I have an essay in the fine new collection from Bloomsbury Books, Postcolonial Piracy: Media Distribution and Cultural Production in the Global South, edited by my friends/colleagues at the University of Potsdam, Lars Eckstein and Anja Schwarz. The book grew out of a conference on the topic held in Berlin in 2011, and features some of the most important contemporary thinkers of global cultures of the copy, of piracy and alternative distribution/production systems as they are emerging around the world, including Ravi Sundaram and Lawrence Liang. The book is an excellent response/companion to the eye-opening Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report. What the essays and report share is an interest in understanding how informal economies and practices of distribution have established themselves in various parts of the world, how they relate to global capitalism and its more formal legal and economic structures, and how the metaphor of “piracy” helps or inhibits understanding the situation. My own essay, “Depropriation, the Real Pirate’s Dilemma” is one of my first attempts to think about global gift economies, and the possibilities offered by global access to new media, for a flourishing collective life in which property regimes are minimized. Apparently, Bloomsbury will be issuing a Creative Commons licensed online version of the book (i.e. “free”) soon!
The University of Chicago Press will be publishing Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism and Critical Theory, by Eric Cazdyn, Timothy Morton and myself, in their Trios series in Fall 2015. As with other books in the Trios series, the book consists of three longish (25,000 words plus!), quantum entangled essays, in this case exploring the relationship, or lack thereof, between Buddhism and Critical Theory. My own essay is entitled “To Live in a Glass House is a Revolutionary Virtue Par Excellence: Buddhism, Marxism and the Politics of Non-Alignment.” Although Buddhism played an important role in In Praise of Copying, especially in terms of rethinking the meaning of practices of copying, this essay is a more direct attempt to write about what Buddhism means to me today, and what role it can play in twenty-first century critical thought.
I’ve known Eric since I moved to Toronto in 2002, and Buddhism (not to mention Marxism) is something we’ve talked about almost since the beginning. Buddhist thought is present in a variety of ways in Eric’s recent book The Already Dead — notably in his reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I met Tim in California in 2009 after reading his essay “Hegel on Buddhism” — it turns out that we grew up about ten miles away from each other in the west London suburbs, and shared some of the same Buddhist teachers and more. Buddhism has played an important role in much of Tim’s work — in Ecology Without Nature, The Ecological Thought and his recent Hyperobjects. The three of us put together a panel on Buddhism and theory for the MLA in Los Angeles in 2011, and the Trios book project has evolved out of that. It also began as a response to the various critiques of contemporary Buddhism made by Slavoj Zizek — a challenge that we’ve all responded too in often very different ways.
My essay is a meditation on the relationships, historical, theoretical and prospective, between Marxism and Buddhism, and tracks the way in which a number of thinkers (including Georges Bataille, Gendun Chopel, Gary Snyder, Thomas Merton and the Speculative Non-Buddhist writers) have understood this relationship. The first half of the essay examines Bataille’s interest in Buddhism and yoga, and makes the argument that many of the key Bataillean concepts in use in theory today (sovereignty, formlessness, general economy, the community that has nothing in common) have their origins in Bataille’s attempts to reconcile post Popular Front leftism with the unnameable excesses and nothingnesses of meditation and tantric yogic practices. The essay then situates Bataille’s struggles to formulate a politics of yoga within the broader post WWII geopolitical context of the Cold War, and the problem of how to formulate a non-aligned politics (which in Asian societies often took the form of innovative attempts to reconcile Buddha and Marx). The essay concludes by looking at the way Buddhism, post-Bataillean or not, haunts attempts to envision a post-capitalist politics today.
I have essays in two new collections of work on intellectual property. The first, “From the Right to Copy to Practices of Copying”, in the Rosemarie Coombe, Darren Wershler and Martin Zeilinger edited volume Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (University of Toronto Press, 2014) is an expansion on the conclusion of In Praise of Copying, which advocates a rethinking of intellectual property. We are living through fundamental shifts in the way in which human societies produce and share copies of things, such that we need to rethink intellectual property in a way that reflects the actual practices of copying that prevail today, rather than merely relying on legal definitions. I also advocate for certain legal reforms. Thinking about practices allows us to affirm that contemporary cultures of sharing are built around collective intentional acts, rather than simply being random transgressions of a self-evident law. The second essay, “Structures of Sharing: Depropriation and Intellectual Property Law”, in Intellectual Property Law for the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Approaches (Irwin Law, 2014) develops a specific aspect of the argument above, namely the problem of appropriation as it relates to intellectual property law. I argue that current practices of copying force us to try to think beyond ideas of originals and copies as private property, and to imagine new ways of thinking about copies outside of discourses of ownership. I elaborate the idea of depropriation, objects that have no owners or are collectively owned, through an analysis of the work of French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard, and think through how depropriation could be integrated into legal models of IP, beyond traditional models of fair use or fair dealing.
The Korean edition was published by Hong C Communication, and translated with great diligence and care by Seungyoung Noh, who often seemed to know more about my book than I did.
The Indonesian edition was produced by the KUNCI Cultural Studies Center in Yogyakarta, making use of the Creative Commons license that the book was issued with in an interesting and to me exemplary way, producing an edition that is principally available as a free PDF via their website (much like the free PDF available from the Harvard website), as well as a print edition that is being distributed to community libraries across Indonesia. Ferdi Thajib of the group described the project as follows:
“We are a collective who since 1999 have been engaging in popular education approaches aimed at widening public criticality With this rather broad aim, our activities have revolved around the promotion of local knowledge production practices and functioning ourselves as a hub that connects academia, social activists, cultural producers and the public at large in meaningful encounters
Around one and a half years ago, we received funding from Ford Foundation Indonesia to initiate a project looking at issues of Media and Technology convergence, which includes a component of publication of translated books on cultures of sharing within the digital environment. That is how we became acquainted with Mr. Boon’s work. The whole project allows us to work on three books, namely: Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture (which was published last year), the second one (if permission granted of course) would be In Praise of Copying, and the third installment would be Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.
