttall and he would explore the boundaries of mimeo and cut-up in the later issues. In issue two, Burroughs contributes a short cut-up letter expressing his interest in My Own Mag. The cut-up in the form of a letter appears in Burroughs’ correspondence soon after the method’s rediscovery by Gysin in the late summer of 1959. The publication of the Yage Letters by City Lights in 1963 brought the epistolatory cut-up before the eyes of the public. Prior to 1963, bits and pieces of the Yage Letters appeared in little magazines, like Floating Bear. Like the cut-up novels, the cut-up letter did not radically experiment with the page as a field. The format was limited to the standard block of the paragraph.

Around the publication of the second issue, Nuttall and Burroughs met each other. In Bomb Culture, Nuttall writes, “Burroughs sent his first testing letters from Tangier. In the bitter winter of 1964, he came to London.” Nuttall downplays this meeting and highlights the awkwardness of it. As Nuttall describes it, he got drunk at the local pub with Burroughs and Tony Balch. Conversation faltered with Nuttall feeling left out. Nuttall stumbled home somewhat embarrassed and disappointed.

The meeting between Nuttall and Burroughs must have made more of an impression on both men than Nuttall lets on. It served as a feeling-out session for further collaborations. The face-to-face solidified the meeting of the minds that had occurred through the mail. The Special Tangier issue of My Own Mag followed in May 1964. As discussed below, only in issue 5 does My Own Mag hit its stride and does the Burroughs / Nuttall collaboration hit the ground running. The Special Tangiers Issue features Burroughs on the cover thus announcing the fact that Burroughs was a focus of and major contributor to the magazine. Likewise, Burroughs becomes a character in the “Perfume Jack” comic strip that runs through many issues of My Own Mag. Clearly, Burroughs made an impression on Nuttall.

MOM 4, BurroughsThe feeling was mutual as Burroughs saw in Nuttall a new source of inspiration for the cut-up other than Brion Gysin. Issue four of My Own Mag contains a grid experiment. Burroughs took the idea of the grid from Brion Gysin. Gysin’s permutation poems and his calligraphy paintings explored the grid in detail. Burroughs incorporates visual elements by drawing lines and inscribing the piece. In creating the skin for the mimeo machine, Nuttall probably forged Burroughs’ handwriting. Nuttall responded to Burroughs’ grid experiment in issue 6 with the cut-up issue. The format of Issue 6, like “Warning Warning Warning Warning,” is a grid. Ports of Entry, Robert Sobieszek’s book on William Burroughs and his achievement as an artist, mentions “Warning Warning Warning Warning” and My Own Mag in its opening chapter. This chapter situates the cut-up in a poetic tradition including Mallarmé, the surrealists and Dadaists, Fluxus and concrete poetry. The book provides a picture of Burroughs’ grid cut-up that was a manuscript page from The Third Mind that Burroughs and Gysin began work on in New York City in 1965. Jackson MacLow and composer John Cage worked with grids in the mid-1960s. The grid allowed the element of chance into composition and created complex guidelines for reading or writing a poem that decreased authorial control. The appeal to Burroughs is obvious. 

Like the letter, the grid format represents an early phase of Burroughs’ experimentation with the cut-up. Since his discovery of the method in the Beat Hotel, Gysin had been the major influence in Burroughs’ pursuit of the cut-up. However given Gysin’s artistic background it is strange that the early cut-ups highlighted textuality and ignored the visual aspects that could be achieved via collage and assemblege. So it could be argued that the cut-up experiment had reached an impasse as it had been published up to January 1964. The presentation of the cut-up stagnated in rigid formats like blocks of text. Burroughs’ invitation to cut-up and read the grid “any which way” suggested an escape that needed further exploration. Nuttall and My Own Mag provided another way out.

My Own Mag Issues 5-10: The Third Mind of Nuttall and Burroughs and the three-column and newspaper formats

MOM 5, BurroughsWhile much has been made of Gysin’s creative impact on Burroughs, particularly regarding the cut-up method, little has been written on the relationship between Nuttall and Burroughs. Nuttall provided the publishing outlet, the encouragement and the collaboration Burroughs needed for the next phase of the cut-up. Like Gysin, Nuttall helped stir up the creative impulse in Burroughs. In the winter of 1964, around the time Nuttall and Burroughs met, the cut-up entered a new stage of development. As Barry Miles discusses in the final chapter of El Hombre Invisible, Burroughs began experimenting with the three-column format in February 1964. Miles writes, “At the same time as working on the photographic collages, Bill began to develop the three-column technique he had begun to experiment with in New York in the sixties. He began to produce texts which explored this fact and, as usual, did a great number of them. He started to keep a diary in February 1964 which exploited the three-column technique. If he were to take a trip to Gibraltar, which he did frequently, he would write an account of the trip in one column, just like a normal diary: what was said by the officials, what he overheard on the airplane. The next column would present his memories… The third column would be his reading column, quoting from the books he had with him.” Scarcely three months later in May, Nuttall published the first of these efforts.

