The Gospel Coalition

 

Mark Amerika. Remixthebook. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 312 pp. $19.95.



Remixthebook is not a book. It is, in the words of Mark Amerika, “more of a hybridized publication and performance art project that appears in . . . print” (p. xi). It is an experiment in composition and cultural creativity that defies the expectations of a “book” with its closed structure and pre-packaged creative potency. Remixthebook is open-source material composed of open-source material, ready and available for renewable redistribution in the age of remix. The theories behind Amerika’s hybrid composition are difficult to discern, but only for the reader who is looking for a plain statement of them. Amerika performs his theories more than he states them. Remixthebook is a show-and-tell performance of the philosophy of remix, the practice of combing existing cultural objects to make new creations. Discerning a central thesis or even an organized set of clear arguments would be impossible with Amerika’s performance piece, but that is not to say it lacks another kind of clarity, a lucid force of realization that strikes from any angle throughout Remixthebook. In this way the ideas in Amerika’s show and tell are coherent since they hang together in the same vein of flux. In order to review this “book,” I feel that it is best to simply trace some of these energetic lines of flux that inhabit Remixthebook instead of methodically summarizing each “chapter.” Even so, given that the “book” is what Amerika calls a “novelty generator,” it would be impossible to catch every freshly remixed idea that comes in each reading—each reading can yield new thoughts for every reader.

Remixthebook is about “Subsidizing the advance of Creativity itself” (p. 54). Amerika’s “science” of “Remixology” is a method of creativity that creates by remixing available material. In order for the artist to allow Creativity to create from existing source material (of whatever form, genre, or thinking), the artist must become, as Amerika puts it, an “artist-medium” where the artist’s own life becomes integral to making the art objects remixed by the artist. Remixing Alfred North Whitehead’s Religion in the Making, Amerika writes, “For if Remixology is anything at all / it is an ongoing valuation of one’s / Lifestyle Practice as an aesthetic fact” (p. 42). Creating is living in Remixology in a way that tears down distinctions between theory and practice, or art object and artist. The reason this is such an important move for Creativity’s remixing potential is in the issue of “grounding out.” Amerika suggests that in the practice of Remixology, learning how to “ground out” (p. 33) is an ever-present challenge for cultural creators, whether they are a professional DJ or the average youtube “remixologist.” Working with the analogy of an electric ground-wire, “grounding out” for Amerika, means, in one way, the practice of creating “‘on whatever ground was available’ at any given moment.” This means that the artist-medium in Remixology is not creating from individual selves or character but a “flux persona . . . a fictional decharacterization of said self (said who?)” (p. 26). Subsidizing human creativity means surrendering to the medium and what “it” wants to become, because we are the medium—the medium is our selves. Creativity in the age of remix requires folding medium and artists into one another.

Remixology performed by the artist-medium means that “the self per se / disappears in a sea of source material” (p. 63). “Source Material Everywhere,” says Amerika, is the mantra of Remixology. Just as the artist-medium uses any ground available for the artist-object, “The Next Version of Creativity / will use anything at any given time” (p. 65), and anything is available for use. Creativity according to Remixology is not the generation of new ideas or objects based on a fixed archive of previous art works, literature, or music from which to draw on. Any and all of culture is open to be hacked, spliced, or remixed with anything else, and therefore open to being reinvented. Remixthebook itself is a performance of this theory by remixing the words of Beat poets, philosophers, Jazz musicians, among others. There is no closure on what material can be introduced into remixing; everything is at hand to be used for a new creation from the fluctuating artist-medium. Every cultural object that has been produced is available to be “pla(y)giarized” by the postproduction artist (p. 110). By opening up Creativity to “Source Material Everywhere,” the result is unexpected: “you begin to start seeing things / you never knew were there but were / somehow always right in front of you” (p. 43). The result is trans-disciplinary, breaking down preconceived divisions of culture (“art,” “music,” “literature,” “philosophy,” “theology,” “LOLCats,” etc.). Anything and everything is open in the age of remix where we are always already “remixologically inhabiting the datum / that pings your unconscious neural mechanisms / and spurs you on to create / your own version of / this enduring ‘mechanism in the making’” (p. 40).

Whether readers want to read Remixthebook as a report on the condition of creativity in our electronic age or as a method of Remixology for inventing novel “artist-objects,” this “book” will not disappoint. It provides a unique glimpse at the creation of culture in the digital age as well as a unique method for the creativity. At the same time, Remixthebook actively resists the practice of reading that looks for straightforward arguments and propositions. The value of this book for the theologian or pastor could be its ministerial application to understanding (pop) culture or perhaps as an inspiration for bringing the gospel into the culture as a remixological witness—a difficult proposal, perhaps, but one worth considering for Christians in the “age of remix.” Remixthebook holds promise for new thinking, if only we can learn to read it in its own terms, that is, if we are willing to become artist-mediums ready to “remix the book” and remix our individual selves which remain an open archive of source material. Unless we come to Remixthebook ready to jump into its flux of thoughts, rhythms, and beats—like listening to a DJ improvise—there won’t be much to make of it, but not because there is nothing in the book, only that we aren’t ready to make something.


Eric T. Hall
Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina, USA



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