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.
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).