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Operation Overload

The future has a blurred edge to it …so bright I gotta wear shades. Accelerated change like the LOGOS has jammed the fast-forward permanently. Video images flicker in our heads. Reality has become televisual. The Videodrome throws up images, figures of speech, nuances of body language, styles, fashions that we absorb and attempt to replicate. In a way, the viral images thrown up for consumption are already mutating us past the point of no return.

We live in a magical universe, where the real becomes the Hyper-real - an endless interaction with larger-than-life images of screen, sound and video games. Since so much of our experience is now dependent upon the media-information Gestalt, then we can begin to turn the tapeworm back upon itself by appropriating and utilising the hardware that generates the Hyper-real elements of our experience.

William S. Burroughs is the arch-demonologist of the hyper-real - having thoroughly immersed himself in the 'nightmare culture' of hard drugs, forbidden sexuality and magical worlds generated from his artistic and experimental visions. His near-future visions and explorations of time-travel, together with a cast of drifters, outsiders, sorcerers and vampiric politicians twist and turn around each other like Kenneth Grant's convoluted metathesis - the Tunnels of Set. But the tunnels Burroughs bores through the facade of the hyper-real, exposing the mind parasites and vampires who feed off it, are much more tangible and accessible. He, unlike other contemporary magical writers is not concerned with trying to recreate the past - or create an enclave which ignores (and hence is still supported by) the Videodrome. Burroughs' sorcery has a uniquely twentieth-century flavour to it.

Word Virus

The purpose of any virus is to survive by replication of itself throughout the cells of its host organism. The Word Virus is a very small unit of word or image that entraps the energy of its human host into recycling an instruction or behaviour pattern. Ever walked around, unable to get a popular tune out of your head? Advertising, slogans, jingles, words and images are all carriers for the parasitic virus.

The mind may be understood as a more or less stable cluster of instructions, memories and identifications out of which emerges the internal dialogue, the constant static whisper of a self-organising system. In a constant interplay of feedback and feed-forward loops, this system interacts with, and translates information out of the total Gestalt of experience. Emerging from the web of information-processing is the property of selfhood - the Ego. The Ego reduces all experiential information into terms whereby it can maintain the fiction of itself. This is also the psychic censor, the faculty which resists change. Reality is at fault, please do not adjust your mind.

"When the world is not the same as our minds believe, then we are in a nightmare." - Rogan, Werewolf

The Ego maintains itself through the internal dialogue - the beliefs and stories which make up "I am". Words are common property, and so the manipulation of identity by word viruses becomes very easy, so much so that it passes without notice. The inner voice maintains the sense of Ego by constantly looping a set of identifications which can be maintained within certain limits by the presence of virus mechanisms such as words/images: the IS of identity, the verb to BE, the definite article THE, the concept of EITHER/OR:

"the IS of identity is in point of fact the virus mechanism, locking you in THE universe …EITHER/OR …the conflict formula… is seen to be an archetypal virus mechanism." - William S. Burroughs, Electronic Revolution

Those who have become adept at the manipulation of words control thought on a mass scale. We have grown a planet-wide extension of our nervous systems. Information sensors, compiler, memory facilities, transmission stations. Now part of everyday life - mundane existence, this system is another element in our experiential Gestalt; as much a part of our embedded reality as other taken-for-granted elements. This mediational Gestalt projects the Control system, run by a priesthood that vociferously denies its own existence.


