remix in literature essay

remix in literature essay

The Significance of Remix in Literature: Exploring Creativity, Innovation, and Cultural Influence

1. Introduction to Remix Culture in Literature

Scholars of literature are becoming more alert to remix as an ancient practice fundamental to storytelling. Remix, in fact, is neither new nor exclusive to modern media. Narrative itself is the developmental remix of an incessantly told allegory that evolves as it passes through the diverse filters of time, language, authorial perspective, purpose, engagement, politics, and culture. Receivers of the narrative are hardly passive; their diverse backgrounds, social constructs, literary interpretation, and psychological investment compel them to bend the allegory to fit their own complex and subjective figural readings. The continual telling-protempore composition by willing authors and their captive audiences has made the allegory into one of the simplest and most effective applications of the process behind “open source.” As evolution of thematically similar but temporally distinct works demonstrates, the tellers of literary remix would prefer open source’s capabilities, just as songwriters, fashion designers, big media companies, natural language processors, and even computer hardware manufacturers do today.

The concept of remix has evolved from its transformative roots in copyright law to encompass a variety of “remix cultures” in the production of fashion, music, and a variety of media. This essay focuses on remix’s significance for literature, which, I suggest, has a long, rich history as a remix practice in its own right. Rather than conflate remixing with intertextuality, however, this essay outlines a taxonomy of literary remix: authoring, retitling, appropriation, ground, recitative, and change. The proliferation of practices reveals that literary remix has been a part of the creative writing tradition since the oral epic. The final taxing question this essay addresses is the degree to which leveraging remix will affect or even enhance the creativity and innovation that stories inspire. The essay rejects both a formalistic adherence to the barrier concepts of copyright and fandom while celebrating the potential that remix offers.

2. The Art of Literary Remix: Techniques and Examples

Modern notions of remix find affinity with the 20th-century avant-garde, particularly of the Dadaists and Surrealists. Examples of modifying literary texts for new purposes and for new meanings by artists within these movements include Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), which remixed French painter and kitsch designer Leonardo’s Mona Lisa relatively simply and without approval into an obscenity involving a beard on its “original state of grace” to signify a kind of silent complicity in theft and reuse of authorial and material instead of the works of creative exertion seldom formally demanded of art. Some believe that Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades were not the crescendo of his intellectual artistry and that his remixed and complex masterpieces, such as The Bride Stripped Bare, related to larger contexts of networks of identity and reuse.

It is difficult to determine when, without a doubt, remix was first used in literary ways, but a possible early emergence appeared in the ancient practice of mimesis. Quotidian mimesis incorporated bits of work from various cultural spheres, including the dramatic, literary, and religious, in such a way as Maria Menegaki observes as at the same time “reusing earlier texts… (and) positing them as an inalienable part of the new text.” Most obviously, the practice is linked to ancient Athenian drama, which was “flanked by song and dance, choral lyric and satyr play,” all “fitting together in a performance with dialogic chant and heavy mimetic roughhousing” that required significant reuse of cultural elements from known earlier works. We also find more deliberate forms of mimesis in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics and Plato’s Republic where the use of the word for imitation in Greek has “wide application; there could be an imitation, a mimesis, of a person, a thing, or a complex state of affairs,” and was considered generically.

3. The Impact of Remix on Literary Tradition and Innovation

The entire literature depends on this fragile balance between tradition and innovation because ways open in literature that are in part new and in part old. Whether literature is perceived as an autonomous system organized in systems of refined codes, as a possible storehouse of examples to be imitated or to be subverted, or in the image proposed by the seminal work of Richard Ohmann as an autonomous but also economically engaged system in an environment from which it is not only nourished but to which it supplies original, unique material, in any case practice and literature have a deep relationship with tradition. The current literary scene seems to be ever more crossed by links that tie different forms, literary arts, and stories and more subjected to the mechanisms of feedback, cross-reference, parody, and alternation of models and prototypes one of the others.

The literary work has a deep link to two sources of origin. From one, it is nourished by a body of traditional preconstituted materials (the customs, the beliefs, the themes, the forms). On some level, these always appear in literature. But because they are historically variable and locally independent, there is always a need to re-propose them in a typically creative formulation. Then, it is nourished by materials that come from other recognized literary works that are as living relics in literature itself. Every innovative process consists of the creative re-elaboration of tradition because only those who have at their disposal a solid patrimony can permit themselves to be real innovators.

4. Ethical and Legal Considerations in Literary Remix

In addition to these established criteria, an author’s code of ethics or sense of personal artistic integrity can also validate or reject appropriating an original character or a classic tale: the author is a critical factor in judging an individual piece of creative work. Certainly, the freedoms we expect to see applied in legitimate fair use of logos in advertising, creative sound recording, and look-alike film characters should also be applied to literary characters and extended to the use of character names.

Under international fair use copyright, the following four criteria must be applied: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Though we find the practice of incorporating an existing work within a new work of literature throughout literary history, the large majority of these borrowings would not meet the legal test for creating a derivative work from the original. The legal criteria for use of existing works or characters to create a legitimate derivative work is clearly established and recognized under “fair use” copyright law.

Literary remixes must be congruent with a specific set of ethical and legal criteria. Unlike other art forms such as remix music, photo or visual art, or mash-up video, there is not yet a rich and vibrant tradition of literary remix based on centuries of borrowing and sharing within the construction of derivative works.

Ethical and legal considerations in literary remix

5. Conclusion: Embracing the Evolution of Literature through Remix

It is our sense that the digital remix can become literature in its own right that largely guides our journey in this work. We believe that the novel cannot be static or pedantic, just as the gain of the digital realm’s incredible tensile capabilities surely outweighs the loss. Such texts do not prompt the death of the author, nor the challenge of hierarchical boundaries that have traditionally existed between writers and consumers. In the spatial, digital landscape arts and the correlative technologies, the innovation of the search for new ways to remix literary creativity, within the academic and educational realm, offers limitless potential. Of course, the ways of creativity are chaotic, freeform, and individualized ones. Indeed, this argument of digital remix would seem to require the anarchic development and freedom that should be at its core to remain so at its farthest edges.

Whether through experimentation, politically motivated dissent, or as a subversive form of pedagogy, there is much evidence of a lively tradition of literary remix, reworking, collage, and bricolage. Remix is an anarchic form: it disregards producer and authorship, refuses staticity and the sanctity of silence, and reshapes through a chaotic, constantly evolving cycle. The anonymous Greek singers of old knew this; they would take the mythic forms, poems, and heroes of the heroic age and experiment with them, fascinated by their vitality. Our literature is steeped in such textual rebellion and search for truth, creating a fertile bedrock of creative storytelling that reached a zenith in the modernist era, before, in our present era of acceptable postmodernity, seemingly disappearing into the digital ether with the rise of new technology.

Introduction: Literary Remix as a Creative and Cultural Force

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