Author Archives: william

Making history

In Che’s Afterlife, Casey does a good job of showing the process through which history is made. First, I liked his analysis of how Che’s writings are his attempts to control what others think of him: “Indeed, in stripping out facts, sanitizing, embellishing, or otherwise altering details for the official record, Che played a hands-on role in the construction of an apocryphal Cuban history. The book shows Che as both censor and poet, the Homer of Cuban mythology” (53). It’s interesting that one of the first people to manipulate Che’s image is Che himself. Not only did this writing influence what others thought of him, but it actually influenced how Che himself acted. As Casey points out, his actions almost seem determined by what he has already written, by his expressed beliefs: “In writing down his ideas he pushed himself to do as he preached, lest he be found guilty of the same apathy and fear of which he accused Communist Party leaders, whom he blamed for neglecting the rights of the poor to a liberation struggle” (55). As Casey would have it, Che influences Che’s actions through his writing.

This same historical “creation” plays out later in Casey’s analysis of a famous photo Alberto Korda cropped (but did not actually take) that, through the cropping, does not show Huber Matos, who Castro killed later because of his questioning of Castro’s regime. Here, Casey quotes Korda explaining why he kept certain images from being published: “Why? Because in fifty or a hundred years, there will be people writing about the Cuban revolution and this [archive] is a historical fact” (82). Korda recognizes that each image, as it is interpreted, becomes a historical fact—the reproduction of the print can give voice either to the unity or the disrepair of a regime. Interestingly, Korda expresses the same thing Casey reads into Che—that history is a process of negotiating meaning through reproductions of things that can be read (images, texts, etc). It brings to mind Raymond Williams’s discussion of the “selective tradition”, whereby certain meanings are selected out of the vast array that are possible in order to maintain control over a population.


Here’s an interview with a more radical copyright infringer, Mark Hosler of Negativland…[youtube][/youtube]

Textual Poachers

I really enjoyed reading Textual Poachers because a lot of the topics bordered on my own research topic (music and copyright). One way in which the two directly connect is in Jenkins’s discussion of copyright law and reappropriation. Jenkins brins up the example of Slaysu, a fanzine that “routinely published feminist-inflected erotica set in various media universes” (31). He analyzes this reappropriation as drawing “on elements from dominant culture in order to produce underground art that explicitly challenges patriarchal assumptions” (31). Although this artwork constitutes a transformation in the original media from which it draws, under our current copyright system, it is illegal because it uses copyright material. Jenkins then quotes Barbara Denison as saying that a corporation trying to control the use of their copyrighted material “has misread both the copyright law and probably the Declaration of Independence” (32). Although Denison is correct that the Constitution does explicitly state that copyright is intended to increase the incentive of struggling artists by giving them control over the work they have produced, she is incorrect in her accusation that the corporations have misread copyright law. In fact, copyright law gives corporations the ability to be authors (“corporate authors”, as it states in the Copyright Act of 1909), and even sets up different guidelines over how long these corporate authors can control a work, giving them ownership of a work they have a contract to for either 95 years after publication or 120 after creation, whichever comes first. As many critics have pointed out, this legislation is dated in a technological age in which it is easier than ever for fans and “amateurs” to take the media that they love and constitute their own art out of it. Larry Lessig, one of these critics, notes that our culture has shifted from a RO (Read/Only) culture, in which fans are more likely to passively consume culture to a RW (Read/Write) culture, in which fans are more likely to remix and transform art that they like. I think the concept of “textual poaching” cuts to the heart of this matter (although I failed to include it in my first draft), and it shows that really, we have always been a RW culture, only that it is now easier than ever for the W aspect of this culture to be published and shared.

The beholder’s intention

I was really interested by the following passage from Bourdieu’s Distinction: “But the apprehension and appreciation of the work also depend on the beholder’s intention, which is itself a function of the conventional norms governing the relation to the work of art in a certain historical and social situation and also of the beholder’s capacity to conform to those norms, i.e., his artistic training” (30). I was interested by Bourdieu’s choice to label the interpretation of the beholder as the “intention” of the beholder. This word seemed to me an odd choice, considering the subsequent explanation, which systematically deprives that intentioned beholder of his or her agency. Perhaps the intention of the beholder is simply an intention to successfully represent and to adhere to the ideologies collectively held within his own class. But how is this an intention at all, and what constitutes the agency of the reader of a cultural text?

