Between appropriation and appreciation

Assembling a text from other texts is a lot of work. I have gone through this process before: it took me about five years to put together ‘Secret ballet‘, and I had precious little feedback when the book was finally finished and published. Was all that a waste of time? Possibly. Will it be any different with ‘Killing time’?

What is different now is that I reach out to the ‘Killing time’ authors and their publishers. A multi-thread conversation has begun that makes me more acutely aware of the implications of my approach. The copyright question is not the main issue. Work resulting from appropriation, cut-up, collage, mash-up or aggregation usually tends to pay little attention to the relation of the result to the sources and their originators (many of whom will never even become aware that their work has been re-contextualised). The sources are used as mere raw material, as a pile of disused text to be re-fashioned. It is perhaps fair to say that some texts deserve no better. It can be argued that  the new context produces new, often unintentional meaning, and that de-familiarisation can turn a cliché into something more interesting. It can also be argued that the immateriality of text means that any recycling leaves the source intact. But it is the gesture that counts.

I understand the gleeful, forthright attitude of appropriation, but I don’t like it anymore, at least not in my own work. I (intend to) have a lot of respect and appreciation for the sources, even the self-published, maybe awkward mysteries, and I don’t like the idea that by re-contextualising sentences I implicitly devalue the original context. It is this tension between appreciation and appropriation, and the apprehension it causes, that at the moment is the real topic of work as I embark on this project.

Leave a Reply