Monday, May 21, 2007


Way back in 1996, I introduced the concept of surf-sample-manipulate as part of a long tradition in what author Raymond Federman calls playgiarism (the use of the extra y is, of course, meant to signify the more playful aspects of intentionally manipulated source material).

When I interviewed Federman on the subject, he said:
I cannot explain how playgiarism works -- you do it or you don't do it.

You're born a playgiarizer or you are not. It's as simple as that. The laws of playgiarism are unwritten, it's a tabou, like incest, it cannot be legalized. The great playgiarizers of all time, Homer, Shakespeare, Rabelais, Diderot, Rimbaud, Proust, Beckett, and Federman have never pretended to do anything else than playgiarizing. Inferior writers deny that they playgiarize because they confuse plagiarism with playgiarism, not the same. The difference is enormous, but no one has ever been able to tell what it is. It cannot be measured in weight or size. Plagiarism is sad. It cries, it whines. It always apologizes. Playgiarism on the other hand laughs all the time. It makes fun of what it does while doing it.
A transcendental DJ, quoting Emerson, might recall what Emerson wrote in "Quotation and Originality":
Our debt to tradition through reading and conversation is so massive, our protest so rare and insignificant, and this commonly on the ground of other reading or hearing, that in large sense, one would say there is no pure originality. All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands.
Remixological discourse also brings in cinema, net art, the blogosphere, and other contemporary additions to our "reading" of culture. When thinking through how best to sample and manipulate the (meta) data from our rhizomatically intertwingled network culture, one would be best advised to start off by embracing an open source lifestyle while drifting through cyberpsychogeographical border zones.

The mainstream literary scene sees the writing on the wall too, or at least its hippest sector represented by writers like Jonathan Lethem who published an article in a recent edition of Harper's (February 2007) called "The Ecstasy of Influence":
Literature has been in a plundered, fragmentary state for a long time. When I was thirteen I purchased an anthology of Beat writing. Immediately, and to my very great excitement, I discovered one William S. Burroughs, author of something called Naked Lunch, excerpted there in all its coruscating brilliance. Burroughs was then as radical a literary man as the world had to offer. Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing. Later, attempting to understand this impact, I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers' texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. Some of these borrowings had been lifted from American science fiction of the Forties and Fifties, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me. By then I knew that this “cut-up method,” as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic. When he wrote about his process, the hairs on my neck stood up, so palpable was the excitement. Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot, and the least imitative of authors was no plagiarist at all.
The essay successfully locates an important thread of "playgiaristic" practice throughout literary history (only noticeable omission: Lautreamont). I like the ending too where, after having read through it all, the reader is told:
This key to the preceding essay names the source of every line I stole, warped, and cobbled together as I “wrote” (except, alas, those sources I forgot along the way). First uses of a given author or speaker are highlighted in red. Nearly every sentence I culled I also revised, at least slightly—for necessities of space, in order to produce a more consistent tone, or simply because I felt like it.
This is surf-sample-manipulate put into practice. ComPostproduction as pseudo-autobiographical fiction.

I give more detailed instructions and references on how to practice playgiarism as part of an open source lifestyle all throughout META/DATA.

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