David J. Gunkel is Presidential Teaching Professor of Communication at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Hacking Cyberspace (Westview, 2001), Thinking Otherwise: Philosophy, Communication, Technology (Purdue University Press, 2007) and The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI and Robotics (MIT Press, 2012). He is the co-editor of Transgression 2.0: Media, Culture, and the Politics of a Digital Age (Continuum, 2011) and managing editor of the International Journal of Žižek Studies. More information is available at http://gunkelweb.com

Philosophical Remix

For most of my career I have explained myself by using what are arguably medieval, if not ancient, terms. Doing so has necessitated strange but unavoidable contortions of language. I have, for instance, identified myself as a philosopher, and this is, within limits, entirely correct and accurate. I do in fact have advanced degrees in this particular discipline. I have read the canon and can even rattle off a few “Hegel wrote….”, “Derrida would say…”, or “Nietzsche argued….” dissertations with little or no effort. And I even write and publish books and articles that others (and there’s a loaded word, philosophically speaking) would recognize as what is called, again within limits, “philosophy.”

Then again this title does not quite fit. In fact it always already has not fit for even the first thinker who would be called “philosopher”—that slippery character who goes by the name Socrates. In particular I do things that are not strictly speaking philosophical. I get myself involved in all kinds of media, which, again beginning with the Socratic suspicion of writing at the end of the Phaedrus, is something serious philosophers should definitely avoid. Worst of all, however, I like machine, especially information devices of all sorts and kinds. Philosophers have been (as a matter of tradition and a strange kind of pride) technophobes and luddites. Heidegger, we know, held the typewriter in suspicion and even removed the telephone from his university office. Real thinking by real thinkers is something done by hand (another loaded word especially for Heidegger).

To make matters worse, I am interested in examining the philosophical aspects and repercussions of remix and mashup. For my money, remix and mashup intervene in and complicate the classic binary oppositions that characterize western metaphysics, most notably original/copy, authentic/derivative, author/reader, producer/consumer, and real/artificial. Remix and mashup deconstruct these pairings that not program the operating system of our thinking (what some might call ideology) but also serve as the limiting condition of our languages. Remix and mashup, therefore, challenge the rules of the game, complicate long-standing traditions, and introduce new and entirely unheard of possibilities.