Thursday, April 22, 2010
Copycats, innovators, and slaves of the past: on being "post-all-of-that"
"... invaluable though innovation may be, our relentless focus on it may be obscuring the value of its much-maligned relative, imitation. Imitation has always had a faintly disreputable ring to it — presidents do not normally give speeches extolling the virtues of the copycat. But where innovation brings new things into the world, imitation spreads them; where innovators break the old mold, imitators perfect the new one; and while innovators can win big, imitators often win bigger. Indeed, what looks like innovation is often actually artful imitation.."
Note: I copied this story and pic from another blog - the inimitable 3 Quarks Daily!
Speaking of innovation and imitation, I was struck by Christian Bök's recent Harriet post about Erik Zboya's using digital techniques to experiment with Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés: struck because the techniques seem so much less innovative than the original. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, mind you. I'm even more interested, however, in B.'s "Xenotext Experiment," which replies on scientific technology and theorizing that is precisely fifty years old now to "encode" poems in DNA. Commentaries on the past as innovation!
Anyway, I've been reading about the latter - and much more - in a fascinating anthology recently published by the wonderful project now residing at Lake Forest College, The &NOW Awards for best innovative writing. A fun thing in the book, edited capaciously and generously by Robert Archambeau, Davis Schniederman, and Steve Tomasula, is Gretchen E. Henderson's Galerie de Difformité, - yet even that piece owes much, at least in theory, to Nerval's The Salt Smugglers - ca. 1850... or even perhaps Laurence Sterne, from whom we all arguably descend. In a sense, possibly a Platonic one, all hats are old. As the Amazon "product description" puts it, the anthology "features writing as a contemporary art form: writing as it is practiced today by authors who consciously treat their work as an art, and as a practice explicitly aware of its own literary and extra-literary history." So again: I'm interested in the idea of innovation as consisting of hyper-awareness of the past - 'cos I imagine that even writers who don't think of themselves as, or aren't considered to be innovative... have that.
Anyhow, something in the &NOW book that really grabs me is DJ Spooky's more lively and convincing "The Future Is Here," which begins:
"I'm just happy to be alive in this era. It's truly exciting to travel around just checking out how strange it all is. I'd say this is going to be a century of hyper-acceleration, and I just get a kick out of seeing it. One of my favorite phrases comes from William Gibson: 'The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed.'"
I strongly suspect that the sound structures and social clusters Spooky evokes with such relish represent something of what the future really holds in store, something we haven't quite known before.
Oh, and kudos to the eds. for sampling The New Anonymous - "a literary journal of the nameless, edited by the faceless" - surely an idea whose time has come!
As Steve Tomasula sez in his intro, writing "now" is really hard to categorize - all we can say is that it's something "post-all-of-that!"
Still: I just read the fascinating book Toward Total Poetry, by Adriano Spatola - one of the fine products of Paul Vangelisti and Guy Bennett's Seismicity Editions about which I recently blogged. And though the book originally appeared back in the early seventies (this is its first translation into English), almost everything we now call innovative turns up in its pages: it's almost a cookbook for innovative poetry. I suppose it can't have been influential among those in the English-language poetry world now among us; but the thinking is there... and it's well over three decades old.
So: who are the slaves of the past? Everybody, I presume; but appropos of everything and nothing (which is the way I juxtapose stuff, being not a flâneur but a bricoleur), here's "Jane" over on Digital Emunction:
"I think there’s little intellectual honor in producing some semi-official metric for the ends of epochs and not making any claims until it had been rigorously satisfied. That, to be sure, is to be a slave of the past."