de Certeau

Although I didn’t manage to finish reading The Practice of Everyday Life, I was greatly intrigued by the wide array of disciplines de Certeau works from in order to expand the view of cultural studies to the eveyman, to the everyday. I loved his tone which bordered for me upon the literary in a variety of ways. An example of this interesting tone comes in the concept of la perruque, the wig, which, within the French language somehow has come to mean all of the work that is done within the workspace that does not contribute to the profit of the corporation: “In the very place where the machine he must serve reigns supreme, he cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities through his work and to confirm his solidarity with other workers or his family through spending his time in this way” (25-26). De Certeau’s work is theorizing what we do to resist (resistance is an important aspect of popular culture as he understands it). He asks the reader, “if one does not expect a revolution to transform the laws of history, how is it possible to foil here and now the social hierarchization which organizes scientific work on popular culture and repeats itself in that work?” (24) His response is quite cunning—he is in some sense a “scientist”, because he is taking cultural tendencies and holding them up as artifacts of study. He is thus employing the only method possible to any sort of intellectual (philosopher, scientist), using the common language and claiming expertise. At the same time, however, he is profoundly influenced by the practice of everyday life, by methods such as the perruque. His goal, as he explains in an incredible passage on page 28, is to use perruque within the intellectual sphere: “In the area of scientific research (which defines the current order of knowledge), working with its machines and making use of its scraps, we can divert the time owed to the institution; we can make textual objects that signify an art and solidarities; se can play the game of free exchange, even if it is penalized by bosses and colleagues when they are not willing to “turn a blind eye” on it; we can create networks of connivances and sleights of hand; we can exchange gifts; and in these ways we can subvert the law that, in the scientific factory, puts work at the service of the machine, and, by a similar logic, progressively destroys the requirement of creation and the “obligation to give” (28). Although (like much of the rest of the book) much of this passage remains beyond my comprehension, I can tell at least that in theorizing the everyman, de Certeau is also interested in theorizing himself—how he is influenced by his work, what his work can do for his own life, and how, like the everyman, he can subvert the institution of which he is a part. The profound self-referential tone of this passage, and of others, in which he describes walking through New York City, or how it feels to stand in front of churches, is what gave this theoretical work a literary feel, which I really appreciated.

Annotated Bibliography: Copyrights

Bishop, Jack. “Building International Empires of Sound: Concentrations of Power and Property in the ‘Global’ Music Market.” Popular Music and Society 28.4 (Oct 2005): 443-71. Online Resource.

This source offers a comprehensive look at the big four music recording corporations have responded to the digital age of music. It looks at how copyright law has continually expanded and the detrimental effect this has upon local cultures. The “Big Four” have continually influenced laws in this country, as well as the laws of developing nations in order to “preserve corporate hegemonic control over the music of the world” (444). I like this article because of its in depth look at the four corporations and how they exercise control over creativity. Although Bishop does not offer a solution to this problem, his article is very interesting in what it identifies to be the problem of copyright in the United States and the world.

Demers, Joanna. Steal this music: How intellectual property law affects musical creativity. Athens : University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Demers’s work deals with how copyright law changed with the advent of sampling, wherein music of other artists was “duplicated” instead of simply “alluded to”. This duplication lead to new laws in which sampling without consent (that must be bought) became illegal, laws that greatly increased copyright litigation and to some extent hurt the creativity of the artists. Her conclusion, unlike that of McLeod or Vaidhyanathan, is not simply that copyright law has hurt the creativity of artists, but that it has changed the face of music: “To argue for a consistent, predictable correspondence between IP law and musical creativity, however, would be unwise, if not impossible. After all, the relationship is dynamic, and the circumstances of particular musicians can vary widely” (10). In her book, she interviews a variety of musicians, which will be very interesting to explore.

McLeod, Kembrew. Freedom of Expression. New York: Doubleday, 2005.

This book is a follow-up to Owning Culture, and the two chapters that will be most pertinent to my paper are “Copyright Criminals”, which deals with sampling and what it means to the artists, as well as a deeper look into how the artists have responded (the hegemonic process that is music copyright law), and “Illegal Art”, which deals with how art has fought against the law, and the different forms of cultural dissent to unfair copyright litigation. McLeod is a very interesting writer, and both of his works will be of great use to me, particularly in how they explore how artists have responded to copyright law. I’m interested in exploring how electronic music artists have responded to these laws by allowing their music into the public domain, and permitting other electronic music artists to borrow freely.

McLeod, Kembrew. Owning Culture: Authorship, Ownership, and Intellectual Property Law. New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2001.

This work deals with the extent to which intellectual property law has been expanded in our modern culture. Although borrowing has always been central to the creation of culture, increases in the power of trademarking ideas leads to the “privatization of culture and the transfer of power into the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations.” This book will be essential to my paper and my analysis of a musical culture in which borrowing is often illegal. McLeod gives a detailed account of how musical borrowing was made illegal, a narrative bound up within race and the movement of technology. He also explores how artists have responded, how music copyright is a hegemonic process.