It should be noted that the three column layout did not appear first in My Own Mag. In 1961 in Outsider 1, a section of the Soft Machine was structured in three columns but this may have been the work of the editor, Jon Edgar Webb. The format was used again in Floating Bear 24. Again this could have been Leroi Jones and Diane Di Prima’s decision, not Burroughs’. The work featured in the Outsider and Floating Bear is, in essence, poetry. The work is in line with the poetic cut-ups presented in Minutes to Go and The Exterminator.  

In Issue 2 of My Own Mag, Nuttall presented a text of his own in three-column format. This may have inspired Burroughs to explore the format in earnest. In The Special Tangier Issue (issue 5), Burroughs’ first three column piece, The Moving Times, appears. In its simplest form, this format, as used in The Outsider and Floating Bear, is another form of the grid. In The Moving Times, Burroughs gives directions on how to read the piece, guiding readers from column to column. The piece could also be read across the three columns. This crisscross and crossover effect represents a derivation of the “read any which way” of “Warning Warning Warning Warning.” The similarities to the grid in issue 4 are quite noticeable.  

MOM 5, BurroughsYet The Moving Times provides a twist that Burroughs would explore for over a year. Burroughs links the three-column cut-up to the format, content, and culture of the newspaper as well as to the act of reading a newspaper. In The Moving Times in issue 5, the mock newspaper is simple in layout. There are no images and the format mimics the front page of a daily paper like the New York Times. In Bomb Culture, Nuttall spends a few pages describing this new phase in Burroughs’ development. Clearly, Nuttall realized that the material Burroughs sent for the Tangier Issue marked an exciting new path creatively for Burroughs. Other readers noted the importance of this issue as well. Burroughs and Nuttall received responses from Carl Weissner, Claude Pélieu and Mary Beach after this issue. This correspondence and the resulting collaborations would form the closest thing to a movement or school relating to the cut-up. 

The development of the three-column technique and its link to the newspaper cannot be separated from Burroughs’ evolving relationship with My Own Mag and Nuttall. Seeing the possibilities of the mimeograph and Nuttall’s obvious talent with mimeo layout may have encouraged Burroughs to explore this avenue further. In addition, My Own Mag radicalizes and parodies the form and content of the long tradition of boy’s magazines in Great Britain. Periodicals, like Gem and Magnet, provided easily digested fantasies about public and private school adventures of a cast of easily recognizable stock figures. The falsity of these fantasies and their repressive nature must have been on Nuttall’s mind as he taught in art school. In 1939, George Orwell wrote an essay analyzing these magazines. He mentions that they were stuck in a fantasy vision of England in 1910 oblivious to the changes in the world order. At the end of the essay, Orwell wonders why a left leaning boy’s weekly never developed. Nuttall provides that weekly. Nuttall’s title, My Own Mag, refers to actual titles of boy’s weeklies. Boy’s Own Paper and Boy’s Own Magazine are two examples. In the two copies of issue 12 that I have studied, Nuttall attaches two pages of Our Own Magazine, a moralistic “penny dreadful” from the Victorian Era. Burroughs may have seen this connection and was encouraged to create a cut-up newspaper. In pieces like The Moving Times, Burroughs radicalized and parodied the mainstream newspapers particularly the New York Times.  

Burroughs linked the three-column format with the act of reading a newspaper. In an interview published in Paris Review in 1965, Burroughs states, “[C]ut-ups make explicit a psychosensory process that is going on all the time anyway. Somebody is reading a newspaper, and his eye follows the column in the proper Aristotelian manner, one idea and sentence at a time. But subliminally he is reading the columns on either side and is aware of the person sitting next to him. That’s a cut-up.” Experimenting with the newspaper as form and reading activity refers back to the discovery of the cut-up technique. Tristan Tzara, the surrealist who first discovered the cut-up, writes, “To make a dadaist poem. Take a newspaper. Take a pair of scissors.” In the late summer of 1959, Gysin rediscovered the technique by slicing into some newspapers that were behind a canvas he was working on. So in a sense, the next stage of the cut-up as a form was always present, but Burroughs relationship with Nuttall and My Own Mag may have helped encourage this development.

