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Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

6.3 Remix and the Cut: Cutting Scholarship Together/Apart

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Cutting can be understood as an essential aspect of the way reality at large is structured and provided with meaning. I want to focus on how remix specifically, as a form of ‘differential cutting’, can be a means of intervening in and rethinking humanities knowledge production—in particular with respect to the political-economy of book publishing and the commodification of scholarship into knowledge objects—thus opening up and enabling a potential alternative open-ended politics of the book.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In this section I will provide an analysis of how there has been a tendency within remix studies to theorise the cut and the practice of cutting from a representationalist framework. At the same time, my analysis will be juxtaposed and entangled with a diffractive[12] reading of a selection of critical theory, feminist new materialist and media studies texts that specifically focus on the act of cutting from a performative perspective, to explore what forms a posthumanist vision of remix and the cut might take. I will then explore how the potential of the cut and, relating to that, how the politics inherent in the act of cutting, can be applied to scholarly book publishing in an affirmative way. How can we account for our own ethical entanglements as scholars in the becoming of the book?[13] Based on Foucault’s concept of ‘the apparatus’, as well as on Barad’s posthumanist expansion of this concept,[14] I will argue that the scholarly book currently functions as an apparatus that cuts the processes of scholarly creation and becoming into authors, scholarly objects and an observed world separate from these and us. Drawing attention to the processual and unstable nature of the book instead, I will focus on the book’s critical and political potential to question these cuts and to disturb these existing scholarly practices and institutions.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 After analysing how the book functions as an apparatus, a material-discursive formation or assemblage which enacts cuts, I will explore two book publishing projects—Open Humanities Press’s Living Books about Life and Mark Amerika’s remixthebook—that have tried to re-think and re-perform this apparatus by specifically taking responsibility for the cuts they make in an effort to ‘cut-well’ (Kember and Zylinska 2012). I will end this chapter by exploring how these projects have established an alternative politics and ethics of the cut that is open to change, whilst simultaneously analysing what some of their potential shortcomings are.

6.3.1 The Material-Discursive Cut within a Performative Framework

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As I have shown above, Navas has written extensively about cut/copy paste as a practice and concept within remixed music and art. For Navas, remix as a process is deeply embedded in a cultural and linguistic framework, where he sees it as a form of discourse at play across culture (2012: 3). This focus on remix as a cultural variable or as a form of cultural representation seems to be one of the dominant modes of analysis within remix studies as a field.[15] Based on his discursive framework of remix as representation and repetition (following Jacques Attali), Navas makes a distinction between copying and cutting. He sees cutting (into something physical) as materially altering the world, while copying, as a specific form of cutting, keeps the integrity of the original intact. Navas explores how the concept of sampling was altered under the influence of changes in mechanical reproduction, where sampling as a term started to take on the meaning of copying as the act of taking, not from the world, but from an archive of representations of the world. Sampling thus came to be understood culturally as a meta-activity (Navas 2012: 12). In this sense Navas distinguishes between material sampling from the world (which is disturbing) and sampling from representations (which is a form of meta-representation that keeps the original intact). The latter is a form of cultural citation—where one cites in terms of discourse—and this citation is strictly conceptual (Navas 2012: 11–16).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 It can be beneficial here to apply the insights of new materialist theorists to explore what their ‘material-discursive’ and performative visions of cutting and the cut are able to contribute to the idea of remix as a critical affirmative doing. Here I want to extend remix beyond a cultural logic operating at the level of representations, by seeing it as an always already material practice that disturbs and intervenes in the world. As Barad states, for instance: ‘the move toward performative alternatives to representationalism shifts the focus from questions of correspondence between descriptions and reality (e.g. do they mirror nature or culture?) to matters of practices/doings/actions’ (2003: 802). Here remixes as representations are not just mirrors or allegories of the world, but direct interventions in the world. Therefore, both copying and cutting are performative, in the sense that they change the world; they alter and disturb it.[16] Following this reasoning, copying is not ontologically distinct from cutting, as there is no distinction between discourse and the real world: language and matter are entangled, where matter is always already discursive and vice versa.[17]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 As was explored in more depth in my first chapter, Barad’s material-discursive vision of the cut focuses on the complex relationship between the social and the non-social, moving beyond the binary distinction between reality and representation by replacing representationalism with a theory of posthumanist performativity. Her form of realism is not about representing an independent reality outside of us, but about performatively intervening, intra-acting with and as part of the world (Barad 2007: 37). For Barad, intentions are attributable to complex networks of agencies, both human and non-human, functioning within a certain context of material conditions (2007: 23). Where in reality agencies and differences are entangled phenomena, what Barad calls agential cuts cleave things together and apart, creating subjects and objects by enacting determinate boundaries, properties, and meanings. These separations that we create also enact specific inclusions and exclusions, insides and outsides. Barad argues that it is important to take responsibility for the incisions that we make, where being accountable for the entanglements of self and other that we weave also means we need to take responsibility for the exclusions we create (2007: 393). Although not enacted directly by us, but rather by the larger material arrangement of which we are a part (cuts are made from the inside), we are still accountable to the cuts we help to enact: there are new possibilities and ethical obligations to act (cut) at every moment (Barad 2007: 178–179). In this sense, ‘cuts do violence but also open up and rework the agential conditions of possibility’ (Barad et al. 2012). It matters which incisions are enacted, where different cuts enact different materialised becomings. As Barad states: ‘It’s all a matter of where we place the cut. (…) what is at stake is accountability to marks on bodies in their specificity by attending to how different cuts produce differences that matter’ (2007: 348).

