I’m not making any money plugging their program, I promise, but Open Source keeps doing good and interesting stuff. And I thank them for that by sending you to listen, thereby draining their bandwidth and other resources even more. For your listening pleasure tonight, I offer an aural feast on plagiarism, intellectual property, and from whence (and how, and why) we draw our inspiration. In The Ecstasy of Inspiration, Jonathan Lethem creates a collage of others’ words — presented as his own.
Here’s how the radio show describes the essay:
Nearly every word of this essay about cultural borrowing and reworking
was stolen — er, appropriated — from some other source and then cobbled
together with a big dose of Lethem magic to form a cohesive whole. Even
the “I”s aren’t Jonathan Lethem; they’re Jonathan Rosen writing in The Talmud and the Internet about John Donne, or William Gibson in a Wired article about William Burroughs, or David Foster Wallace on a grad school seminar, or Brian Wilson in a Beach Boys song.
this is more than a stunt. It’s a passionate salvo in the copyright
wars, a crowd of voices coralled together to say, basically: without
borrowing, stealing, cribbing, remixing, mashing-up, collaging and
compiling — without influences great and small, in other words — there
is no “creating.” No hip hop, sure, but also no blues, no Disney, no
Shakespeare. No Lolita or “I have a dream.” We’d be reduced to staring at campfires and barking at one another.
It’s a fascinating take on remix culture, what it means to use source material, and the Book of Ecclesiastes (or at least the first part, you know, about the stuff under the sun?).
I didn’t quite get it when I first read it, but listening to him talk about it in this podcast really was an intellectual treat. I hope you enjoy both the essay and the explication.
The takeaway for me? I’m not sure. I’m still digesting. You?