Mark Sample is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at George Mason University, where is he also an affiliated faculty member with GMU’s undergraduate Honors College, its Cultural Studies doctoral program, and the Center for History and New Media. Professor Sample’s research focuses on contemporary fiction, electronic literature, and videogames.
Mix the Book
A few weeks ago I remixed a book. I turned Hacking the Academy, a crowdsourced book that challenged the conventions of scholarship and teaching into Hacking the Accident, an algorithmically-altered book that challenged the conventions of sense and meaning.
But actually, I’m uncomfortable with the word “remix.” Not the concept it represents, but the term itself. In particular, it’s the prefix re that tugs and pokes at something in my mind.
re, re, re.
It’s Latin, you probably know that already. Quoting the O.E.D.,
The original sense of re- in Latin is ‘back’ or ‘backwards’, but in the large number of words in which it occurs it shows various shades of meaning.
The shadows of these shades include going back to a starting point; restoring a previous state or condition; transferring back to one’s possession; and quite simply, doing something again.
Re is precisely the opposite impulse of my own remixes. Re is retrograde. Regressive. Reductive. And above all else, rep-rep-rep-repetitive.
What’s wrong with simply mix? Why the prefix? Why remix? Why use to describe some of the most innovative and startling work of our generation a prefix that evokes return or restoration?
To remix suggests that pieces are tossed and turned and tumbled and reassembled into a whole that more or less resembles the original in structure. Like a kaleidoscope, the parts shift, but they’re always contained and framed by the shaft of the scope.
To mix without the re, though, suggests that all the tossing and turning and tumbling of pieces will not—cannot—ever be made whole again. There is no return from a mix. Humpty Dumpty was mixed. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men were the better for it.
There is only one possible reason why an artist or writer of radical intent would speak of remixing a book as opposed to mixing one, scrambling one, or breaking one. And that is that the artist or writer recognizes that all books begin as mixes. Books are always already mixes. The Bible. Moby-Dick. A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates.
And to take a part of any of them and combine it with a different part of itself, or a part of a different book, or a part of something that’s not a book at all, this mixes the mix. A metamix.
Meaning “change, transformation, permutation, or substitution” (Q.E.D. the O.E.D.).
Now there’s a prefix in which to revel.