Thursday, March 18, 2010

note taking/posted elsewhere. Teaching the Young
“But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject.”

So Ursula Le Guin, a fantasy author, of all people, is the first to say the obvious: that culture is form production, not content production. Form embodies meanings; it does not merely carry them, and it rarely embodies what you want it to.

But of course the reason geek and technocrat intellectuals read SF, and the reason they read Rawls, is that it’s all about ideas, so therefore about their own wish fulfillment; like earnest cafe revolutionaries whose fantasies have no relation to a reality other than their own.

Mash-ups are collage and collage is form. But don’t pretend a mash-up has much to do with the originals. The history of collage is the history of art made from crap. The new history of mash-ups in most cases is the history of crap made from art: crap made by idiots piggybacking on someone else’s work.

Picasso wasn’t the most articulate schmuck but he said one thing that was on the mark: “Bad artists borrow, good artists steal.” If you do a mash-up like you own it, then everything in it is raw material. If you make it just as reference, it’s like saying “Hey everybody I just wrote a paper about Nietzsche! Cool huh!?”

Works of art are made to be read against the grain. Subtext is the point because the maker’s focus is on form. Even a Holocaust novelist is a novelist first, not a “Holocaust person.” That’s why badly written Holocaust novels like badly written love letters rarely get the point across. Mash-ups are the culture of citation as a claim to authority. Why does it remind me of academia?
I'll add that mash-ups are popular with "intellectuals" who prefer an art of intention [illustration] and for whom an art of form is considered light entertainment rather than the most intimate record of ourselves that we will leave behind.

Who Sampled.
Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa took what they found and made it theirs. It wasn't footnotes for prestige.
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Adding more from Le Guin. She gets sloppy later in the piece but what's below is good, and obvious to writers and readers of fiction as a whole.  Turn some of the words around and you can reconcile her arguments with mine. What she calls theft, I call borrowing, but they mean the same thing in this case.

Readers of fantasy and speculative fiction may be fans of illustration, but good illustrators still know something about art. It's sad that you can't even trust anthropologists to understand this anymore.
Information is essentally content. Content does not, or should not, belong to anybody. It may take Einstein to think it up in the first place, this little equation, this bit of information, but once he’s published it, once you’ve learned it, it’s yours. And you can do whatever you like with it. No question about that.

This lack of ownership is of course anathema to capitalism. The corporations would like to keep all their scientific and techological information secret forever. An individual’s right to profit from discovery of information is more defensible; a chemical formula for making a useful or salable substance, for instance, is information of immediate money value, and it doesn’t seem unfair for it to be kept secret for a while so the originator can profit from it. Inventors can patent an invention (on the same principle as copyright). But information in the sense of knowledge rightly belongs to anyone who will learn it. You cannot patent the knowledge of how to perform a mastectomy. You cannot copyright a mathematical equation.

If you suppress information so that only you can profit from it, it’s very likely to get away from you. And it’s extremely difficult to keep information secret. As all governments know, the more you classify, the greater the leakage. As a general rule, the best thing to do with information is release it, set it free. It is in this sense that information really does want to be free.

Content flourishes when it is allowed to be common knowledge, or at least available knowledge.

But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject.

You learn a subject. Surgery, or math. History, or philosophy.

You don’t learn an object.

You can study it, sure. You can observe an object, you can look at it, listen to it, read it. You can learn how it was made. You can buy it, or ask permission to borrow it or use it or copy it. You can steal it.

And these days, if the art object is an object made of words — a poem, a novel — and you want to steal it, you refer to it as “information.”

And that’s supposed to legitimise the thievery. To glamorise it, even. To postmodernise it. To make it authentic…

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