Television is the electronic womb - the birth channel. The artificial extension of our image-making facilities. Insidious, it affects everyone else except ME. Does television reflect or shape beliefs? Answer - it reflects and shapes, affirming what we already "know" to be True and so shaping belief through a feedback loop. Words and images are the key, particularly covert/overt sex and death messages. These latter form Control Commands which subjects are conditioned to respond to. They function according to the theory which Gregory Bateson et al (1960) called the Double-Bind. In a double-bind situation, the subject is enmeshed in a tangle of paradoxical injunctions in which they cannot do the right thing. Continued experience of such a situation leads to habituation, and the subject learns to perceive the universe in double-bind terms - i.e. should do/should not do. Usually, one message is simple and overt, the other, abstract and covert. Adolescence in industrial societies is a training period for Control Command programming. Burroughs describes the situation in terms of the old army game as follows:

"Contradictory commands are two commands that contradict each other given at the same time. 'TENSHUN!' The soldier automatically stiffens to the command. 'AT EASE!' The soldier immediately relaxes. Now imagine a captain who strides into the barracks snapping 'TENSHUN!' from one side of his face and 'AT EASE!' from the other. The attempt to obey two flatly contradictory commands at once both of which have a degree of command value at the automatic level disorients the subject. He may react with rage, apathy, anxiety, even collapse."- Burroughs, The Job, p.41

R.D. Laing gives more complex examples of double-bind situations and how they traumatize individuals. The process is further compounded by the formation of anxiety loops in which a person feels anxious in a given situation and so seeks to escape towards a place of safety. However, that 'place', be it a person or behaviour, can itself become a source of further anxiety. This leads to a situation where, as Laing puts it, the person is "like someone with a hand on a hot plate who presses his hand harder against it instead of drawing away.

For Burroughs, the Aristotlean Either/Or set-up is particularly virulent. The IS of identification in our language leads to the assumption that the label IS the thing. We trap people into labels so that they may be manipulated more adroitly. Particularly labels which carry fear messages, and which are used to block thought. Here is Gore Vidal on sex:

"There is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people …[yet]… Gay militants now assert that there is something called gay sensibility, the outward and visible sign of a new human being. Thus madness begets madness." - Pink Star and Yellow Triangle, p.161

We are continually told that the varied arms of the electronic Gestalt have only a superficial influence on our thoughts. Keep away from the ovens. The Control Programs work best when you don't realise that they are there. However, once an understanding of how they operate is gained, the next step is to begin to subvert them.

Cut-Ups as Sorcery

"Precisely what is a dream? A certain juxtaposition of word and image." - Burroughs, The Job

The quickest way to kill the spirit - be it of individuals, group or tribe is to cut off the dream-world. The white settlers did this to the American Indians by denying the validity of their dream-world, severing access to their cultural mythic experience and replacing it with the narrow limits of fundamentalism - Control Commands.

The mythic world of Dreaming is the bush territory of the sorcerer, a territory in which the Control Program is ill-suited. Dreams are an escape route into Space, and like any disappearing act, a theatre is required to take us there - a theatre of voodoo. This has no fixed space but can only be entered by utilising an ever-changing body of magical techniques and masks.

Although it was Brion Gysin who first discovered the possibilities of cut-ups as a literary technique, it was Burroughs who expanded the technique to other fields. Cut-Ups are used to establish new connections between images/words, breaking down the Either/Or of Aristotlean thinking. By cutting up text or images, new messages can be revealed. Text that is cut up and then repasted gives rise to new messages, often appearing as oracles of future events. This is reminiscent of forms of divination such as Tarot, which in these terms, 'cut' a subject into linked images, so that a new Gestalt perception arises from the reading.

"Shakespeare Rimbaud live in their words. Cut up the word lines and you will hear their voices. Cut-ups often come through as code messages with special meaning for the cutter. Table rapping? Perhaps. Certainly an improvement on the usual deplorable performance of contacted poems through a medium. Rimbaud announces himself, to be followed by some excruciatingly bad poetry. Cut Rimbaud's words and you are assured of good poetry if not personal appearance."- William Burroughs, The Third Mind

Burroughs uses cut-up techniques to convey cinematic images and musical repetition in text. He also suggests many applications for cut-ups using film, tape recorders and video in attempts to subvert our control conditioning. He also refers to the use of cameras and tape recordings to disrupt or destroy a certain locality. False news broadcasts could be created to to spread rumours, political speeches intercut with pig squeals discredit the the power of pompous politicians; weird news stories gently nudge people's realities. Use pictures, sampled writings, photographs, news cuttings etc. as co-ordinates to project yourself back in time.

