I first discovered the work of William Burroughs in a BBC documentary that was broadcast in the early 1980s, and it was a total revelation. Seems like I was in good company; a lot of the feelings I experienced are articulated by William Gibson, writing in Wired, who penned this interesting history of sampling culture:
“I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers' texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. [the] "cut-up method," as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever it was he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic…Some of these borrowings had been lifted from American science fiction of the '40s and '50s, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me… Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever been quite as remarkable for me, and nothing has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing… Meanwhile, in the early '70s in Jamaica, King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry… were deconstructing recorded music. Using astonishingly primitive predigital hardware, they created what they called versions. The recombinant nature of their means of production quickly spread to DJs in New York and London… Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities… an endless, recombinant, and fundamentally social process generates countless hours of creative product”
Links for William Burroughs...
Hear Burroughs himself speak about the cut up method, courtesy of BBC four.
Feedback from Watergate to The Garden Of Eden a fascinating and increasingly prescient essay about surveillence culture by William S. Burroughs
Other examples of Burroughs' writing can be found at EHN's Reading List
Wikipedia's entry on sampling