More on Citationism

Somewhat related to yesterday's post, Jonah Lehrer has a post up about musical mash-up as a model for the production of new ideas in working memory.

Which made me think about John Livingston Lowes's book The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination, a study which traces phrases in Coleridge's poems to various books Coleridge had read.

Lowes saw Coleridge as a mash-up artist. Or in Lowes's own words, “the imagination is never more authentically creative than when it suffuses an object of present or bygone vision, in its integrity, with this inner light which is the effluence of past impressions...”

This site by Jonathan and Lisa Price uses Lowe's research to turn Coleridge's “Kubla Khan” fragment – the poem he wrote in an opium dream -- into hypertext. The idea is to click on any part of the poem to learn where it was “sampled” from.

New ideas are misremembered old ideas. Our minds are vibrant encyclopedias, constantly engaged in the task of corrupting themselves. Malcolm Gladwell quotes Bryony Lavery on writing plays -- “What happens when I write is that I find that I’m somehow zoning on a number of things. I find that I’ve cut things out of newspapers because the story or something in them is interesting to me, and seems to me to have a place onstage. Then it starts coagulating. It’s like the soup starts thickening. And then a story, which is also a structure, starts emerging...”

1 thought on “More on Citationism”

  1. Jen Burke Anderson

    Hi James — this commentary on the nature of thinking, especially as it relates to "mash-ups" and other technology-driven forms of expression, reminds me of this essay I'm reading by Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"
    Carr has been looking at the effects of the Internet on the way our brains operate. He's one of the few writers who's really doing so critically.
    You're right — the human mind is a great mash-up artist and always has been. I just hope that as "the cloud" saturates more and more areas of our lives, we retain the capacity for traditional narratives with beginning, middle and end. It's important because it has to do with depth.

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