Rosen, Ronald S. Music and Copyright. Washington : U.S. G.P.O., 2008.

This book is intended as a guide for musicians about how to avoid copyright lawsuits and how to engage in copyright lawsuits if the musicians feels that his own music is being infringed upon. I think the most useful chapter of this book is “The Basic Elements of Musical Language and Ideas: The Copyright Perspective”, which lays out how copyright has come to view music. It will be interesting to see what sorts of ideologies are implicit within this view of music (the first section is entitled “Music as Language”).

Scherzinger, Martin Rudolph. “Music, Spirit Possession and the Copyright Law: Cross-Cultural Comparisons and Strategic Speculations.” Yearbook for Traditional Music 31.1 (1999): 102-25. Online Resource.

In this article, Scherzinger explores how non-Western countries have had trouble implementing copyright laws because they hold different ideological views of the creation of art. Because art’s creation is not often attributable to one person within non-Western countries, Western copyright laws are not applicable to those countries. I haven’t yet decided the extent to which I will explore copyright in other countries, but if I do, this article will certainly be of use to me. Both Scherzinger and Bishop write about how the United States has forced its own laws about music (essentially bound up within capitalist ideologies) upon other countries. I’m not sure if I will look at copyright laws within one genre of music, or what the exact focus of my paper will be yet.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

This book explores similar topics to those explored in McLeod’s works; however, it focuses more on how American culture has shaped the laws that have been put in place. I’m not sure what culture I’m going to be exploring (whether it be American or a more global, musical culture), but in either case, Vaidhyanathan’s candid analysis of copyright and its effect upon creativity will be useful.

Said and opposition

From reading the first section of Resistance and Opposition, it would seem that, try as they might, the Western intellectual elite were entirely incapable of any sort of large-scale questioning or resistance to the imperial system of which they were a part. For novelists like Forster and Malraux, who treated directly the subject of imperialism, the form of the novel impeded them in some way. Forster accepts “the novel’s nineteenth-century legacy of seeing the natives as subordinate and dependent” and Malraux is greatly influenced by other writers such “Leo Frobenius, the Conrad of Heart of Darkness, T.E. LAwrence, Rimbaud, Nietzsche, and I am convinced, Gide’s character Menalque” (208). Said makes this observation about the two: “Perhaps the novel form itself dulls their perceptions, with its structure of attitude and reference held over from the previous century” (208). Because the novelists are influenced by authors of the past centuries, the ideas of those authors influence the more liberal-minded authors in negative ways. My question is, is this really the truth? Is there really no real resistance to colonialism within the European cannon?

In an earlier section of Culture and Imperialism, Said takes on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, concluding about it that Austen’s protagonists rely on the supply of colonized countries for their satisfaction and happiness. In “Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender, Culture, and Imperialism”, Susan Fraiman offers a different interpretation of Mansfield Park. She takes issue with Said’s critique of Lady Bertram’s request that her husband go to India so that “I may have a shawl. I think I will have two shawls.” Said claims that this is a misrepresentation of India that goes unchallenged. Fraiman argues that Lady Bertram is not approved of by the narrator—in fact, she is extremely lazy. Her words do not go unchallenged by the narrator, who establishes a distance between the two. Fraiman reads the request for a shawl as “an inverted sexual metaphor in which the recumbent, feminized East rises to its feet, and the veil that once symbolized its mysterious allure reappears as a shawl, a figure for the consumerism of a pampered and feminized West” (29). The shawl, traditionally a symbol of the East, is transformed into a critique of the West, which itself becomes feminized. Said does not leave open any possibility for resistance to imperialism (at least in the years preceeding World War II) in his critiques of works from the western canon. However, this does not mean that it is possible to interpret these works in such a way as to manifest resistance. In some way, his interpretations are a bit one-sided.

Revised Term Project Proposal

So, after doing some skimming, here are a few things I’ve gathered about what is controversial within American copyright law as it applies to music: The blues tradition has roots, as Muddy Waters stated, “in the cotton fields”. In the first half of the twentieth century, many songs within the blues tradition were very similar, following the same melody and varying perhaps in rhythm and most importantly, style. A song is different if it is sung with a radically different style. As the century progressed, popular artists, starting with Elvis and continuing with almost every rock band in existence, drew heavily upon the blues tradition, following both the form of the blues (which is not copyrightable) and many of the same melodies. Some bands, such as Led Zepplin, borrowed entire songs from artists such as Muddy Waters, without giving him any credit. At the same time, these cross-over bands were much more popular and wealthy than the blues artists had been. The blues artists by and large were unable to take these bands to court because they did not have the legal or financial resources. The next rupture in copyright law came with the proliferation of hip-hop into mainstream culture. Until 1991, hip-hop largely relied upon sampling from other songs in order to provide a beat for the rapper. Sampling, most of the authors I’ve read have claimed, goes along with the tradition within African American music of borrowing from what came before and refiguring it; several of the authors relate all of this with the signifying monkey and African folkloric traditions. Whatever the origin, it was outlawed in 1991, in a ruling that included repeated allusion to the seventh amendment that “thou shalt not steal”. Mark Volman, a member of the Turtles, a 1960’s rock band, went so far as to say “Sampling is just a longer term for theft… Anybody who can honestly say sampling is some sort of creativity has never done anything creative.” Contemporary hip-hop now must make sure its artists have consent (which costs money) from the artists from whom they are sampling. This is a very brief history of copyright law in the United States that I’ll probably put in the beginning of my paper.

