everything is a remix & the death of the author

lots of thoughts colliding about this at the moment. i love the ‘everything is a remix’ series and it neatly weaves into some of my previous posts. in one of my posts on curation i referred to maria popova’s article in a new age of informational abundance, content curation is a new form of authorship where she suggests that as we share and remix information through our social networks we are as much creators as consumers. but where is the line for authorship and intellectual property in this new environment?

this week i came across an essay by david foster wallace ‘greatly exaggerated’ (1992) in a supposedly fun thing i’ll never do again: essays and arguments (1998). the essay is a review of H.L. Hix’s book Morte d’Author: An Autopsy which attempts to summarise the poststucturalist/decontructivist argument for the ‘death of the author’. old twentieth century critical theory finds relevance again. did it ever really go away? until the poststructuralists in the 1960’s (Barthes, Foucault, Derrida…) challenged the idea, the author was seen as the ‘owner’ of a text and had the right to determine and impose it’s meaning. The poststructuralists argued that once a text was in the world, the author had no control over the audiences reading of it and the meanings they attributed to it. that of course, is true. but the question always was should we as readers be held to the authors intentions or are we free to create our own? (i could easily be sidetracked and tempted to include satre and existentialism here, but i’ll try to limit myself). are we being disrespectful in this process? do authors really care? some authors have asked ‘do we really have to mean what we say?’. is it really a binary argument and does it really matter?

it does matter when we come back to the idea of remix culture and intellectual property. remix culture is collaborative. there are multiple authors where the text (or image, music) is manipulated by a collective voice with multiple versions. the ‘creation’ can be in a state of constant change with no clear singular meaning or author-ity in the traditional sense.

perhaps the question differs slightly when we consider works of fiction as opposed to ‘information’. we have no difficulty in accepting that ‘truth’ is contingent in the fictive world but we have difficulty holding this idea where ‘facts’ are concerned. in what the internet means for how we think about the world The Atlantic, Jan 5 2012 rebecca rosen, author of too big to know suggests

… for the coming generation, knowing looks less like capturing truths … than engaging in never-settled networks of discussion and argument. That social activity — collaborative and contentious, often at the same time — is a more accurate reflection of our condition as imperfect social creatures trying to understand a world that is too big and too complex for even the biggest-headed expert.

when questioned about the effect of networked knowledge on objectivity and facts, rosen refers back to the postmodernists

the dominant (or soon to be dominant) medium is free of the old limitations … Our new medium is, of course, wildly connective. Now we can explore beyond the news rectangle just by clicking. There is no longer an imperative to squeeze the world into small, self-contained boxes. Hyperlinks remove the limitations that objectivity was invented to address.

but she does believ that Knowledge will always find patterns that apply across particulars. (The equating of knowledge with universals is a different matter.)

Here’s a taste of everything is a remix: part 4

This is evolution. Copy, transform and combine.

And culture evolves in a similar way, but the elements aren’t genes, they’re memes — ideas, behaviors, skills. Memes are copied, transformed, and combined. And the dominant ideas of our time are the memes that spread the most.

This is social evolution.

Copy, transform and combine. It’s who we are, it’s how we live, and of course, it’s how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones.

But our system of law doesn’t acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property, as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries.

But ideas aren’t so tidy. They’re layered, they’re interwoven, they’re tangled. And when the system conflicts with the reality… the system starts to fail.

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