The parallels with the more 'traditional' approaches to magic are obvious, such as sigils - cutting up specific desires and actualising what Stephen Mace calls virtual forms, by concentrating on the image. The practice of metanoia (looking at the world in new ways) is also part of the cut-up process. Our beliefs and attitudes arise out of experience and conditioning, and if beliefs are loosed and reshuffled, even intercut to form bizarre juxtapositions, then we can free ourselves from the limitations of belief. It is relatively easy to shuffle one's political or religious beliefs; less so to break down the more subtle aspects of the control program, since they are the linguistic formulations which form the basis of our thinking. With practice it should be possible to rub out whole blocks of words/images for a period of time:

"I rub out the Qabala forever

I rub out all the formulas and directives of the elders of Minraud forever

I rub out the word forever

You cannot take words into space

That is all all all"

Burroughs - The Last Words of Hassan I Sabbah

No matter how disordered words and images present themselves, we can find meaning; create a thesis from antithesis. The personal meanings in cut-ups slip through the repetition and juxtaposition of chunks of text. Burroughs' use of them in his novels creates passages which act as subliminal switches, seductively opening the reader's awareness of the magical universes which lurk like cracks between the cut-up blocks. Unlike magical sigils, which are actively focused upon by the user, cut-up sequences pull at the edges of consciousness, yielding up glimpses of the null-spaces where Burroughs has created a beachead. You won't find these realms in any astral travelogue - they squirm with an elemental vitality (and depravity) that cannot be contained within ordered structures such as the Qabalah. Psychic wastelands spewed up by the self-devouring beast of the hyper-real. Cut-ups create a kind of time disorientation - we are habituated into reading text in a linear mode. Cut-ups shuttle words/images and their associations back and forth, building new meanings and hinting of unseen associations. In doing so they mimic the repetitive control commands by which so much of our behaviour is shaped. This is reminiscent of Gematria - the numerical analysis/association of ideas and symbols, which can act occasionally as an inverted Zen koan, overloading the mind with so many concepts that a 'flash' (neurological orgasm?) occurs, giving new associations and insights.

We are enmeshed in a continual exchange with the elements of the Hyper-real; it acts both to distance us from reality and turn experience into hyper-intensive images which are loaded with double-bind word-viruses. By entering the cracks in the walls shoring up our field of experience, we can gain an awareness of how we may plot escape routes - tunnelling between the structures which uphold consensus reality. Any lifestyle which generates enough of an edge can propel us towards these holes. Magick in particular is concerned with generating momentary slips through the fabric of existence, from cracking our personal control programs to contacting the extra-terrestrial 'entities' which lurk at the borders of awareness. The various entities and astral books which can be encountered during magical explorations can be seen as cut-ups of existing associations/images - outposts wherein we may reorder understanding and knowledge in ways which allow us to tunnel deeper towards the possibility of liberation. Yet, paradoxically, even these images are eaten and reabsorbed by the arms of the hyper-real. See, for example, how the artistic revolution of the surrealists has been recaptured and dragged down to be used for advertising cigarettes. Burroughs' writings, once the subject of censorship, has been absorbed into the hyper-real Gestalt of 'modern literature'. The beast will eat anything that becomes visible to its multitudes of heads and feed it back in the form of intensive images to we who live in its belly. Yet the signposts to the escape routes remain, however tenuous, and in this lies our hope for the slow mutation of the whole entity.

A strange pistol in his hand … wild Pan music … screaming crowds …Kim's pistol is cutting the sky like a torch. Chunks of sky are falling away. The music swells and merges with the shrieking wind…. - The Place of Dead Roads

This essay was first published in Chaos International No.5