Media theorist, artist, and novelist Mark Amerika explores the book as a live, “liquid” object and uncovers its potential beyond the printed word. Today, he discusses his own research-and-perform methodology as well as a sampling of remix projects that utilize the works of Jack Kerouac, Jacques Derrida, and Sol Lewitt, among others.
BY MARK AMERIKA
Cult novelist, media theorist, web publisher, VJ artist, and professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado at Boulder
One of my collaborators on the new remixthebook.com website, Gary Hall, also a University of Minnesota Press author, recently published a blog post entitled “What do we have the right not to call a ‘book’?”. In the post, Hall writes:
What seems much more interesting is the way certain developments in electronic publishing contain at least the potential for us to perceive the book as something that is not completely fixed, stable and unified, with definite limits and clear material edges, but as liquid and living, open to being continually and collaboratively written, edited, annotated, critiqued, updated, shared, supplemented, revised, re-ordered, reiterated and remained.
This description of the emerging forms of what we might refer to as a book per se, directly applies to the recent appearance of remixthebook, my new hybridized print / web / publication / digital / performance of contemporary art theory. The professionally edited and designed print component is something I am proud of and is clearly situated within the cutting-edge editorial direction of this prestigious press. The UMP editorial and marketing team were very excited by and encouraged the development of the digital / web / performance aspects of the Web site and its array of innovative remix contributions that further expand the concepts of experimental writing and publishing in digital culture.
But what exactly is the print book composed of and how does it relate to the digital remixes found on remixthebook.com?
The print book is an extended remix of source material found in my improvised blog posts from the Professor VJ blog which, during the years 2006-2010, I approached primarily as a publishing vehicle to distribute what I refer to as my spontaneous theoretical performances. These performances are similar to the kind of “cite-specific” scholarly writings associated with innovative academic essays that mimic the rhetorical style we find in works like Derrida’s Glas, or Avital Ronnel’s The Telephone Book, but I flip the script by no longer prioritizing the print-centric mentality of the expert scholar who feels the need to conform to a particular academic standard and instead put into play a research-and-perform methodology that I refer to as surf-sample-manipulate (S-S-M). With S-S-M, I surf the net for useful source material, sample the bits that resonate most with the rhetorical flow being captured as part of my realtime theoretical performance, and manipulate that improvisationally sampled source material as part of a live, online remix that uses theory as a trigger inference.
This notion of the trigger inference is something that Amiri Baraka (as LeRoi Jones) refers to when writing about the spontaneous bop prose of Jack Keroauc. My hope is that this more fluid, experimental, and digitally networked use of source material as part of an ongoing — what Hall refers to as “living” and “liquid” — writing and publishing performance, will open up contemporary theoretical discourse to other anti-disciplinary artists who are just as stimulated by contemporary thinkers as any tenured humanist might be [anti-disciplinary = antiauthoritarian + interdisciplinary].
This is where remixthebook.com comes in. It was a total blast putting the whole thing together and features many different remixes of the source material generated around the remixthebook project. For example, I lifted a lot of the theoretical maxims distributed within the print version of the book and then filtered them through what we might call the “Sol Lewitt ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art'” format. Lewitt wrote his famous mock-manifesto of that title in 1969. In this now classic work of conceptual art writing, Lewitt published thirty-five sentences in all, with phrases like “Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” Instead of remixing his actual words per se, I decided to remix his style and formatting, and wrote “Sentences on Remixology 1.0” — and then I video recorded myself delivering those lines in front of a green screen thus producing both more audio and video source material for further manipulation. Various versions and remixes of this multimedia data — the text, video, audio — were then sent to an internationally distributed network of artists, theorists, musicians and anti-disciplinary remixers. The result of this network distributed remix jam session is the compilation of multimedia art and language works on the remixthebook.com site.
Is the video above, made available for free via Vimeo, still a part of my “book”? How could it be mine? And what about the notion of authorship? Are the theoretical performances in the print book all mine and the remixes found on the site merely supplemental to the what appears to be bound by copyright? Do the various remixes on the Web site indicate ways to move beyond the print book per se and render it an ancillary object for those who fetishize such things?
In addition to all of the collaborative remixes on the Web site, there is a very experimental version of the syllabus I use for the Remix Culture seminar I teach at Colorado. I put it up there so that others can sample from my ideas and exercises when teaching the book in conjunction with assignments or supplemental readings in courses focused on contemporary forms of postproduction art, collage, appropriation, digital détournement, and remix in general.
In fact, at the book launch in Boulder, one of the grad students I am teaching read a remix of remixthebook for me, and for himself. I think if students are given a chance to actually play with and perform (i.e. embody) theory in live and/or multimedia formats and events, they will build a closer relationship to theory’s source material and its inherent potential to trigger thoughts that enable them to see the world anew.
Mark Amerika is author of many books, among them The Kafka Chronicles, Sexual Blood, META/DATA: A Digital Poetics, and most recently, remixthebook. His artwork has been exhibited in several national and international venues, and his literary writing and artwork have been featured in Times Magazine, the New York Times, and the Guardian, among others. He is professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado at Boulder and principal research fellow of media studies at La Trobe University. You can find more information at markamerika.com.
“Think of remixthebook as DJ Tool made from rhythms downloaded, ripped, mixed, spliced, diced, and burned into our collective hard drives, then re-uploaded. It’s a piece of conceptual hardware that exists somewhere between how we experience information and how information aesthetics has transformed the human condition. It’s that deep.”
—Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid