Remixing . . . is the BEST!

It’s true. How many times is a remixed version of a song been better than the original? Don’t we all love hearing samples of old songs in hip-hop? I remember listening to Janet Jackson’s Someone to Call My Lover and thinking that Gymnopedie No.1 sounded better in a pop song than it does on its own (sorry, Eric Satie). And I’m sure we all remember Girl Talk, who created the best mashups of all your old favourites and new classics. And we love the old music in its remixed, contemporary form. To an extent, we do this in our own literary criticism. We cite, and we cite, and we cite– until we never want to see another parenthesis again. But the catch is our own ideas have to be “original”. 

The idea of remixing is a current that has been running throughout our digital publishing course. The importance of imitation and patchwork first became apparent to me in Peter Stallybrass’s article “Against Thinking.” Stallybrass illustrates how even Shakespeare actually used a “database” of preformed phrases to write his plays.

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Shakespeare’s patchwork Hamlet from Stallybrass’s “Against Thinking”

We cannot forget Roland Barthe’s “tissue of quotations” when thinking about language and ideas.  Shakespeare’s lines were not unique. Nothing we write is truly original because every word has been used before. Language speaks us, so it is arrogant to think that we can express authenticity through words.

Stallybrass says, “Learning requires imitation and inspiration, which today are marginalized by a concept of originality that produces as its inevitable double the specter of  plagiarism, a specter rooted in the fear that we might have more to learn from others than from ourselves” (1584).  Imitation and inspiration go hand-in-hand. I will continue on with a crude and fantastic example: Clueless is inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma. It imitates the plot, but it is different in medium and was created for a totally different audience (“He does dress better than I do. What would I bring to the relationship?”). Obviously, Clueless cannot be interpreted as original, but it does speak to the validity of remixing. The film is utterly different from the text that it is based on. Representation of images, ideas, or concepts within a different cultural framework alters interpretation because of the tissues of meaning that comprise the work.

Ultimately, I think remixing actually makes originality achievable in our bleak postmodern world. In a context where meaning constantly eludes us, perhaps substance can be found through layering, altering, and manipulating works of the past.  Fight the Power! (. . .the song! Because it’s just a ton of awesome, remixed samples).

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How Keen Am I on Andrew Keen? Not Very…

I have to admit my opinion of Andrew Keen was coloured before reading the first few chapters of The Cult of the Amateur. I met his less than optimistic musings in the June 2013 issue of The Atlantic, when he exposed the negative side of “social discovery” apps in “Messing with Fate”.  For my purposes here, the article just compounds with his book to show that his distaste towards technology is not specific to how it functions on the computer, or in academic culture, but across all platforms and mediums. Keen comes off as anything but keen – in fact, he seems downright pissed off. And it seems I am now too…

I found that the most inflammatory passage of his text is where many of his irksome ideas are packaged together in the first paragraph of his section on “The Cost of Democratization”:

This blurring of lines between the audience and the author, between fact and fiction, between invention and reality further obscures objectivity. The cult of the amateur has made it increasingly difficult to determine the difference between reader and writer, between artist and spin doctor, between art and advertisement, between amateur and expert. The result? The decline of the quality and reliability of the information we receive, thereby distorting, if not outrightly corrupting, our national civic conversation. (27, emphasis added)

