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Speaking in Borrowed Tongues: An Investigation of Appropriative Literature
Throughout the twentieth century and beyond, there has been a rich and
lively tradition of appropriative aesthetics, from the Surrealists to Pop
Art, hip-hop to contemporary mash-up artists. In the literary realm, this
mode of expression has taken forms as diverse as the cut-ups of Tristan
Tzara, the New York School poetics of John Ashbery and Ted Berrigan and
Kevin Young's Basquiat tribute-in-verse, To Repel Ghosts (the Remix), as
well as prose experimentations from William S. Burroughs to Jonathan Lethem.
Appropriation may take any number of forms; the writer's choice of source
material and technique, along with the role of chance can produce a wide
array of effects. For example, Tzara's "writing" was a completely
arbitrary process, which sought to inject reality into a distant, abstract
aesthetics and return art to the praxis of everyday life. The New York
School poets borrowed widely from one another to create a multivocal sense
of community, while Young weaves a narrative of African-American struggle
and perseverance via the voices of figures from throughout history.
Some would argue that the appropriative tradition is a natural outgrowth of
the writer's relation to the canon and their negotiation of what Harold
Bloom terms "the anxiety of influence," while others see it as little more
than another symptom of our postmodern malaise: a flourish of superficial
style with no true creative innovation at the heart of it.
As current discourse on copyright and intellectual property heats up, the
issue of appropriative literature gets more complicated and problematic;
financial and legal concerns overshadow aesthetic ones. Is creativity
being compromised in the process? Will constrictive laws such as the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) stifle the development of new
forms, new styles and new voices?
Proposals addressing the topic from aesthetic, cultural and legal
perspectives are welcome, along with papers discussing the work of
particular writers who utilize appropriative techniques. Please send
abstracts of 250-500 words with contact information to Michael S.
From the Literary Calls for Papers Mailing List
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Received on Fri Sep 07 2007 - 22:12:03 EDT