[ IMAGE: A PHOTOMOSAIC OF VINCENT VAN GOGH'S 'A STARRY NIGHT' VIA ANDREAPLANET ]
Asi over at No Man’s Blog has put together a nice build on the general imitating and stealing idea that's implicit in Faris' blog, and one which I’ve also touched on myself (never to miss a philosophy gig!) to some degree here. Since I wrote this post I’ve actually been pondering on what this all really means, so Asi has now inspired me to write a timely sequel and fine tune (or ‘re-imagine’) some of my earlier points.
To briefly recap then, taken to its logical conclusion, the idea implies that nothing is truly original, only ever a remake of something else. Yet every act of re-imagining/remixing/ remaking – bricolage if you will – still requires a degree of personal vision and creativity, even if a person’s ability to think is always culture-bound. Thus without jumping head-long into a structure-agency discussion here, re-imagination still requires people to act upon the original idea - they're not just passive dupes on a cultural re-production line.
Moreover, it feels like re-production and originality operate on different levels i.e. there is a difference between replication and re-appropriation. And we can see this happening all the time on our virtual doorstop. The Internet has generally fostered a 'cut n paste' culture, where ‘authorship’ has become meaningless or an insurmountable detective game at least. But, for all the fanciful ‘death of the author’ theorising that goes on around these cyber-parts (hey, don’t look at me!) there’s still a harsh emotional reality when someone just comes along and takes credit for other people's work; especially if it’s work that people have given a lot of time and effort to. I mean, goodness knows how schools and universities are able to keep tabs on plagiarism nowadays. Not to mention those instances of blogger warfare that have been known to break out when someone doesn’t provide a link or reference to the original work (I recall a pretty heated moment a year or two ago involving someone who cut n pasted a PSFK post without any kind of acknowledgement). Were they in the wrong? Surprisingly, the commentary and feedback was actually quite mixed.
In any event, clearly we should also pay homage here to the great knowledge sharing and idea building culture that goes on all the time throughout the blogosphere. Let’s take Faris’ brilliant Transmedia Planning post for example. Ever the visionary, he realised the potential of extending Henry Jenkins’ work on Convergence Culture, which has since been further appropriated and theorised by the likes of Jason over at The Fruits of Imagination blog. So, with a nod to Asi, this is clearly an example of Bakhtin’s ‘complex chain of utterances’ in action, but it still feels a little unfair on these ‘authors’ to say that they’ve just re-produced the work of others. Clearly each ‘author’ has made a novel addition to the conversation in some way by weaving it together with another idea.
So, in a desperate bid to do my incremental duty, my halfway house exposé goes something like this: people’s thoughts and ideas are always subject to, and dependent on, the other thoughts and ideas that inspire and pre-exist their own. Yet, people are still able to rearticulate, combine, and re-imagine these ideas in fresh and novel ways, which in turn allows them to extend and expand the body of cultural knowledge*. So, contra Barthes, perhaps we're not 'dead authors' after all, but rather, something more akin to 'idea mixologists', that whilst never tangibly owning the content of ideas themselves, can lay claim to the idiosyncratic ways that existing ideas can be meshed together, represented, and ultimately, disseminated.
* Or, to use the parallel physical analogy, we can only make things in the world out of the materials and resources that already exist in the world. Neither do the materials and resources decide the things that we make, nor do the things that we make ever come from new materials and resources that magically appear out of nowhere.