Monday, March 29, 2010

The Ecstasy of Influence

image by Owen O'Toole from back in the day

OK so now READ THIS article by Jonathan Lethem called The Ecstasy of Influence: a plagiarism, originally published in Harpers Magazine in early 2007, essential reading for all of us recyclers/appropriationists/samplers/remixers/fair users/ supercutters/and masher-uppers out here. Author Lethem even has his own project called Promiscuous Materials that is very similar to Jay-Z's 2005 online Construction Set , where the tracks to his Black Album were made downloadable specifically for musical remix use. WE listened to a little bit of DangerMouse's The Grey Album (2004) that was a direct result of that project, which certainly shook the copyright laws up--check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation's reportage on the federal copyright exception called 'fair use' specifically surrounding Feb 24, 2004, the day of coordinated internet civil disobedience known as Grey Tuesday. George Harrison was probably rolling in his grave, after everything he went through with the My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine trial in 1976.


M.Myser said...

I throughly enjoyed Lethem's article. I think that he touched on a lot of different ideas about how copyright works in our current culture and how people both use and abuse this. I really, really enjoyed how Lethem spoke on how copyright is not necessarily a law but "an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forget, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its ever incarnation." Copyright is constantly in flux because of the different situations that are brought up. One overall law would not work in relation to copyright. and in fact, one over all law could not exists to encompass copyright.

The other idea of the article that really stuck me was the idea that everyone breaches copyright. And it is because of this breach that we get a hugh amount of our best works in our culture. We would be no where without these aspects of plagiarism. Lethem remarks about these works that "If these are examples of plagiarism, then we want more plagiarism." Though we are constantly repremanded for plagiarism it is these very works that we are most interested by. We live in a culture where "most artists are converted by art itself." One is constantly trying to copy or mimic what they old as the "best". We strive to become artists because of other artists. We cannot want to be better unless we are constantly seeing great things and striving to be like them.

Lethem remarks that the primary goal of participating in a world of culture is to make it larger. Copyright is making it smaller. It is prohibiting us and stopping us from making more things to flood our culture with.

michael.salka said...

Great article. Loved the allusions to animations like the Simpsons and Peanuts. One segment that really caught me was the explanation of blues and jazz musicians "open source" culture and how Muddy Waters unabashedly acknowledged that his "Country Blues" shared a tune with Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues". Waters continued to say that "this song comes from the cotton field", an inspiring idea that makes arguments over original authorship completely irrelevant. If a work is so entirely inspired by a natural setting (or even any setting and circumstance really) then the artist isn't so much a creator as a translator, deciphering the environment to find the most beautiful part of it and distilling that into art. This idea made me think of how Michelangelo used to claim that his sculptures were already present in the marble blocks he used, and that he was merely uncovering them, or how the Romans believed every artist had an autonomous 'genius' that would visit them to embolden their works (or not). The concept of the artist him/herself as the actual source of the beauty of their pieces seems to me to be a relatively new idea, maybe a contemporary to or recent ancestor of celebrity culture. Maybe if we again began to place more emphasis on the actual source of inspiration as opposed to the artist then we could relieve artists of some of the pressure of living up to the title of 'genius' themselves and hopefully improve the reputation for manic-depression the profession is so bogged down with.

Ryan Simpson said...

Wow. Aside from bringing new information to the table for me (Dylan taking from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Shakespeare from Plutarch's life of Mark Antony), I really appreciated Lethem's seemingly all-encompassing scope he sets on the copy-written world in terms of art and creatorship. I agree with his view that "originality and appropriation are as one," even though I have my own interpretation on what that can mean. His transition in speaking of film gave me a new view that rang true - "most artists are converted by art itself."

One thing that spoke to me in particular was in reference to Heideger and "art has the great potential to reveal the 'thingness' of objects." In terms of found footage films, this quote (as well as "Everything presents itself as familiar - no wonder so much art is trying to make the familiar strange.") directly applies to the kind of work we are trying to tackle in the class. Even though I have my own qualms with perfect films, film's inherent nature to expose objects (and the object of film itself) for other than representation is to appropriate them however the filmmaker considers - exactly what I'm doing with my final for this class... BOOYEAH.

As an aside, I also think it's rather ironic that Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of our copy-written country, discredited the now current conception of copyright, when he stated in the Constitution that the Congress should "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." I enjoy the voice Lethem employs on this...