[iDC] Labor: Tactical Plagiarism - Robot, Robots, Robota!

Paul Miller anansi1 at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 29 22:20:37 UTC 2009

"Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it"
Isidore Ducasse aka Comte de Lautréamont

A brief intervention:

I've been a lurker on this list for a while, and haven't posted  
because I've been really really really busy.
It's been a pleasure to see the missives of people like Ken Wark,  
Howard Rheingold, and the musician Pat Kane's about post about his  
music practices online.

I am a writer, artist and musician living in NY with several published  
books and albums that focus intensely on sampling as a kind of urban  
post-Situationist "détournement" practice. In one of my books entitled  
Sound Unbound (MIT Press, 2008), I engaged the writer Jonathan Lethem  
to remix his essay about plaigiarism along with other authors I had  
commisioned like Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Daphne Keller (Senior Legal  
Counsel to Google), Saul Williams, and Chuck D. I always enjoy mixing  
people because, left to their own devices, they usually don't.

I like to think of the discussion I've been seeing on the list about  
play and labor as a strange dialectic between known forms of labor and  
their evolution into other "unknown" forms like the social  
accumulation of knowledge, the discursive space of dj mixes, the  
fragmented codes people use to foster "temporary autonomous zones"  
made of real time interaction.

One of the main issues I always, always, always see in these kinds of  
list servs is a kind of informal Apartheid between use-practice in the  
everyday world - gasp, multiculturalism!!! The theoretical constructs  
that many of the participants on the lists  use to en-frame the  
discourse around how digital media and politics intersects very rarely  
with the "real" world.

I'm inspired by texts by multi-cultural theoreticians like Trinh T.  
Minh Ha's "Framer Framed" and Robin Kelley's "Freedom Dreams: The  
Black Radical Imagination" as much as I'm fascinated with works like  
Howard Rheingold's "Smart Mobs" and Lawrence Lessig's "The Future of  

It's very rare to see the kind of hybrid discourse many on the list- 
servs talk about in praxis, so I've been mildly surprised by the turn  
of dialog on the IDC list.

I look forward to more discourse, and well... I'll drift back into  
lurker mode.

In terms of the idea of "labor" - I'm always drawn to Karel Capek, the  
Czech writer who popularized the term "robot" (a good theme for our  
summer blockbuster era of Terminator and Transformers). The word which  
is derived from the czech noun "robota" meaning "labor." To celebrate  
the idea of labor and automated daemons that, for example, inhabit y  
favorite book of last summer Daniel Suarez's "Daemon"

I thought I'd pass this along. It's the story of the origin of  
Rossum's Universal Robots:

      About the Word Robot
     translated by Norma Comrada

     A reference by Professor Chudoba, to the Oxford Dictionary account
     of the word Robot's origin and its entry into the English  
language, reminds
     me of an old debt. The author of the play R.U.R. did not, in  
fact, invent
     that word; he merely ushered it into existence. It was like this:  
the idea
     for the play came to said author in a single, unguarded moment.  
And while
     it was still warm he rushed immediately to his brother Josef, the  
     who was standing before an easel and painting away at a canvas  
till it
     "Listen, Josef," the author began, "I think I have an idea for a  
     "What kind," the painter mumbled (he really did mumble, because at
     the moment he was holding a brush in his mouth).
     The author told him as briefly as he could.
     "Then write it," the painter remarked, without taking the brush
     from his mouth or halting work on the canvas. The indifference  
was quite
     "But," the author said, "I don't know what to call these artificial
     workers. I could call them Labori, but that strikes me as a bit  
     "Then call them Robots," the painter muttered, brush in mouth, and
     went on painting. And that's how it was. Thus was the word Robot  
     let this acknowledge its true creator.
Anyway, It's been a pleasure seeing some of the missives cross my cell  
phone screen.

Keep it flowin'

Paul aka Dj Spooky

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