6.3.1.1 Cutting Well

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Kember and Zylinska explore the notion of the cut as an inevitable conceptual and material interruption in the process of mediation, focusing specifically on where to cut in so far as it relates to how to cut well. They point out that the cut is both a technique and an ethical imperative, in which cutting is an act necessary to create meaning, to be able to say something about things (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 27). On a more ontological level they argue that ‘cutting is fundamental to our emergence in the world, as well as our differentiation from it’ (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 168). Here they see a similarity with Derrida’s notion of ‘différance’, a term that functions as an incision, where it stabilises the flow of mediation into things, objects, and subjects (Kember and Zylinska 2012: xvi).[18] Through the act of cutting we shape our temporally stabilised selves (we become individuated), as well as actively forming the world we are part of and the matter surrounding us (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 168). Kember and Zylinska are specifically interested in the ethics of the cut. If we inevitably have to intervene in the process of becoming (to shape it and give it meaning), how is it that we can cut well? How can we engage with a process of differential cutting, as they call it, enabling space for the vitality of becoming? To enable a ‘productive engagement with the cut’, Kember and Zylinska are interested in performative and affirmative acts of cutting. They use the example of photography to explore ‘this imperative [which] entails a call to make cuts where necessary, while not forgoing the duration of things’ (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 81). Cutting becomes a technique, not of rendering or representing the world, but of managing it, of ordering and creating it, of giving it meaning. The act of cutting is crucial, as Kember and Zylinska put it, to our ‘becoming-with and becoming-different from the world’, by shaping the universe and shaping ourselves in it (2012: 75). Through cutting we enact both separation and relationality where an ‘incision’ becomes an ethical imperative, a ‘decision’, one which is not made by a humanist, liberal subject but by agentic processes. For Kember and Zylinska, a vitalist and affirmative way of ‘cutting well’ thus leaves space for duration, it does not close down creativity or ‘foreclose on the creative possibility of life’ (2012: 82).

