Cut, slice, glue

There are infinite stories lurking latent within any piece of text, and all that is needed to release them is a pair of scissors. Texts are all the time perilously close to this reformation: a genre (like a poem or a play or a novel), or a form (like a newspaper or a book) is a frame for momentarily holding in place text that, subject to a little bit of pressure, will easily scatter into new orders.

There’s a long history of readers productively cutting up texts to find alternative narratives. One early co-ordinate is the Anglican community at Little Gidding, near Cambridge, who in the 1630s, led by Nicholas Ferrar, used scissors and knives to slice up printed copies of the gospels in order to reorder the text and harmonise discrepancies in the account of Christ’s life: cutting and reordering was here a means to obtain a prior and more meaningful stability. In 1916, the poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara outlined his instructions for making a Dadaist poem that would briskly side-step conventional commitments to ideas of self-expression, intention, and authenticity: ‘Take a newspaper. Take scissors. Select from this newspaper an article of the same length as you plan to give your poem. Cut out carefully every word of this article and put them into a bag. Shake lightly.’

The cut-up, scrambled text below is an attempt to find some of the strange stories that lie hidden, waiting for expression, in the Times Literary Supplement of 29 January 2021.