Our first reason for translating the three books is that they all provide key insights to explain what is going on in other parts of the world in regarding to issues such as copyright, copy culture, sharing culture, file-sharing, creative commons etc. – issues that are not new for us in Indonesia, but which have not received adequate critical discussion. This is not so much because of the lack of criticality per se, but more a matter if language barriers. We feel that the rapid development of vocabularies related to internet architecture and the radical changes it has brought to the cultural facets of everyday life has not progressed hand in hand with its better understanding in local settings; not only in daily situations, but also in legal/governmental/ policy making environments.
The second reason is related to the respective content of each book. The selection of In Praise of Copying is prompted by some of the ideas that Mr. Boon has brought up, especially in how he shed light on the entanglement of copying with various forms of cultural production and understanding across the globe. I personally believe that the philosophical take of Mr Boon on copying that crisscrosses the East and West binary may speak a lot to our potential readers here.
And another reason is the practical consideration of the licensing system used in circulating the work. As one of our goals is to educate people about the importance of sharing, most of the texts that we have produced and published are distributed under Creative Commons A-NC-SA, including the last publication of Free Culture in Indonesian.”
You can read Thajib’s analysis (with Australian media researcher Alexandra Crosby) of copyright, the commons and sharing networks in Indonesia here, and a more detailed analysis of these issues in relation to video activism in Indonesia in the media studies journal Platform. Thajib and Crosby’s work resonates in intriguing ways with the studies presented in the excellent Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report — and suggests an important set of emerging practices of open source sharing/distribution that utilize Creative Commons licensing — in emerging economies.
I have an essay, “Meditations in an Emergency: On the Apparent Destruction of my MP3 Collection” in an excellent new anthology of essays called Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices and the Fate of Things, edited by David Banash and Kevin Moist. It’s a great collection, and includes Stanley Cavell’s important essay on collecting, and nice work by Banash and others. I got kind of obsessed with collecting while writing In Praise of Copying, since collectors are some of the most profound thinkers of the distinction between original and copy, or good copy and bad copy. My essay is about what it means to lose and then try to restore a digital collection today, and is written in diary form, describing my own recent experiences with my MP3 collection. On the one hand, it feels like data is infinitely retrievable today, and that collection is therefore quite banale (this is the argument that Simon Reynolds makes in his Retromania). On the other hand, when you actually lose data, it turns out to be much more fragile, much more contingent than you thought. But losing data can open us up to recognizing that, against the model of the private collector with his or her hoards, the basis of collection is sharing. When the infrastructure that supports sharing really exists, our love of particular objects isn’t diminished, but our desire to hoard it is.
Update: The excellent PopMatters has just reprinted the essay in full here!
I have an essay on obscene language in hip-hop in the latest issue of The Wire. It’s called “Dirty Talk”. A lot of my recent favorites are referenced: various Odd Future acts, Azealia Banks, Zebra Katz, Danny Brown, Le1f. The argument of the essay is about abjection, and the way that obscene language produces a kind of intimacy with something that can’t be talked about — and the way that music, as a form of vibration, is — that thing that can’t be talked about. Having spent the last week listening a lot to the Kevin Gates record, I think I could have said a lot more about obscenity and violence, and the way that obscene language injects an almost physical force into language. Well, to be continued …
This issue of The Wire has a lot going on: reflections on song by Rob Young, on improvisation by David Toop, Nina Power on digitized female voices and public address systems. Great to see the breadth of thinking there ….
Wisconsin’s NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge just broadcast an impressively wide ranging show about copies and copying including discussions with a variety of people about architectural mimicry in China; identical twins; apocalypse memes; biotech dilemmas … and my own take on the topic. My own thoughts turn increasingly to the issue of 3-D printers, which especially when linked to a 3D scanner, really radicalize what kinds of objects ordinary people can now copy in their home. With nanotechnology slowly moving from hypothesis to reality, and the possibility of making copies that are accurate at the atomic level, the kinds of confusion of original and copy that we see happening today are going to increase exponentially. Which again raises the question: why do we copy? What do we really want? And how does copying fit or not fit into the broader political-economic framework that we live in?
I’ll be reading a paper called “Meditations in an Emergency: On the Deletion of My MP3 Collection” on Tuesday, March 5 at the Lake Forest Literary Festival at Lake Forest College, outside of Chicago. Thanks to my pal Davis Schneiderman, who I’m working with on a new edition of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s collage manual The Third Mind, for the invite. The festival will also feature the awesome work of Cecilia Corrigan and Lisa Robertson.
I have a new piece about sonic borders and boundaries in the excellent sound studies blog Sounding Out!, which is edited by my friend and colleague Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman. As with a lot of my recent work about “the politics of vibration”, in this piece I try to think about what happens on a dancefloor in ontological terms and what it means to be able to access moments of ontological depth through bass, drums, speakers, partying bodies. I look at the current revival of ballroom/voguing styles by artists like the fantastic Zebra Katz, and the way that some of the most interesting new hip-hop explores a strange. maybe speculative zone between Eros and violence on the one hand, and immersion in vibration on the other.