6.3.2 The Affirmative Cut in Remix

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 To explore further the imperative to cut well, I want to return to remix theory and practice, where the potential of the cut and of remix as subversion and affirmative logic, and of appropriation as a political tool and a form of critical production, has been explored extensively. In particular, I want to examine what forms a more performative vision of remix might take to again examine how this might help us in reconstructing an alternative politics of the book. In what sense do remix theory and practice also function, in the words of Barad, as ‘specific agential practices/intra-actions/performances through which specific exclusionary boundaries are enacted’ (2008: 816)? Navas, for instance, conceptualises remix as a vitalism: as a formless force, capable of taking on any form and medium. In this vitalism lies the power of remix to create something new out of something already existing, by reconfiguring it. In this sense, as Navas states, ‘to remix is to compose’. However, remix, through these reconfiguring and juxtaposing gestures, also has the potential to question and critique, becoming an act that interrogates ‘authorship, creativity, originality, and the economics that supported the discourse behind these terms as stable cultural forms’ (Navas 2012: 61). However, Navas warns of the potential of remix to be both what he calls ‘regressive and reflexive’, where the openness of its politics means that it can also be easily co-opted, where ‘sampling and principles of Remix … have been turned into the preferred tools for consumer culture’ (2012: 160). A regressive remix, then, is a re-combination of something that is already familiar and has proved to be successful for the commercial market. A reflexive remix on the other hand is re-generative, as it allows for constant change (Navas 2012: 92–93). Here we can find the potential seeds of resistance in remix, where as a type of intervention, Navas states it has the potential to question conventions, ‘to rupture the norm in order to open spaces of expression for marginalized communities’, and, if implemented well, can become a tool of autonomy (2012: 109).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 One of the realms of remix practice in which an affirmative position of critique and politics has been explored in depth, whilst taking clear responsibility for the material-discursive entanglements it enacts, is in feminist remix culture, most specifically in vidding and political remix video. Francesca Coppa defines vidding as ‘a grassroots art form in which fans re-edit television or film into music videos called “vids” or “fanvids”’ (2011: 123). By cutting and selecting certain bits of videos and juxtaposing them with others, the practice of vidding, beyond or as part of a celebratory fan work, has the potential to become a critical textual engagement as well as a re-cutting and recomposing (cutting-together) of the world differently. As Kristina Busse and Alexis Lothian state, vidding practically takes apart ‘the ideological frameworks of film and TV by unmaking those frameworks technologically’ (2011: 141). Coppa sees vidding as an act of both bringing together and taking apart: ‘what a vidder cuts out can be just as important as what she chooses to include’ (2011: 124). The act of cutting is empowering to vidders in Coppa’s vision, where ‘she who cuts’, is better than ‘she who is cut into pieces’ (2011: 128).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Video artist Elisa Kreisinger, who makes queer video remixes of TV series such as Sex and the City and Mad Men, states that political remix videos harvest more of an element of critique in order to correct certain elements (such as gender norms) in media works, without necessarily having to be fan works. As Kreisinger argues, ‘I see remixing as the rebuilding and reclaiming of once-oppressive images into a positive vision of just society’ (2010). Africana studies scholar Renee Slajda is interested in how Kreisinger’s remix videos can be seen as part of a feminist move beyond criticism, where Slajda is interested in how remix artists turn critical consciousness into a creative practice aiming to ‘reshape the media—and the world—as they would like to see it’ (2013). For Kreisinger, too, political remix video is not only about creating ‘more diverse and affirming narratives of representation’ (2011). It also has the potential to effect actual change (although, like Navas, she is aware that remix is also often co-opted by corporations to reinforce stereotypes). Remix challenges dominant notions of ownership and copyright as well as the author/reader and owner/user binaries that support these notions. By challenging these notions and binaries, remix videos also challenge the production and political economy of media (Kreisinger 2011). As video artist Martin Leduc argues, ‘we may find that remix can offer a means not only of responding to the commercial media industry, but of replacing it’ (2011).

6.3.3 The Agentic Cut in Remix

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Together with providing valuable affirmative contributions to the imperative to cut-well, and to reconfiguring boundaries, remix has also been important with regard to rethinking and re-performing agency and authorship in art and academia. In this context it critiques the liberal humanist subject that underpins most academic performances of the author, whilst exploring more posthumanist and entangled notions of agency in the form of agentic processes in which agency is more distributed. Paul Miller writes about flows and cuts in his artist’s book Rhythm Science. For Miller, sampling is a doing, a creating with found objects, but this also means that we need to take responsibility for its genealogy, for those ‘who speak through you’ (2004: 037). Miller’s practical and critical engagement with remix and the cut is especially interesting when it comes to his conceptualising of identity, where—as in the new materialist thinking of Barad—he does not presuppose a pre-given identity or self, but states that our identity comes about through our incisions, the act of cutting shaping and creating our selves. The collage becomes my identity, he states (Miller 2004: 024). For Miller, agency is thus not related to our identity as creators or artists, but to the flow or becoming, which always comes first. We are so immersed in and defined by the data that surrounds us on a daily basis that ‘we are entering an era of multiplex consciousness’, Miller argues (2004: 061).

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Where Miller talks about creating different persona as shareware, Amerika is interested in the concept of performing theory and critiquing individuality and the self through notions such as ‘flux personae’, establishing the self as an ‘artist-medium’ and a ‘post-production medium’ (2011: 26). Amerika sees performing theory as a creative process, in which pluralities of conceptual personae are created that explore their becoming. Through these various personae, Amerika wants to challenge the ‘unity of the self’ (2011: 28). In this vision the artist becomes a medium through which language, in the form of prior inhabited data, flows. When artists write their words they don’t feel like their own words but like a ‘compilation of sampled artefacts’ from the artist’s co-creators and collaborators. By becoming an artist-medium, Amerika argues that ‘the self per se disappears in a sea of source material’ (2011: 47). By exploring this idea of the networked author concept or of the writer as an artist-medium, Amerika contemplates what could be a new (posthuman) author function for the digital age, with the artist as a post-production medium ‘becoming instrument’ and ‘becoming electronics’ (2011: 58).

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