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Archive of the category 'Literature'

Some notes on Simon Reynolds’s Call for Originality, Eduardo Navas

Image source: slate, by Laura Terry.

Back in October of 2012 Simon Reynolds wrote a passionate piece on Remix Culture for Slate magazine titled “Your Are not a Switch” in which he calls out mainly scholars who are using the reference of the DJ and remixing to discuss issues of originality, and especially in his view, questioning the concept of the “genius.”  For me what is striking about Reynolds’s position is that he goes over much of the literature that has been produced for the last few years claiming that all of the authors (amazing that all of them,  a bit essentialist on his part disappointingly), especially those in academia are guilty of dismantling the originality in creativity.  To make a sweeping statement like this is troublesome enough but there is more.

As much as I like Reynolds’s research, including his most recent book titled Retromania, I have to say that his article is long-winded and does not contribute anything new, not even a strong counter-argument against the authors he calls out.  Reynolds appears to want to celebrate the artist as genius, and to do this he claims at the end of his article that there is something to the process of coming up with new material based on a unique interpretation.  Well, this is not so different from what some  of the authors that he is critiquing are saying.  In fact, this is the whole point of the books, such as Synreich’s Mashed up, or Amerika’s Remixthebook.  Perhaps it’s the “academic” or (I prefer) the systematic and rigorous approach of some of the publications that may come off as a way of killing the potential of creativity that is misread by Reynolds.  But to understand the grammar of a process, to understand the history, to understand the politics of a cultural activity does not mean that such an activity, in this case creativity, will whither. It simply means that we will understand it better and we need to because the process of borrowing from and being inspired by others now has turned into a material conflict that is finely tuned with economics.

I’m talking about copyright conflicts, of course. We need to understand the process of creativity because we need to make sure that it keeps flowing as it always has. With new technology we are able to archive more of that process and all that is archived becomes commodity in some way. This is really what is at play at the moment in, yes, all of the books and essays Reynolds is critical of; they are  contributions to overcoming such an impasse. And is creativity or the concept of the genius being redefined in this process? Yes.  But all things change, they evolve.  It’s the way we function.  We cannot hold on to some idea of genius or originality as it functioned in the past.  Just like photography redefined painting, just like the computer redefined just about every aspect of daily life, the concepts of the genius and originality are also being redefined.  And this is not a bad thing at all.


I share a couple of paragraphs from Reynolds’s text below:

Many of these polemics make allusions to DJ culture in their titles: Mark Amerika’sremixthebook, Kirby Ferguson’s video essays and website Everything Is A RemixArram Sinnreich’s Mashed Up.Remixing and mashups are familiar—indeed, somewhat tired—notions in dance culture, but in critical circles they enjoy modish currency because they seem to capture something essential about the cut-and-paste sensibility fostered by digital culture. Likewise, the Internet’s gigantic archive of image, sound, text, and design has encouraged a view of the artist as primarily a curator, someone whose principal modes of operation involve recontextualization and connection-making.

As a neutral description of the current state of the art in many fields, this would be fine. But recreativists don’t just champion these practices, they make grand claims about the essentially recycled nature of all art. In Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling, authors Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola quote the DJ Matt Black’s assertion that “humans are just sampling machines … that’s how we learn to paint and make music.” In an opinion piece for NPR, Alva Noë discussed contemporary anxieties about plagiarism in a cut-and-paste era and defended quotation as an artistic practice. But instead of stopping there, he also asserted that “sampling is nothing new, not in art, and not in life … Evolution, whether in biology, or in technology and culture, is never anything other than a redeployment of old means in new circumstances.* We use the old to make the new and the new is always old.” Much the same idea crops up in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, a sort of self-help manual for modern creatives. Kleon moves quickly from “every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas” to insisting that “you are the sum of your influences” and that “you’re a remix of your mom and dad.”

 Read the complete article at Slate

Panel Discussion for Three Junctures of Remix

Calit2 has made available the panel discussion for the exhibition I curated, Three Junctures of Remix. Artists part of the panel include, in order of appearance, Giselle Beiguelman, Elisa Kreisinger, Mark Amerika, and Arcangel Constanini. The discussion ends with a 10 minute performance by Constanini with his own musical object named Phonotube.