Yes, his book will ultimately argue that a lot of this democratization is used for Capitalist gain, and he will also explicitly tell us that this arena where everyone is a participant in knowledge creation is used “to obfuscate truth and manipulate public opinion” by the hands of the few (albeit, a different few in each situation) (26). Yet his implication that “obscuring objectivity” is necessarily a bad thing, seems to me a strange comment, and I want to note (but not dwell on) the fact that we decided objectivity is a fallacy long ago. That being said, I do think this need for objectivity that Keen clearly illustrates here is an excellent manifestation of something he is consistently guilty of doing: feeling upset with the fact that a democratic dissemination of information is challenging dominant power structures, of which he is on top. The word objectivity, along with the cultural implications it has in present day Western society, clearly aligns it with dominant ideologies. To be objective is not to occupy the object position, but in fact to occupy the active position of the interpreter, reader, or, gazer. Essentially, to be objective one must have the power to gaze, one must occupy the subject position, or the male position, in order to constitute everything else around him as object through his male gaze. It does not take much elucidation to further realize that an understanding of this distinction between oneself as active and everything else as passive (exemplified in the naturalist mode of observation needed for objectivity) is a highly Capitalist gesture, as it allows us to treat everything around us as objects themselves. As the divide between author and audience disappears, objectivity will necessarily disappear, but not in the way Keen seems to put it. Objectivity disappears because the subject/object divide disappears, and as a result, the power/powerless binary is challenged. All of a sudden, the audience that used to be objects become active subjects, and I don’t want to necessarily say that Keen is having an abject reaction here, because let’s face it, when are scholars ever personally invested in their work… (I’ll leave that one up for discussion). Also, I’m just going to offer the objective observation here that Keen’s whole paragraph rests on binary’s, and no binary is ever without hierarchy…

The idea of the audience or reader as passive objects is further highlighted when Keen explains that “we receive” information. I would say no, Keen, we do not simply receive information as it appears, and arguably we never have.  In literary studies, the poststructuralists offered the idea that readers are active,  thus subjects or even their own form of authors. I would argue that the internet now offers us a hyper-realized version of this model, a sort of readers-gone-wild where we are constantly invited to invent, evaluate, and discuss everything (both textual and not) that we encounter. So while it may be Keen’s fantasy that his readers are only taking the meaning from his words that he wishes for them to take (as good, readerly object-sorry, audience), this is highly unlikely.

Finally, Keen ends his paragraph with the strong assertion that conversation is being corrupted by, what he calls “democratization”, and what I call a levelling of power dynamics. This is not just any conversation either, its “our national civic conversation”. Because my mind is in annotation world, circa John Oliver Hobbes project, I read this line four times and thought, “this is something I would attempt to annotate 100 years from now, google the phrase, come up blank, and still have no idea what he is talking about”. Who exactly is the “our” he is addressing? And what is this alleged “national civic conversation”? Is there a transcript? Have I eavesdropped on it? Am I engaging with it right now?! Do any of my questions even matter?! Perhaps, if I’m included in the “our”, if not, this conversation is not for me. Possibly he means our national CAPITALIST civic conversation, as he goes on to discuss “real businesses with real products, real employees, and real shareholders” in the following line. While we all engage with these paradigms of capitalism, certainly we are not all welcome to the discussion about them. I’m also not sure how blind to our absence Keen is, or that if he just pleads willful blindness in order to make a seemingly collegial claim.

I have to wonder, then, what exactly should we (or I) make of Keen’s titular claim that the internet is destroying our culture? It seems to me that although he discusses recognized cultural artifacts, such as art, there is something more at stake here. I see an undercurrent through which Keen is using “culture” as a stand-in for “cultural norms” or “dominant ideology”, to which I propose the title of my own book “The Cult of the Amateur: how the internet just might save us all”. Then again, I won’t write this book, because I’m not really a part of this national civic conversation anyway… I’m just an amateur.

 

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Blurring the lines: the amateur vs. The Expert

Sasha’s post makes some great points about the ways in which the internet can serve to democratise art and culture. In his book The Cult of the Amateur: how blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values Andrew Keen discusses his many issues with the internet – as you can see from the title he’s not a huge fan. One thing that seems to really keep Keen awake at night is “the cult of the amateur”. Keen seems to really like strictly defined categories, and he’s not too crazy about the lines between amateurs and experts becoming blurry – and in some senses, he’s right. There is a time and a place for an expert (and there will continue to be in spite of the internet), but there are also plenty of instances where amateurs do a pretty great job, and because of the internet there is now more room for those amateurs to move into a professional sphere if that’s what they desire.  The internet is a fantastic tool for discovery, and Keen’s extreme anxiety presents quite a narrow view of the internet as a resource. Continue reading

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Solitary Genius

Authorship in digital humanities brings to light just how wrong Roland Barthes was in his essay “The Death of the Author”.  I would argue the title should be “The Death of the Engaging Third Person Omniscient Narrator”, but that is a matter for another day.

