week_1: remixed influence as deliberate mechanism to achieve creative novelty

Creativity is a complex process and by no means linear. This week's reading material addressed concepts of remix, influence and plagiarism as inherent (and inevitable) components by which creation acts take form. In Kirby Ferguson's TED talk titled 'Embrace the Remix', the author highlights the utilization of COPY, TRANSFORMATION, and COMBINATION approaches by artists and technologists (Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs as concrete examples) as a viable approach to novelty creation that he calls REMIX. In Jonathan Lethem's essay 'The Ecstasy of Influence: a Plagiarism', as the title implies, influence and plagiarism are presented as primordial forces driving the novelty in the creation of many literary pieces. The author extends on the notion that creativity arises as the result of written knowledge being continually re-casted or 'appropriated' without the explicit attribution to previous contributors. In those instances were lack of attribution appeared to be unintentional, Lethem called for the notion of 'hidden, unacknowledged memory' or cryptomnesia as it is called, as the most likely explanation. This differs from Ferguson's message in which REMIX without attribution is a deliberate mechanism for creative novelty used in the music and technology industry.

What makes the comparison of Ferguson's talk to Lethem's essay interesting is that Ferguson's embraces REMIX as a better suited conception of creativity, whereas Lethem's discourse focuses on INFLUENCE and PLAGIARISM when addressing the USE OF CREATIVE RESULTS as commodities in a commercial market as opposed to their emotional impact and effect in the his self-defined 'gift economy'.

Ferguson arguments that REMIX is a valid approach to get started as artist and creator and in doing so, the true inner voice and creative force of the artist start to emerge as result. This is exemplified when Ferguson cited the following text by Woodie Guthrie:

'the words are the important thing

don't worry about tunes

take a tune,

sing high when the sing low,

sing fast when they sing slow,

and you've got a new tune'

Implicit in this text is a recipe for innovation. It advices the artist to focus on what he is really good at (in this case on writing the lyrics, ... on poetry) and 'outsource' the music to previous contributors by changing it, adapting it, and 're-contextualizing' into something different. The text thus suggest that the lyrics should be the truly innovating outcome coming from the artist (Bob Dylan being the example).

Ferguson and Lethem discourses converge when addressing copyright and patent laws that treat the outcome of the creative process as 'property'. Lethem goes on to question 'the contemporary construction of copyright' and expresses his opinion regarding the government-monopoly on the use of creative results as detrimental for society in general. Specially when the monopoly is systematically maintained throughout long periods of time instead of entering the domain of 'public commons' and be considered a creative triumph of humanity as a whole. I want to contrast Ferguson's interpretation of sustained monopolies as detrimental with Peter Thiel's positive take on monopolies as necessary organizational enterprises were long-term thinking and creatively high-risk projects can take place, isolated from the burden of competition. In his book 'From Zero to One', Thiel argues that creative monopolies have a positive impact in society, citing Google's many creative projects as example. Under Thiel's assumption, one could argue that enforcing Disney's monopoly on its early creative outputs was perhaps a necessary step to create an environment devoid of competition in which other highly risky and creative projects could be implemented and successfully realized.

There is no doubt that the current apparatus for protecting intellectual property in United States is in many occasions stiffing innovation and creative output. However, that does not necessarily means to incentivize artists to seek 'the appropriation of the media environment' as a panacea for creative inspiration in today's world, or the stimulation of deliberate plagiarism as valid approach the the creative process. On important thing that Lethem did not addressed extensively on his essay is the role of the 'copy' in today's world of the internet and how democratization of the web have change the landscape for the monetization of the creative output by artists.


Kirby Ferguson (2012) Embracing the remix. TED Talk URL: https://www.ted.com/talks/kirby_ferguson_embrace_the_remix

Jonathan Lethem (2007) The ecstasy of influence: a plagiarism. Harper's Magazine URL: https://harpers.org/archive/2007/02/the-ecstasy-of-influence/

Peter Thiel & Blake Masters (2014) From zero to one: notes on startups, or how to build the future. Published by Crown Business, Random House LLC

Keywords: creativity, remix, influence, Martin Calvino