MOM 11Burroughs also incorporated the text of newspapers into his My Own Mag cut-ups. As Davis Schneiderman explores in a draft research paper, the three-column experiments (for example, The Coldspring News, Moving Times) featured in My Own Mag and other places, like The Spero, all utilized the same front page of the New York Times from September 17, 1899. Numerous postcards mailed to Nuttall may reveal why. The postcards are postmarked from Gibraltar and feature scenes from the area. As Miles points out, Gibraltar was an area of fascination for Burroughs and a key source for the new direction the cut-ups were taking. One postcard in particular makes reference to the Southport Gates inscribed with the date 1899 and the cut-up experiment The Coldspring News (Nov 21, 1964: “Old arch there with The Coldspring News. [Date on the arch is 1899]“). Burroughs viewed Gibraltar as a magical place, a portal allowing travel in time and space. The Southport Gates symbolized this point of intersection. The cut-up recreated such points repeatedly. Possibly, Burroughs chose an edition of the New York Times from 1899 due to the date inscription on the Southport Gates in Gibraltar. 

No matter how the idea of the newspaper format first developed, Burroughs and Nuttall understood that they were providing an underground newspaper even if such periodical had yet to become commonplace in 1964. One of the Burroughs supplements was called The Burrough. The reference to a burrow or burrowing highlights the underground nature of the magazine as well as the ability of the cut-up to uncover or dig up the hidden messages within the word and image of the mainstream media. The Burrough also conjures up the idea of an intelligence bureau. Burroughs often viewed himself as an agent operating against the forces of control. 

For quite some time, Burroughs flirted with the idea of editing an alternative publication. In 1958, he and Gregory Corso considered a magazine called Interpol. The editorial policy of Interpol and My Own Mag (as demonstrated by Nuttall’s commentary in the first two issues and Burroughs / Corso’s letter of 1958) share a concern with the irreverent and the obscene as well as providing an alternative regulator to the dominant power structure and media. The Burrough supplement in My Own Mag with its link to policing organizations (The Bureau) is Burroughs’ resurrection of the dormant Interpol concept. (See my pieces on Apomorphine and Mimeo and on Interpol for a fuller discussion of these ideas.) By 1964, the cut-up was the new drug that fascinated Burroughs, and My Own Mag provided the forum to explore this antidote to word addiction.  

MOM 5, CoverNuttall’s choice of paper also creates associations with newspapers that tie into Burroughs’concepts of the mainstream media. For example, Nuttall utilized colored construction paper for most issues of My Own Mag. Take the Tangier Issue with Burroughs on the cover. The cover is green with Burroughs mimeo’d wearing a fez and smoking a cigarette. The green cover conjures up images of marijuana which plays in perfectly with Tangiers and Burroughs. Yet Burroughs’ cut-ups, particularly the mock newspaper ones, are usually printed on off-white or yellowed paper. In the choice of paper, Nuttall attempts to recreate the look and feel of a newspaper. The suggestion of old and freshly printed newsprint is strong given the choice of colored paper elsewhere. Given Burroughs’ preoccupation with the Hearst Empire and his control of word and image, the paper allows Burroughs and Nuttall to present a counter version of “yellow journalism” in their underground paper. The idea of a Burroughs “edited” supplement developed more fully as My Own Mag pushed on. Burroughs and Nuttall fully explore the possibilities of the newspaper as a form to be complicated and parodied. Articles, comic strips, editorial pages, letters to the editor, Dear Abby style advice columns are all utilized by Burroughs and Nuttall.  

In 1965, Burroughs lent the name The Moving Times to a poster for Alexander Trocchi’s Sigma Project. This project represented Trocchi’s take on the philosophies and politics of the Situationists. Sigma and the Situationists had strong ties to the community around Nuttall. The Sigma Project members and their addresses appear in the magazine. In addition, My Own Mag and the supplements edited by Burroughs can be viewed as examples of detournment, the primary weapon of the Situationists. Sigma is also referred to in the Perfume Jack comic strip where it is linked to the kite in Burroughs’ cut-up “Over the Last Skyscrapers a Silent Kite.” The Moving Times poster was designed to be hung in the London subway and serve as a sounding board for the Project. This use of the broadside goes back to its early roots as a means to disseminate information on the side of barns and the like. On the broadside, there is a small blurb for My Own Mag that states, “Read realnews in My Own Mag…” This highlights the fact that My Own Mag was viewed as an alternative newspaper and an underground news source. Clearly, Burroughs developed and expanded the three-column format at a rapid rate from issue Five. The progression of “The Moving Times” from a simple three column cut-up to a My Own Mag supplement to a broadside disseminating information for a proposed international underground movement testifies to Burroughs’ increasing ambition for the cut-up technique as well as his belief in the cut-up’s revolutionary nature.

A My Own Mag Supplement: A Digression on Nuttall as Editor and Mimeographer

Postcard from Burroughs to NuttallThe editorial relationship between Burroughs and Nuttall deserves some exploration. As the scant correspondence I have reviewed shows, Burroughs was allowed free reign and basically submitted to Nuttall his latest cut-up works straight from the typewriter. Nuttall was open to anything. Burroughs’ editorial comments were short and not very detailed so Nuttall had a lot of leeway in how he wanted to present the manuscript. Nuttall retyped Burroughs’ manuscripts onto the mimeo skins. In some cases, Burroughs encouraged Nuttall to insert images as he saw fit. (April 6, 1964: “By all means, put your drawings in ‘any picture’ spaces.”) In issue 7, Nuttall drew the images that accompany Burroughs’ cut-up. In addition, Nuttall stenciled the format for the grid / scrapbook / three-column experiment of issue 11. This highlights the collaborative nature of Burroughs’ working method as well as his desire to subvert authorial control. 

According to Carl Weissner, Burroughs trusted Nuttall completely and allowed Nuttall to copy his signature and handwriting (see issue 11 and issue 4). These “forgeries” are uncredited. I hesitate to describe this as forgery as it does not get to the heart of the collaborative nature of the Nuttall / Burroughs relationship and has a negative connotation. Yet the idea of forgery must have appealed to Burroughs familiar as he was to forging the signature of croakers on phony scripts in drugstores.

MOM 15For example, in issue 15, we can see the transformation of a Burroughs’ manuscript to the pages of My Own Mag. “WB Talking” and “Gas Girls” show that Nuttall possessed a very light editorial hand. I have not done a word-by-word analysis but the basic format of the piece is unaltered and I would suspect the text to be unchanged as well. Yet as these manuscript pages show, Burroughs incorporated color into his manuscripts. The New York Times archives have a page from the “Dutch Schultz” cut-up that appeared in Issue 13. Burroughs painted on the manuscript pages. The color and the brushwork on these pieces remind me of the later artwork painted on manila folders. These later works appear every so often on eBay. In any case, the manuscripts for the later My Own Mags merge the three-column cut-up with abstract painting. Burroughs’ scrapbooks of the period are full of these experiments joining the visual and the textual. Given the limits of mimeo, Nuttall could not faithfully reproduce the full visual nature of Burroughs’ work of this period, yet the effort to recreate all the elements of the manuscript is admirable. The later issues of My Own Mag provide as detailed a look into Burroughs’ exploration of the visual implications of the cut-up as was available for years until Burroughs’ artwork was revisited in exhibitions and catalogs, like Ports of Entry. 

Nuttall’s manipulation of stencils and the mimeograph deserve special mention here. One of the pleasures of My Own Mag is its physical appearance. Nuttall is wholly responsible for that. His artwork is intricate, funny, and extremely skillful given the limitations of the technology. In a recent book entitled, da levy and the mimeograph revolution, mimeograph techniques are studied in detail. levy’s work with its blobs, its acknowledgement of the physical nature of ink, its superimpositions, and its fading brings to the fore the inking process in mimeo. This is described as “dirty” mimeo. Such work reminds me of Abstract Expressionist and Pop techniques. I am thinking of levy’s Scarab Poems and “AGAIn? Yur primer cord is showing.” The solid band of ink of “AGAIn?” reminds me of a mimeo Rothko, if Rothko incorporated text in his painting. There are splashes of ink and blots like in the work of Jackson Pollock. The superimpositions, fading of text and image, and the failure to re-ink calls to mind Warhol’s Marilyns of the early 1960s where such affects bring to mind mortality, impermanence, transitoriness.

MOM 9Nuttall stained his magazine (Issue 9) but I do not get the same flashes from his work. Nuttall’s staining is not done with black ink. The yellow / green stain suggests vomit or urine, not paint. The stain also suggests apomorphine as apomorphine stains green. Therefore the cover of issue 9 highlights Burroughs’ view of mimeo as regulator. (See my article on apomorphine and mimeo for a fuller discussion of this idea.) In The Apomorphine Times of issue 12 of My Own Mag, Burroughs lamented that The Burrough only lasted for two issues. He writes that “not even the generous injections of the green and ready could keep it afloat for more than two issues…” For years, I assumed that the green and ready referred to the influx of young writers, like Carl Weissner and Claude Pélieu, drawn to the cut-ups. It does on one level but it also refers to apomorphine. In issue 9, Nuttall cut-out the bottom corner revealing a green page underneath. The green stain and the cut-out could represent the injection of the “green and ready” that Burroughs talks about in The Apomorphine Times. Burroughs’ quote suggests that not even his apomorphine texts of the period could prevent the eventual demise of his mags and My Own Mag itself. This highlights Burroughs’ awareness of the fleeting nature of mimeo. The cover of issue 9 aptly demonstrates the playful interplay between Burroughs and Nuttall as well as the serious ideologies behind such touches. Everything had a purpose in the construction of My Own Mag.

The general fading and illegibility of the text in My Own Mag I take to be “the standard limitations of mimeo” and not an intended and manipulated affect. Nuttall appears less concerned with making his typography illegible. This is not to say that he does not explore the possibilities of typography, script and the technologies of writing (for example an examination of Nuttall’s use of handwriting or his forging of Burroughs’ hand proves that). Instead, Nuttall does not explore creative inking. Unlike levy, Nuttall does not treat printer’s ink like paint. Instead he chooses to add the element of disruption with the use of scissors, the razor, fire or collage. Nuttall attacks the mimeo page like the surface of a canvas. The use of the scissors or razor by Nuttall parallels and comments on the cut-up method that so interested him. The visuals in My Own Mag must have been difficult to create with a stencil. The visuals, like the comic strips and covers in My Own Mag, are meant to come through clearly, maybe an example of what is called “clean” mimeo. Nuttall strives for clarity in his inking. The draftsman, not the painter, in Nuttall comes to the fore.

Nuttall’s concern with the act of stenciling is not surprising given his creative preoccupations. Unlike levy, Nuttall ignores many possibilities inherent in inking, but he explores in great and painstaking detail the act of stenciling. The layouts of his pages are amazing. Clearly Nuttall took care and satisfaction in the cutting of stencils. The fascination with the cut and the creative power of the act of cutting fascinates Nuttall. The act of creating mimeo with stencil or typewriter allowed Nuttall another means to explore the cut-up. Like the scrapbooks Burroughs experimented with at the time, the mimeograph merges word and image in a single creative process.

Tibetan StroboscopeI would say that Burroughs preferred clean mimeo. Compare Burroughs more visual cut-ups to levy’s Tibetan Stroboscope. Both writers utilize elements of typewritten text and collage, but levy as we have seen deliberately makes his text illegible. Burroughs did not manipulate illegibility in his manuscripts in order to further his creative ideas. Burroughs painted his manuscripts and used colored paper but the text remains of primary importance and always shows through. Enjambment, a form of cutting, distorts text and meaning, but typography remains clear and sacred. Proof of this is his reaction to Ed Sanders work on APO-33. Burroughs objected to the imperfections of this production and felt they were not appropriate. This says much about Burroughs as an established and commercial writer. Imperfect mimeo and poor layout reflected poorly on Burroughs’ reputation as a professional. levy on the other hand embraced this seeming lack of skill in order to challenge the reader’s expectations and to suggest elements of censorship and miscommunication. Burroughs desired an audience and always stressed the communicative aspects of the cut-up. They were never intended to be unreadable.

For an author so intimately concerned with and aware of control, Burroughs greatly valued order. He consistently goes back to the authorial control he exercises over the cut-up even as he sees its disruptive potential. He craved order as he feared it. Interestingly in interviews and essays, Burroughs always stresses the role of the author in editing and selecting the results of cut-ups. The primacy of the author remains. In Issue 11, Burroughs writes, “For God’s Sake, J.N. date your issues.” Despite the time travel aspects of the cut up he championed, Burroughs also liked to be locked in time and space.

My Own Mag Issues 11-13: From the three-column format to the third dimension of the scrapbook

In Issue 11, Nuttall and Burroughs goes even further in their exploration of the cut-up. Burroughs’ frenzied experimentation added another layer to the three-column format. Miles writes, “It was in March 1964, when Bill and Ian were living at the rue Delacroix, that Bill began work on the scrapbooks. As usual, this was yet another extension of the cut-up technique.” In his developing article, Schneiderman writes about the practice of Grangerization or extra-illustration that was a British fad at the turn of the 20th Century. In issue 11, Nuttall begins stapling old magazine articles and illustrations to My Own Mag. These tip-ins are not reprinted using offset or mimeo. They are sliced out of old magazines and journals. The tip-ins differed from magazine to magazine. The issue in my possession contains an article on the abdomen. The issue on RealityStudio features a piece on astigmatism. Again issues regarding the original and the copy abound. As early as Issue 4, Nuttall tipped in additions to the magazine, but only in the later issues does this scrapbook element develop more fully.

MOM 11Interestingly, Nutall grangerizes with old medical journals and articles. Again this refers to Burroughs’ creative endeavors. Some of Burroughs’ contributions to My Own Mag at this time are letters to the editor of London newspapers defending Dr. Yerbury Dent. Dr. Dent “cured” Burroughs of heroin addiction using apomorphine in the 1950s. The inclusion of medical journals in My Own Mag mirrors Burroughs’ near obsession with the representation of drugs and drug addiction by the medical community. In fact, Burroughs’ first “magazine” appearance was in a medical journal, The British Journal of Addiction, edited by Dr. Dent. APO-33, a cut-up scrapbook Burroughs created at the same time as much of the material in My Own Mag, is in essence an alternative version of a medical journal or article. The act of complicating and parodying an established, authoritative form is familiar to Burroughs as we have seen. In the choice of the source material he selects for grangerizing, Nuttall brings into play Burroughs’ creative life from its beginnings to the most up to the minute cut-up experiments.

This new wrinkle introduced by Nuttall dovetails with the development of the cut-up by Burroughs in March 1964. Throughout the 1950s, Burroughs created scrapbooks that verged on book art. Ports of Entry provides some pictures and commentary on this aspect of Burroughs’ art career. Like the Gibraltar scrapbook mentioned above, this new direction merged the notebook / scrapbook format of the 1950s with the new three-column format. “The Dutch Schultz Special’ (Issue 13) is a prime example of this new work. Time and APO-33 are others. The three-column format now includes photographic images, sometimes taken by Burroughs himself, that comment on the text and provide points of intersection of time and space. The feel is more of a magazine than a newspaper.

MOM 6Back in Issue 6 of My Own Mag, Burroughs traced the format of page 40 of the September 13, 1963 issue of Time in order to create the layout for a cut-up. This issue of Time features a cover story on Communist China. Page 40 contains an article on humanizing Communism that focuses on Hungary. Communist China is something of an obsession for Burroughs. The single page in issue 6 would develop into an entire scrapbook. In Time published by C Press, Burroughs cuts-up and parodies the September 21, 1962 issue of Time Magazine that features a picture of Mao on the cover. By recreating these issues of Time, Burroughs draws attention to the media’s role in creating the Communist menace. Given Burroughs’ critical view of bureaucracy and the influence of the State in personal and political life, Communism must have been an interesting case study for his libertarian ideas. Burroughs’ creative and intellectual response to Commumism remains to be studied in full.

In response to Burroughs’ creation of a framework using Time in issue 6, Nuttall razors in frames allowing text from other pages to show through. This suggests the cut-up’s ability to alter one’s frame of reference or perception. Burroughs and Nuttall are very concerned with one’s ability to see clearly and cleansing the doors of perception. The inclusion of advertisments on Filtering in Time suggests a similar concept. Like drugs, the cut-up is a means to this end. This is brought home by Nuttall when he grangerizes an article on astigmatism to Issue 11 of My Own Mag on view at RealityStudio. Again it must be remembered that the tip-in differed in each copy of the magazine so other associations are possible and probable. In creating the magazine, Nuttall hammers home the idea of linking the cut-up with clarity of vision with clear inking, with cutting by slicing the page, razoring frames, or clipping articles, and with the act of stenciling.

MOM 13The Dutch Schultz Special (Issue 13) includes one of the finest reproductions of a Burroughs scrapbook until the color images in Port of Entry. Most people focus on Burroughs’ The Dead Star, but Issue 13 is a tour de force of mimeo by Nuttall. Take for instance the cover. The whole of this layout is immaculately designed. All the line drawing has all been done before the stencil is inserted into the typewriter. Another limitation was that it was impossible to draw cross-hatching — that is why all Nuttall’s shading is in sloping lines. There are two reasons for no cross-hatching:

1. There was every chance of tearing the skin and ruining the stencil.

2. If successful, there was every chance you’d get the black blobs as in striking letters like “o” or “b” too hard.

The image comments on Burroughs’ text. The headshot of Dutch Schultz is the most obvious instance of this, but the more interesting figure is the shadowy man beside Dutch. The figure represents “the third that walks beside you” that so fascinated Burroughs and frequently appeared in his writings. Typed into the image are the key numbers of the Burroughs mythology, like 23.