Images from the Exhibition Three Junctures of Remix

Image from Cali2’s Flickr stream. From left to right: Mark Amerika, Giselle Beiguelman, Elisa Kreisinger, Arcangel Constantini, Trish Stone, and Eduardo Navas

The opening at Calit2 on January 17 was a complete success.  Many thanks to Jordan Crandall and the gallery committee for their support in the realization of the exhibition. A special thanks to Trish Stone and Hector Bracho and the entire Calit2 team for all their help.  It was truly a great experience.  The discussion panel, which took place just an hour before the official opening will be online very soon, in the meantime I want to point out that there are lots of great pictures on Flickr for anyone interested to view.

More Soon,


Abstract for My Keynote Speech at Remixed Media Festival

Image source: Re/mixed Media

Note: Below is the abstract for my Keynote Lecture at the 2012 Re/Mixed Media Festival, to take place at the Brooklyn Lyceum on November 10, 2012.

For the 2012 keynote talk, Eduardo Navas will discuss his research on how the recycling of material, as currently understood in terms of remix, is at play in literary practice in relation to a feedback loop which forms The Framework of Culture.*


The Framework of Culture makes possible the act of remixing. This Framework consists of two layers which function on a feedback loop. The first layer takes effect when something is introduced in culture; such element will likely be different from what is commonly understood, and therefore it takes time for its assimilation. The second layer takes effect when that which is introduced attains cultural value and is appropriated or sampled to be reintroduced in culture. The first layer privileges research and development. Creative literary practice as well as all of the arts function on the second layer, which is why, more often than not, their production consists of appropriation, or at least citation of material with pre-defined cultural value. The two layers have actually been in place since culture itself came about, but their relation has changed with the growing efficiency in production and communication due to the rise of computing. The presentation evaluates this change and its implication for creativity in contemporary cultural production.


* The Framework of Culture is defined in Chapter One of my book, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling.

Not a Remix–Nor a Sampling: Why Fareed Zakaria’s Plagiarism is Unacceptable

Image: Huffpost

By Eduardo Navas

Note: This entry was updated on August 19, 2012 with an extra commentary at the end of the main text.

As an educator in higher education and researcher specializing in remix culture and authorship, when I first learned about Zakaria’s admission to plagiarism, I was very disappointed in him, and thought that there was no way around it, that his admission of plagiarizing parts of Jill Lepore‘s work on gun control written for the New Yorker puts into question his intellectual integrity.

I thought that his apology was quick and to the point, but that somehow it was not enough. I thought that it was necessary for Zakaria to come forward and explain in as much detail as possible the reasoning for his behavior. And I thought that I wasn’t alone in hoping for this to happen–that if an actual explanation was delivered, it would all serve the constructive purpose of discussing the seriousness of plagiarism with students while providing a concrete example of a public intellectual who committed such an unacceptable act.

I thought that Zakaria should give an extensive explanation, first, simply because he owed it to his audience and readers, who have come to respect his work at CNN, Time and The Washington Post; and second because it would inform, and therefore become, admittedly, an unusual contribution to the debates on intellectual property during a period when younger generations are prone to plagiarize due to the easiness of copying and pasting.


Support RE/Mixed Media Fest

The RE/Mixed Media Festival, now in it’s 3rd year, is an annual celebration of collaborative art-making and creative appropriation. It’s the artists’ contribution to the ongoing conversation about remixing, mashups, copyright law, fair use, and the freedom of artists to access their culture in order to add to and build upon it.

The festival – which this year will take place at the Brooklyn Lyceum – a 3-floor 10,000 sq. ft. venue on the border of the Park Slope and Gowanus neighborhoods of Brooklyn – will feature performances, panel discussions, live musical collaborations, hip-hop, sampling, film & video, DIY, food and drink, DJs, technology, interactive installations, painting, sculpture, software, hacking, and much more!

Read more at KickStarter and Remixedmedia.org

Table of Contents and Introduction Available as PDF for my book, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling

Springer has made available the Table of Contents and Introduction of my book, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling. You can download it by visiting the book’s official link:

The book should be available in the coming weeks in Europe, and soon after in the United States. For more information, also see the main entry about the book.

Pre-order Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling

Cover Design: Ludmil Trenkov

Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling can now be pre-ordered.  You can place your order on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Powell’sl Books, or another major online bookseller in your region, anywhere in the world.  The book is scheduled to be available in Europe in July, 2012 and in the U.S. in September/October of 2012.

The book will also be available electronically through university libraries that have subscriptions with Springer’s online service, Springerlink.  I encourage educators who find the book as a whole, or in part, of use for classes to consider the latter option to make the material available to students at an affordable price.

Anyone should be able to preview book chapters on Springerlink once the book is released everywhere.  If you would like a print copy for review, please send me, Eduardo Navas, an e-mail with your information and motivation for requesting a print version.

