[iDC] The Remix discussion

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Sun Apr 16 01:38:58 EDT 2006

On 15-Apr-06, at 8:06 PM, Judith Rodenbeck wrote:

> What of the history of China? Egypt? Babylon? The history of writing 
> is NOT Eurocentric. The history of writing is the history of 
> accounting, of domination, of the accumulation and exchange and 
> stockpiling of knowledge long before anything called Europe existed.

Yes I agree. I didn't say the history of writing was Eurocentric. I 
said the history of Eurocentrism is literate.

> The history of writing is the history of recording. What recording 
> allows you to do is FORGET and use those grey cells for something 
> else. The history of writing is the history of knowledge accumulation 
> and dissemination beyond the spatial and temporal span of the 
> individual. Absent writing—or scriptible recording—techniques for 
> remembering make use of dithering processes—rythm, meter, rhyme. 
> That’s what all the fuss is about the Illiad. And the information 
> value of what oral recitation shifts in relation to actual events, so 
> that it’s more important to fill in the narrative forms and meters and 
> rituals than it is to maintain a strict accuracy in the account of 
> actualities (or what a eurocentric might call “fact”). That’s what all 
> the fuss was about I, Rigoberta Menchu, a book that was accurate as to 
> the general outlines of a culturally specific experience but which 
> wholly inaccurate when it came to Western journalistic “fact.”

Not sure if you're arguing with me but I completely agree.

> Paul’s right in principle when it comes to getting out of a certain 
> geographic parochialism. On the other hand "Eurocentrism" as an 
> accusation presumes that "Europe" is something homogenous, no? But 
> "European" music now includes rai, qawwali, blues, bhangra,…

This is precisely why I find it useful to discuss cultural differences 
in terms of oral/literate emphases. Rai, qawwali, blues and banghra are 
all oral musical forms. That is to say that they do not rely on 
transcription for archiving, sharing or interpreting. That Europeans 
now enjoy and perform these oral idioms in the same concert halls that 
also present highly literate musical forms (i.e. European classical 
music, which does rely on transcription for archiving, sharing and 
interpreting) may mean that Europe is happily culturally heterogeneous 
(?) but it doesn't mean that the economic inequalities between 
predominantly oral and predominantly literate communities have vanished 
or that they will anytime soon.

Yet don’t we run the risk, hunting so conscientiously for the other to 
our so-called eurocentrism, of recolonizing exactly those cultures we 
claim to be…what? appreciating for their authenticity? saving?

This is an easy and – to my mind – specious critique. Helping members 
of oral cultures that have been oppressed and exploited by several 
centuries of literate imperialism to rescue or reorient themselves is 
not the same as recolonizing them. Thinking that digital media and 
networked technologies have a role to play in that revitalization is 
far from insisting on some sort of stereotyped authenticity.

> The discourse of certain technologies is, yes, Northern (incl. Japan) 
> and it necessarily moves from object to object. The discourse(s) of 
> process and of medium is(are) dispersive, inversive, remixive. This 
> kind of mixology wouldn’t exist without script.

Are you saying that because purely oral cultures are generally 
retentive and conservative they are resistant to genre-bending 
taboo-breaking remixology? Sure, that's a good point. But it's also 
true that oral cultures possess other internally coherent remixive 
(great word!) processes that are precluded and excluded by text, such 
as improvised polyrhythmics, situational antiphony, performative 
battles, facilitative expertise, etc.

What I am personally interested in is not the restrictive form of 
orality that imposes tradition at the expense of innovation for fear of 
forgetting (few of what Ong calls 'primary oral cultures' have survived 
anyway) but rather this question: how do we design and roll out 
networked interfaces that engage the remixive skills of disempowered 
contemporary oralists for potent social, aesthetic and economic ends?

I believe that oralists and digitalists need each other. They share 
common cause and a common antagonist. For the challenges that 
remixologists face – oral and digital – are those posed by the literate 
capitalist hegemony which, having long since devalued oral knowledge, 
is now looking to extend its print-based economic models (WSIS, DMCA, 
IP, etc.) to the networked world.


2 Million Years of Technology
A one-man show by John Sobol
@ The Bowery Poetry Club, nyc
April 29, noon, pwyc
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