The simple interpretation of all of this (which, I think, is partially and sadly true) is that throughout the history, black artists have been exploited to the financial gain of white artists, and, to an even larger extent, record company executives. Why did copyright law become more enforced only after black artists began to reappropriate the work of white artists, such as Led Zepplin? Zepplin themselves borrowed heavily from the blues music and did not have to shell out royalties as the mostly African-American hip-hop artists have had to do more recently. There is a double-standard at the racial level in this history. That quote from Volman, whose band, I am sure, did not invent all, or even most of its chord progressions, lyrics, improvisational styles, harmonies, rhythms, or any other musical aspects, really bothers me within this context.

At the same time, a Marxist perspective might offer this critique: That the only reason copyright law began to have more of an effect upon artists with the proliferation of rap into popular culture was because sampling, an invention of hip-hop, was the first time in American musical history, when it was easy to prove that something was directly taken from a different song. It would be futile to prove that almost every bebop musician “plagiarized” Charlie Parker because of the difference in style of the different musicians, and the different tones, etc. With sampling, however, record company executives saw a clear-cut case of their commodity being used without their profit, and they changed that. Sampling represents a sort of “rupture” in the history of American musical copyright law. I’m interested in a quote by Juan Carlos Thom, a Los Angeles lawyer, musician, playwright, and actor: “Sounds are not ideas, but expressions, and therefore copyrighted works.” The distinction he makes is very important, because before the rupture, sounds were ideas, being reworked, and reformed—ideas so that they couldn’t be “stolen” or “borrowed”, but rather changed within the context of a new feel. With sampling, they became expressions, because it was recognizable where they came from. The quote begs a question: How are ideas not commodities? How do they resist being bought and sold? What constitutes an idea in contrast to an expression? At this point, I’d want to return to Marx and other more contemporary cultural theorists and see what he might say about the extent to which ideas can be traded and marketed…

Silence in Culture and Imperialism

In the introduction and the first eighty pages of the book, I noticed how Said pays special attention to the concept of silence, of who is kept silent, and of what remains unspoken. Said first refers to silence in this context: “Without significant exception the universalizing discourses of modern Europe and the United States assume the silence, willing or otherwise, of the non-European world. There is incorporation; there is inclusion there is direct rule; there is coercion. But there is only infrequently an acknowledgment that the colonized people should be heard from, their ideas known” (50). It is interesting that Said extends this critique of the silence that is forced upon the colonized population all the way to Raymond Williams and contemporary Marxists, who discuss Western cultures without paying specific attention to how these cultures are produced and influenced by their imperialistic concerns. Said pays special attention to the narrative (which I greatly appreciate, being an English major!) because in many ways, it is the way to escape this silence, it is the way for the colonized voice to be heard. At the same time, Said does not celebrate the novel, a Western form of narrative. Instead, the novel is a vehicle of silence, a “cultural artifact of bourgeois society” (70). He continues that the novel “is an incorporative, quasi-encyclopedic cultural form. Packed into it are both a highly regulated plot mechanism and an entire system of social reference that depends on the existing institutions of bourgeois society, their authority and power” (70). Because novels and the criticism surrounding them are silent about the reality of the imperialistic nature of the cultures in which they are situated, silence pervades the novel’s readership as well. As such, reading and writing are both forms of silencing the colonized subject.

Said offers an alternative form of criticism, in which the colonized subject’s voice is also considered. He writes that “contrapuntal reading must take account of both processes, that of imperialism and that of resistance to it, which can be done by extending our reading of the texts to include what was once forcibly excluded” (66-67). As such, the critic has the choice either to remain silent about imperialism, as so many have, or to read contrapuntally, to break the silence.


I’m not sure if this is a dumb question, but all of the copies of Imagined Communities are checked out from the library. The list of texts available at Huntley doesn’t include it either… Is there anywhere I can get access to the text? Google books goes up to page 39… Thanks!