Is the “cult of the amateur” really that bad…?

Like Sydney and Julie have expressed in their posts this week, I too was off put by Keen’s negative perspective on the Internet in his book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. As Julie has pointed out, Keen’s anxieties towards the internet stems from a fear of the “amateur cult” that he believes are contributing to a proliferation of truths via the internet, through blogs like this one, and as a result are distorting “real” truths. In his first chapter, entitled “The Great Seduction,” Keen suggests that “in a world in which audience and author are increasingly indistinguishable, and where authenticity is almost impossible to verify, the idea of intellectual property has been seriously compromised” (23), and that “the value once placed on a book by a great author is being challenged by the dream of a collective community of authors who endlessly annotate and revise it” (25). While I think most of us would agree that this deterioration between author and audience perpetuated by the Internet is accurate, I don’t think this has to be as horrific as Keen implies. As Margaret suggests in her post this week, “remixing actually makes originality achievable,” and I think the same is possible with this “increasingly indistinguishable” line between author and audience that Keen seems so appalled by.

Julie suggests in her post that  “amateurs” on the Internet are not as threatening to “experts” as Keen suggests, and her consideration of David Bowie’s use of “The Verbasizer” is an excellent example of this. I’d like to consider Sachiko Marukami’s digital poetry project Rebuild to suggest that “amateurs” on the Internet are not only non-threatening, but also offer a unique perspective that is actually beneficial in perpetuating originality in the work of the expert. Project Rebuild is ultimately Murakami’s response to the phenomena of a style of housing in Vancouver called the “Vancouver Special,” and it is “their replication, their persistence, and the reaction that the Vancouver Special produces in Vancouverites” that Murakami is specifically interested in exploring with her poetry. But Rebuild is not simply a collection of poems existing online. It is also “an experiment in collaboration” that invites its audience to literally rebuild Murakami’s poems. Rebuild invites its users “to move into any of the poems on the site, and renovate them,” and this new poem created  “will then join the front page neighbourhood.” Rebuild has taken advantage of the accessibility and collective quality of the Internet to create a community, which reflects this idea of the neighborhood that inspired Murakami to create Rebuild in the first place. This must have Keen tossing and turning in his sleep.

I think projects like Rebuild prove that we need to move past the negative effects that the Internet have on scholarship and intellectual property and instead embrace how we can use the “amateur” cult to our advantage. Murakami proves with Rebuild that writing can become more interesting and original through both remixing and by embracing the “amateur cult” that Keen is rejecting.

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3 Responses to Is the “cult of the amateur” really that bad…?

  1. sasha.makarewicz says:

    This is kind of more general to the topic of remixing, and I agree with everyone and all that but I think the main problem with it relies on this kind of opinion/informed opinion. I think Keen’s argument is that amateurism relies a lot on this kind of noise without a signal, if that makes sense. I think the amateurism were talking about is ideal, but it also is dealing with amateurs who think like professionals and I think professionalism is more in flux than amateurism. Sometimes or most times, the internet can be a nightmare. Our comment section is wonderful because we’re all beautiful people, but oh boy. It doesn’t have to be horrific, but there are still horrors on the internet and through this discourse with the internet we have to consider. And a lot of this type of amateur discourse is just a mirrored version of reality outside the internet.

  2. olivia.harris says:

    What’s so bad about innovation and adapting someone else’s work for creative purposes? Many of the greats in literary history have relied on remixing other works for their own creative designs. In line with most others this week, I think Keen’s argument is a bit limiting and perhaps even elitist. We need to open up the space for new artists to arise, new critics to prosper, and new literary greats to surface by encouraging remixing. Projects like Rebuild are great ways to encourage creative expansion and a rising group of amateurs that might someday become established members of the literary elite.
    Sasha makes a good point that amateurs can create some less than adequate products, but if we ignore the potential for amateur contributions then we might be eliminating some potentially great amateurs!

  3. margaret.milde says:

    I find this whole rejection of the amateur thing utterly appalling. Seriously, it’s not the eighteenth century, we’re not Alexander Pope. What is this obsession with elitism? Haven’t people seen Good Will Hunting? (Probably not, it’s too low brow for scholars like Keen…). Go study “Essay on Criticism” if you think that those individuals who don’t have an academic background have no right contributing to the interpretation of the exalted cannon. ONLY THE GENTRIFIED CLASSES HAVE THE RIGHT TO READ! ONLY THOSE WITH PhDs CAN CONTRIBUTE! DOWN WITH THE MASSES! Okay. I am being dramatic. But what I am trying to say, Chloe, is that I agree with you.

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