The Poetics of Re-use

A discussion space and materials base for the reading/talk, "The Poetics of Re-use," with Brian Howe and Buck Downs, as part of the In Your Ear reading series, curated by Adam Good and Cathy Eisenhower.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

people is watching your ass

I guess it could be useful for somebody (given enough time) to differentiate between the kinds of re-use that everyone does all the time, and the particular instance of a re-use practice that clarifies and focuses on re-use as a foregrounded strategy.

Adam's use of the phrase 'mash-up' started me thinking down this line, because my understanding of mash-up, (which I take to be normative, of course) is that a mash-up is entirely made out of pre-existing material, e.g., you would not write/record your "own" bass line as part of the process of creating a mash-up, strictly speaking. Adam is not using 'mash-up' in this sense, since he explicitly dubs the commingling of his own written output with that of another as a mash-up.

So there is some category of "total re-use", i.e., one that eschews for any number of reasons the commingling of first-generation material with appropriated/sampled/plus-gen material. Erased books such as Jen Bervin's Nets or Ronald Johnson's Radios [sic] come immediately to mind.

I find it hard to stay interested in this straight-edge re-use, even as I admit that what it is I do instead that might form the base of a competing definition of re-use is really only writing as it has been practiced for centuries.

The only way I've ever seen anyone learn to write is by first copying out letters that someone else wrote, then copying out words that someone else wrote, then copying out sentences someone else wrote. The product of this activity comprises the majority of everything that has ever been written, even before the advent of printing. People keep copying down other people's shit, and this is what we call our civilization.


  • At 7:59 PM, Blogger Ryan W. said…

    "people keep copying other people's shit"

    true enough, but there is such a thing as change over time. how to explain change? take any number of contemporary writings and you can't really say that it could have been written in the year 1500, or that it was. so there is such a thing as change.

    but perhaps this whole blog -- extrapolating from what I've read of it thus far -- is based on an assumption that we're at an end of history. that all the moves hadn't been used up by 1500, or 1600, but they have been now, and so it's not important to contrast 2006 with 1506.

    that's not my opinion, tho. I don't think we're at an end of history. a safe position for me to take.

    the mechanics of writing are seemingly more mechanical than the mechanics of reading, and seemingly more finite, such that it's easier to consider all writing as re-use, but it's harder to consider all reading -- all the feats that make up reading -- as re-use. thus, when the distinction between reading and writing is blurred, it gets a little harder to talk about all writing as being about re-use. that is, if reading is a component of writing, even while writing is underway.

    re-use in writing is an act of reading, but it is not equivalent to all the feats or experiences that make up reading.

    it is perhaps a function of narcissism that writers very often consider reading to be something that might serve to improve their writing, rather than the other way around. maybe the only reason to write is to become better readers. maybe reading is where the glory is. reading is not its own record, but we can (only partly) record our reading, and re-use partly serves the purpose of recording reading.

    there's a very definitely imaginable depth to what we write that is only apparent by way of certain feats of reading. re-use is not at all unromantic, but the obsession with writing as arrangements of words/text -- which in turn seems to lead to this logical conclusion of all writing as re-use -- is perhaps unromantic. reading is romantic. I think I'm using the word "romantic" as a place-keeper for all the things we must want out of writing/reading, including both the things we readily talk about and also things we might less readily talk about.

    by writing all this before reading all of the blog, I risk committing accidental re-use. no grave risk, tho. a search on this blog for "end of history" turned up no results.


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