“The Dying Words of Perfume Jack” in issue 13 is another example of Nuttall’s consummate skill with the typewriter, stylus, and mimeograph. Nuttall’s text incorporates Burroughs’ writing by recycling his words, numbers and characters. This is more noticeable in “The Last Words of Dutch Schultz” in issue 12. Nutall suggests the three-column format. Here, the comic strip meets the newspaper. Nuttall’s presentation is as remarkable as Burroughs’ text. These late issues are some of the finest examples of the mimeo art ever published in a little magazine.

Burroughs, Dead StarInterestingly, issue 13 also draws attention to the limitation of mimeo. One of the most noticeable aspects of the issue is its size. It is the only one of 17 issues not foolscap. Why not? Nuttall was a very scrupulous editor, but he was confined by the foolscap size of the duplicator. He re-typed every article with the most scrupulous care, but it had to fit within the format. So if you compare what’s in Issue 17 — the last — with the Pélieu and Weissner manuscripts this becomes clear. The manuscripts were extended out to foolscap by attaching extra paper to the bottom. In issue 13, the Burroughs contribution is on a strange size which is just less than A4 290mm x 208mm — A4 is 297mm x 210mm. Nuttall’s parts on duplicator stock are 290mm x 202mm. The pages besides The Dead Star are probably cut down foolscap paper. This means that Nuttall designed the whole issue to Burroughs’ size. The reason The Dead Star is a different size was because Nuttall did not create it himself using the mimeograph. The piece was probably published professionally using offset lithography. Given the fact that the paper used for The Dead Star was not commonly used in Great Britain at the time, Burroughs may have commissioned the printing himself during his stay in New York City. The C Press version of Time looks and feels very similar to The Dead Star. According to Ron Padgett, Time was published professionally by offset at Fleetwood Printing Services. The Dead Star could have been done by the same printer and then mailed by Burroughs to Nuttall in Great Britain.

Why offset? Mimeo could not fully capture the visual complexity of Burroughs’ scrapbooks. Small touches like the grid of the balance sheets on which Burroughs composed The Dead Star were difficult to reproduce on mimeo. Nuttall used every technique at his disposal to comment on and reproduce the scrapbook and the ideology behind it. The meticulous reproduction of a scrapbook page in issue 11 is but one example of this. But in the introductory note to that cut-up, Burroughs demanded that Nuttall date his issues. Clearly, Burroughs was bothered with the lack of order in Nuttall’s editing even though Nuttall stressed clarity in his use of mimeo. Possibly given the problems with the Fuck You version of APO-33, Burroughs demanded an exact reproduction of The Dead Star.

Burroughs realized that his scrapbook experiments needed the resources of a larger, more connected publisher. Through his stay in NYC in 1965, Burroughs with Brion Gysin worked on the manuscript for The Third Mind. As Burroughs and Gysin envisioned it this treatise / art book on the cut-up method would test the boundaries of traditional publishing in much the same way Nuttall challenged and extended mimeo. In 1970, Grove Press intended to issue a lavish production for the art market retailing at $10. Publication stalled as the book proved too expensive. In addition the book proved too difficult for Grove even in a high-end format. The Third Mind was finally published in 1978, but it was a shadow of the project envisioned in the 1960s.

My Own Mag Issues 14-17 and beyond: Where do we go from here?

MOM 14, WeissnerParadoxically the most famous, most collectible issue of My Own Mag, The Dutch Schultz Special, published in August 1965 signaled the beginning of the end of the Nuttall / Burroughs partnership. In September 1965 Burroughs arrived at Gatwick Airport for what would prove to be an extended stay in London. Maybe the close proximity to Nuttall dulled the keen edge of their correspondence. The magazine began to appear less frequently and the cohesiveness of the magazine began to unravel. The interplay between Burroughs and Nuttall that made the magazine so special had played out. Burroughs did not appear in the last two issues and only briefly in issues 14 and 15. In the later issues, the Moving Times begins to function like a magazine within the magazine. Material comes not just from Burroughs. This is the Third Mind in action as Burroughs’ work diminishes in the magazine and the cut-up work of his collaborators takes over. Burroughs incorporates his correspondence into Moving Times. Likewise, Weissner cuts up Burroughs’ work and letters to form new material. A handwritten note by Burroughs to Nuttall provides evidence of his excitement over this new correspondence. In the note which is part of the 60s archive in Robert Bank’s possession, Burroughs encouraged Nuttall to contact Weissner and publish him. Nuttall followed Burroughs’ advice, and My Own Mag published Weissner in the late issues. See Robert Bank’s index of contributors. Nuttall felt the pull of other projects, such as Bomb Culture, his pioneering study of the international underground. My Own Mag ended with Issue 17 in September 1966.