The “solitary genus” of the author has not gone out of fashion only into question with the emergence of digital technologies.  Reading through what my peers have discussed in the previous posts I wholeheartedly subscribe to the importance of collaboration, as well as making collaboration visible.  Collaboration has always been a part of print technology, but this collaboration is left to the imagination when faced with a material item that states a singular author on its cover.  Seeing how many people are involved in a work and opening a work (an example of opening a work is Fitzpatrick‘s suggestion that scholars should publish first and peer-review later) to as much collaboration as possible destroys the notion of the solitary genius and encourages further collaborative and even interdisciplinary scholarship.

Another issue that is being discussed is the increase in the responsibility of the reader and the lack of “justification for editorial conflation” in digital publications.  In digital editions editors are intruding less on the text leaving the responsibility of sorting through the material largely to the reader.  This means that “a broader spectrum of institutional relations, and widening networks of production” has evolved.  A broader spectrum of relations that disadvantage those with “traditional” modes of education or degrees (discussed by cleda.choi, margaret.milde and sydney.tyber here).

The problem is the virtual archives that have come about pride themselves as being open, but are regulated by university membership, for example.  Or they exist in the non-academic world and have no credibility because their ‘reliability’ has not been validated by an institution.  These ‘open’ archives then are not so open or so open they have no clout.  The question of who is responsible for regulating material that has so many authors is another concern, for such sources as Wikimedia.

I would like to say the pillars of education should be fronting the call for open access education.  The problem is the university is an industrial complex, enjoying the benefits of contract employees and bankrupt young adults and their parents, and has been incredibly slow in incorporating the digital environment (as evidenced by the Humanities Panel) into education unless it is explicitly called for (such as in a Communications degree).  By not making digital scholarship a part of the academic discussion is to ignore the last 20 years of innovation.  Not just the academic discussion either.  Collaboration in the digital environment opens up the potentiality for discussion with members outside the university-industrial complex.  Thus, framing the discussion in an academic framework actively negates the potential of digital scholarship.

I keep returning to one line in Deegan and Sutherland’s work that discusses the change from print edition to virtual archive: “the emphasis shifts from intervention and interpretation to evidence.”  Where does an English graduates intervention and interpretation of hypermedia begin if so much of it is just evidence now?  The answer is a complicated one, yet an essay cannot answer it.

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Remixing and the Discovery of “Gizoogle”

“What the heck is Gizoogle?!” Is the question I asked my roommate when he mentioned it. If you haven’t discovered it yet, prepare to be amazed and enthralled.

A variation of Google, Gizoogle acts as a search engine… only in a much different way. Let me give you an example. Taken from a personal piece of my own writing, a paragraph normally reads:

“As a student of literature, I admit to knowing very little about most aspects of science and math. That’s why, when my electrical engineer friend began explaining how currents work, I expected to be lost. Surprisingly, however, he mentioned something that I could relate to: abstract notions.”

However, when you search that specific blog post on Gizoogle, it then reads: Continue reading

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John Oliver Hobbes as remixer (aka I think we’re still talking about remixing)

We’re basically talking about how old people are wrong week to week. Specifically how they are wrong with new media in relation to academia now. Not seeing the possibilities that new media can offer for academia but rather how academia as they know it is being destroyed by the amateurs and “them”. And to a degree they can be right. Shirky, in Here Comes Everybody, has valid opinions to consider about mass amateurism on the internet. I’ve read Village Voice articles that are embarrassingly bad and editorial-less that make it on their blog when there would be something stopping them from reaching print, but journalism in general is a dwindling art when you consider the corporate web of everything on the internet and how this evil corporation owns a website dedicated to “discussions” about how culture=bad. Also, twitter, facebook, and comment sections are nightmares that are framed with other nightmares.
Continue reading

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Editing and Authorial Intention

