Cut and pasted selves

Back in the early 1990s when interactive multimedia, or as we preferred to call it then hypermedia, was still an esoteric concern, I produced a section on bricolage for “Understanding Hypermedia” – a book I wrote with Bob Cotton and which was brilliantly designed by Malcolm Garrett. In it I wrote:
“With a digital medium such as hypermedia, not only is copying very easy, but once it has been copied, material can be very easily adapted, modified, changed or merged with other copied material. In 20 years time, one definition of ‘literacy’ may be the ability to put together an interactive communication (using sound, images, animation and live action video as well as text). If this is the case, it will be largely because hypermedia is the supreme medium for bricolage.”
“… bricolage can be seen as a fundamental aspect of human creativity. Nothing that any of us creates is totally new. Everyone, including the most brilliant and original, draws on existing elements of the culture. What makes something new and original is the organization of those existing elements into new and original relationships, combined with the detail of their expression.”

My interest in the concept has continued to this day and from time to time I have posted examples here:
“Monsieur Bricolage”
“Another take on bricolage”
“Sounds like bricolage to me”
“A new way of being?”
“Cobbled-together technologies”
“Learn to work with the world”
My latest snippet is from “The Ecstasy of Influence:A plagiarism”,by Jonathan Lethem, published In Harpers in February 2007:
“Any text is woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The citations that go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read; they are quotations without inverted commas. The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral caliber and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. Neurological study has lately shown that memory, imagination, and consciousness itself is stitched, quilted, pastiched. If we cut-and-paste our selves, might we not forgive it of our artworks?”

It’s quite likely you’ve read it already. Doing a quick google this morning I saw it had something like 30000 links. If you haven’t read it yet, you should, it is worthy of a good ponder.
I got the link from Abe Burmeister’s “abstractdynamics” and I also saw a reference to it in tinygigantic’s lively blog, but today’s discovery was a piece by Henry Jenkins,”The Escasy of Influence and the Power of Networks” which I urge you to read. And, before I get tangled in links, here finally is a taster from the Jenkins piece:
“As a fan of Lethem’s fiction (The Fortress of Solitude), I am tickled pink to see my own writing included in this context. Every so often, journalists, who see me as an advocate of very loose copyright protection, ask me how I would feel if someone took and used my work without my permission as if it were a kind of gotcha question. In reality, I am delighted to see people engage with my ideas; I give much of my own intellectual property away on a daily basis — here in the blog and elsewhere — because I care much more about having an impact on the debates that impact our culture and in providing resources for my readers than I am interested in regulating what they do with my text. Of course, it is nice when they acknowledge that I wrote the material, as Lethem does here, but I also understand as the quote from Donne suggests that new works get built on the shucks of old works and that to be part of the conversation is to become the raw materials out of which new texts get generated or perhaps simply the compost that allows them to grow.”