With the Dutch Schultz Special, Burroughs reached the height of his achievement in the little magazine published cut-ups, but in doing so he exhausted the possibilities of mimeo as a medium. There was a need for a machine beyond the mimeograph and the typewriter. Issue 15 demonstrates another direction in Burroughs’ thought: the tape recorder. The “Subliminal Kid” piece, like the longer “Invisible Generation,” shows Burroughs’ high hopes for the latest in recording technology to again subvert control and authority. Burroughs’ movement in this direction probably had something to do with the feedback and correspondence he was having with Carl Weissner as well as the difficulty in reproducing his manuscripts. As I mentioned earlier after the Tangier Issue, Burroughs began to get some response from around the world in the persons of Weissner, Claude Pélieu and Mary Beach. This had the makings of a cut-up movement. Weissner would publish Burroughs’ tape experiments in Klacto. Burroughs explored film in this period as well with Tony Balch.

The direction of Burroughs’ work for the rest of the 1960s was foreshadowed in the pages of My Own Mag. Burroughs’ most sustained work during his London period was a monthly column in the men’s magazine Mayfair. The idea of Burroughs as a talking head with regular column starts with his work in My Own Mag. Increasingly, Burroughs appears in underground newspapers commenting on the issues of the day. His work floated over the Underground Press Syndicate wire with the same pieces running in more than one paper. He sat in on roundtables for Playboy and worked as a reporter for Esquire. Burroughs as guru and cultural expert mirrors his work as an advice columnist and reporter in My Own Mag. In My Own Mag, Burroughs edited his own underground newspaper. Now he sold his services to the underground industry.

Not surprisingly, Burroughs got intensely involved with underground comix and the beginnings of the graphic novel. In 1970, Burroughs collaborated with Malcolm Mc Neill on a comix, the “Unspeakable Mr. Hart,” in four issues of Cyclops. Nuttall was there first with Perfume Jack and the Last Words of Dutch Schultz. Last Words is surely one of the earliest examples of the underground comix, yet Nuttall and My Own Mag are not mentioned in the comprehensive study of the art: Rebel Visions. The character of Mr. Hart was based on William Randolph Hearst and Burroughs’ obsession with the controlling aspects of a multimedia conglomerate are very much in evidence. The concern with the power of the newspaper expressed in My Own Mag carried over into Cyclops. Throughout the 1970s, Burroughs worked with Mc Neill on the never completed Ah Puch Is Here. As envisioned by Burroughs and Mc Neill, Ah Puch, like The Third Mind, would have challenged the concept of the book and would have been truly an artist’s book as described by Johanna Drucker. In an unpublished manuscript, Observed While Falling, Mc Neill details this process. The give and take of artist and author as well as the merging of format, form, and content described in the memoir draws parallels with Burroughs’ experience with My Own Mag.

It could be argued that Burroughs’ perceived “return to narrative” in the Wild Boys was a direct result of his time working with Nuttall and My Own Mag. Maybe he sensed he had taking the method as far as it could go given the limitations of alternative and mainstream publishing. As Observed While Falling and Ports of Entry makes clear, Burroughs still worked on scrapbooks and other ambitious cut-up projects into the 1970s. The radical use of the cut-up never left his bag of tricks, but — with The Wild Boys and the novels and short stories that followed — it was more and more relegated to one tool in the toolbox and one to be used with discretion. As time wore on, the cut-up technique settled back into the novel form Burroughs abandoned in the mid-1960s. The three-columns were abandoned for the traditional paragraph even though he toyed with and threatened to break its confines. Maybe he tired of the limited audience of the mimeo scene. During his entire career as a writer, Burroughs felt spurred on by a receptive listener, a willing receiver. The time had come for a mainstream audience. The youth culture theme of The Wild Boys seems exploitative to me, like a play for relevance. The work of Norman Mailer comes to mind. Burroughs was the old man of Hip. The more traditional narrative elements made his writing more accessible to critics and the more adventurous of general readers.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 20 October 2008. Special thanks to Robert Bank for his careful reading and research which was relied on heavily in this article. See also Jed Birmingham’s My Own Mag archive.
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Comments Total: 1
Mar 21 2009
7:37 pm

Just stumbled on this in My Education, p 189:

“September 17 is also a special date for me. Arbitrary but significant, with potential for good or bad luck.” Might help to explain B’s fixation with the Sept 17 1899 edition of the NYT.

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