Much like Laura and Olivia, I think our attention in the past few weeks has shifted from aiming to preserve the textual elements of the print version of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes to making the digital version as navigable and as easy to read as possible. In our role as editors and annotators, we’re trying to anticipate what the “everyday reader” will need to know in order to engage with the digital edition. Of course, Wikisource has its own standards and practices for annotations, and we as a class have also come up with our own guidelines. My concern is that I’ve always conceived of the role of the editor as a bridge between the author and the reader, and I feel unqualified to speak for either one. Continue reading

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When editing is all about the reader

Similar, to Olivia, this week’s discussion topic got me thinking about how editing The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes on wikisource has shifted our focus from the text to the reader. Applying Shillingsburg’s article on authority and editing to our social edition I found one remark that he made to be particularly interesting: “The basic assumption of all editors seems to be that normally the end product of composition can be and should be one text that best represents the work of art” (Shillingsburg 13). Although it is certainly important to create a text that represents the original well, when working with a text on wikisource “best represent[ing] the work of art” is not the only factor at play. In our class, we have had many debates about how to edit and annotate The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes; however, for the most part, our discussions center on appealing to our reader. After going through multiple stages of what you could call editing (re-formatting the text, transcluding it, and, now, creating our annotations) I have been focused on creating an accessible text that an everyday reader can engage with. Continue reading

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Authorship

It seems that our discussions this term have been born from the tensions between print vs. digital, single authorship vs. collaborative authorship, and the traditional, visible print editor vs. the more or less invisible community of digital editors/curators. We have largely been exposed to academics, such as Jerome McGann and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who call for an overhaul of exactly how we conceive of authorship in the digital age. They call for more collaboration, for academics to communally create their work, and for these academics to acknowledge all the layers of authorship that go into the production of a text. Fitzpatrick and others also illuminate the fundamental faults of the modern conception of authorship in the wake of poststructuralist theory. If language itself is unoriginal, if the reader as opposed to the author now determines a text’s meaning(s), then how can we possibly still cling to the Romantic ideal of the original, singular, writer-genius? My answer is cynical and comes in light of the Humanities’ Panel discussion on 6 March 2014 at Ryerson University. We cling because, to some degree, we must.

During this panel, the academic experts—John Ralston Paul, Marianne Hirsch, and Stephen Slemon—were asked a question, regarding how academics should advise students on the economic viability of a humanities education. Their response, along with the York professor who posed the question, was to “embrace the unknown.” This answer was, for me, hard to swallow. I will be looking for work in a few months and this statement seemed like a way to avoid answering truthfully. It seemed patronizing to be honest: a nod from the ivory tower to the masses below, the masses planted firmly in reality. The panel academics have deservedly been very successful; however, they were beginning their careers before the age of digitization, before jobs in publishing and the arts became fundamentally transformed by the digital.  I was surprised that during this discussion the digital was not discussed pretty much at all. They seemed to take for granted the twitter feed projected onto the wall to their immediate left. It seemed like a pretty big oversight that they were discussing the future of humanities and careers in the humanities, but neglected to address the role of digitization in our present and future.

Digitization has, and invariably will, continue to change not only how we conceive of authorship and the role of the editor but how these roles will play out professionally, both inside and outside of academia. In our wiki era, in our era of non-professional, unpaid reporters, it is scary, at least for me, to embrace a poststructuralist overhaul of authorship in the digital age. If the author really is dead, then how exactly am I going to make a living?

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Readability versus Preservation – A Debate in Digitization

Maintaining textual integrity is supposedly a foundational aspect of editing, but this does not always appear to hold true when creating digital editions. By textual integrity I mean maintaining not only the content of the work, but also the formatting of the text. In Shillingsburg’s Scholarly Editing in the Digital Age this dedication to upholding the originality of the work would fall into the category of documentary or historical orientation. Followers of this editing style support maintaining the original text with the reproduction of facsimile editions or electronic archives.

In contrast to this type of editing, our work in Wikisource seems to undermine the importance of the original document by giving priority to readability. The documents we have edited, transcluded, and annotated started off with a focus on maintaining the formatting principles initially set by John Oliver Hobbes and her publisher, Thomas Fisher Unwin. But as our project has progressed, we have diverted our attention away from upholding the principles of documentary orientation in order to suit the Wikisource guidelines. Continue reading

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