For all questions, please feel free to contact me at eduardo_at_navasse_dot_net.

Also, see the main entry on this book for the table of content and more information.

Below are selected excerpts from the book:

From Chapter One, Remix[ing] Sampling, page 11:

Before Remix is defined specifically in the late 1960s and ‘70s, it is necessary to trace its cultural development, which will clarify how Remix is informed by modernism and postmodernism at the beginning of the twenty-first century. For this reason, my aim in this chapter is to contextualize Remix’s theoretical framework. This will be done in two parts. The first consists of the three stages of mechanical reproduction, which set the ground for sampling to rise as a meta-activity in the second half of the twentieth century. The three stages are presented with the aim to understand how people engage with mechanical reproduction as media becomes more accessible for manipulation. […]The three stages are then linked to four stages of Remix, which overlap the second and third stage of mechanical reproduction.

From Chapter two, Remix[ing] Music, page 61:

To remix is to compose, and dub was the first stage where this possibility was seen not as an act that promoted genius, but as an act that questioned authorship, creativity, originality, and the economics that supported the discourse behind these terms as stable cultural forms. […] Repetition becomes the privileged mode of production, in which preexisting material is recycled towards new forms of representation. The potential behind this paradigm shift would not become evident until the second stage of Remix in New York City, where the principles explored in dub were further explored in what today is known as turntablism: the looping of small sections of records to create new beats—instrumental loops, on top of which MCs and rappers would freestyle, improvising rhymes. […]

From Chapter Three, Remix[ing] Theory, page 125:

Once the concept of sampling, as understood in music during the ‘70s and ‘80s, was introduced as an activity directly linked to remixing different elements beyond music (and eventually evolved into an influential discourse), appropriation and recycling as concepts changed at the beginning of the twenty-first century; they cannot be considered on the same terms prior to the development of machines specifically design for remixing. This would be equivalent to trying to understand the world in terms of representation prior to the photo camera. Once a specific technology is introduced it eventually develops a discourse that helps to shape cultural anxieties. Remix has done and is currently doing this to concepts of appropriation. Remix has changed how we look at the production of material in terms of combinations. This is what enables Remix to become an aesthetic, a discourse that, like a virus, can move through any cultural area and be progressive and regressive depending on the intentions of the people implementing its principles.

More excerpts available once the book is available.

Upcoming Book, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling

Image: Preliminary cover design and logo for upcoming book by Ludmil Trenkov.

I am very happy to announce that my book Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling is scheduled to be published later on this year, by Springer Wien New York Press.  If all goes according to schedule, it should be available no later than this Fall.  The book offers an in-depth analysis on Remix as a form of discourse.  To get a sense of what to expect, you can read my previously published text, “Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture,” also available through Springer: http://www.springerlink.com/content/r7r28443320k6012/. You can read my online version as well, though I encourage you to support the publishing company by downloading the official version.

I will offer more information about the book in the near future, such as the table of content, and excerpts from the text. For now I wanted to share the promotional abstract:

Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling is an analysis of Remix in art, music, and new media. Navas argues that Remix, as a form of discourse, affects culture in ways that go beyond the basic recombination of material. His investigation locates the roots of Remix in early forms of mechanical reproduction, in seven stages, beginning in the nineteenth century with the development of the photo camera and the phonograph, leading to contemporary remix culture. This book places particular emphasis on the rise of Remix in music during the 1970s and ‘80s in relation to art and media at the beginning of the twenty-first Century. Navas argues that Remix is a type of binder, a cultural glue—a virus—that informs and supports contemporary culture.

Remix of Adorno’s Minima Moralia

Click image for large view.  Detail of Minima Moralia 6.

Minima Moralia Redux:

Minima Moralia Redux is a selective remix by Eduardo Navas of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia. Starting on October 16, 2011, an entry a week will be rewritten until the 153 aphorisms of Minima Moralia become part of the blog.

Theodor Adorno’s aphorisms are carefully analyzed and reinterpreted in order to explore the principles of the selective remix, often found in music and video. The selective remix consists of adding to or subtracting material from a pre-existing source.

Minima Moralia Redux is the result of a long term post-doctoral analysis in cultural analytics performed for The Department of Information Science and Media Studies  http://www.uib.no/infomedia/en at the University of Bergen, Norway, in collaboration with Software Studies Lab
http://lab.softwarestudies.com/ at the University of California, San Diego.

Minima Moralia Redux is part of the Blog Remixes:

Eduardo Navas

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