In Praise of the Verbasizer, Or at Least Random Words Of Inspiration


Realizing the deadline for a short prose contest is Monday, I sought out random words for inspiration. Last year when I entered this competition I wrote a story about an ailing dog envisioning his own death. (I didn’t win.) That story came, like anything I consider creative in my own… exercise-of-putting-prose-out-into-the-world… from an image, or a few still shots in my mind, and some experiences — not words, which I always struggle to find to fit.

So tonight, I thought, to get me started, maybe a few words, random words, to latch on to vague ideas. And a funny thing happened, as I was hitting the button over and over on the internet word generator (my emails to friends asking for random words having been fruitless). Meaning had less effect on me than sound, meaning the idea behind the word was less important than the word itself. I got on this intellectual tangent, thinking about The Bee Season and the energy that is attached to words and their sounds.

And I thought of Bowie, and his cryptic 42-words on The Next Day (maybe he visited the same random word generator site), the Verbasizer, the electronic version of cut-ups, which go back to Burroughs, which are really just — a way of getting unstuck? Commentator Daniel Ferreira comments on the Verbasizer technique by stating:

“If the artist’s impulse resides in its search for something “inside”, does it make sense to use an artificial external stimulus? The point here is that an artist’s identity is not so much in individual acts or productions, but in a way of making.”

His comment comes in response to Bowie’s comment on this video (at about 13:50 or so) that “… the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society…”

Which jarred me a little bit, this combination of ideas from Bowie and Ferreira; because to me any technique you use for “inspiration” I’ve always thought is just a means of getting to a result. It’s a means of writing a song, painting a picture, writing a short story. It is, in essence, about the product. If you don’t have the idea to begin with — if you are using inspiration to kickstart a process, are you in it for the process, or because you have to present something to an external audience?

I don’t know. But I think this is an amazing interview with Bowie and features him in Tony Oursler’s studio, in 1997 or so, creating those projected faces, which resurfaced in the Where Are We Now video. Here, he seems to be just talking off the top of his head while being filmed, his face disembodied as he peers out through a black cutout, and he talks about feeling disconnected from his body. Insightful, somehow, but I’m not exactly sure why.

(Off to write, sourced not from words, but from the old stand-by: images and ideas).