CCTP-725: Cultural Hybridity/Remix Culture: Weekly Seminar Discussion
Week 3

Some ways to work with dialogism and intermediality with The Matrix films (click on new window icon or go full screen).
--Martin Irvine

This week’s readings addressing dialogism, intertextuality and appropriation all raise a key controversial point in the process of creativity. What is original? What is a copy? Is there any way to differentiate? According to Julia Kristeva’s writings on dialogism, all creative actions (even not so creative actions) are a processes, rather than a fixed points. The evolution of ideas is a dialogue, one that can be seen visually in film (Blade Runner, The Matrix, Ghost in a Shell) as well as in literature. Just as a person speaks in anticipation of an answer, so art is made in anticipation of a response. The question then arises, what is the purpose of saying or doing anything, if the response shapes the speaker, and the speaker shapes the response? We would seem to be trapped in a circular web in which no thought is created in and of itself. Kristeva and Bakhtin might agree with the previous statement—no idea is created in a vacuum—but this does not delegitimize its validity, as Bakhtin says “After all, our thought born and shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others’ thought.”

I can think of no better example of themes of this week’s readings (dialogism, intertextuality and appropriation) than the popular television series, Family Guy. The series creates its plotlines from allusions to previous popular culture, but although the allusions are to an extratextual event, they create a (somewhat) cohesive story within the show’s own plotline. The Family Guy, Something Something Something Dark Side film series is exemplary of the dialogue between films. Not only does the film parody the previous Star War trilogy, it creates something new—it is another step in the creative process. A friend of mine once told me that she only knew the plot line of the original Star Wars series because of allusions to the trilogy within Family Guy episodes. The allure of this television show hinges on its audience’s ability to draw on collective cultural memories of past popular culture, thus involving the writer, the ‘reader’ as well as exterior ‘texts.’
Weird Al is another example of this intertextuality and appropriation within popular culture. Strangely enough, my parents decided that I should be allowed to watch Weird Al videos before I was allowed to listen to Madonna or watch MTV, so when I first saw Madonna’s Like a Virgin, I assumed she was ripping off Like a Surgeon. My cultural memory in this case was ‘backward’, but did that make it any less valid? Weird Al’s creation, although a parody of Madonna, was a response to her song. Was it a copy, a parody, or an original song?

This week’s discussion of dialogism had me thinking of one key example in reaction to nearly all the theories we read: 30 Rock. Perhaps this lighthearted, whimsical TV show is not the intellectually challenging example that Bakhtin and Kristeva might have hoped for, but I suppose I could interject with the postmodern high-brow/low-brow dichotomy we mentioned last week. 30 Rock’s humor depends on dialogic expression, as many of the jokes refer to current events and the actors’ personal lives or careers. Just as Picasso and Braque collaged shapes to “declare” the planar nature of a canvas, 30 Rock’s writers create a collage of media and codes, declaring the fluidity within today’s culture.

Tina Fey, a former Saturday Night Live head writer, writes many of the show's episodes and plays Liz Lemon, the head writer for a fictional NBC sketch comedy show. Alec Baldwin, who in recent years has achieved notoriety as a liberal activist, plays Jack Donaghy, the staunchly conservative head of NBC. In order to understand these codes, the viewers must have the prior knowledge that Fey was on SNL or that Baldwin is so dedicated to the Democratic Party that he is considering running for Congress. The entire series is peppered with these nods to current affairs. For example, the opening scene of the most recent episode evidences to-the-minute intertextuality. In order to understand the joke, the viewer must know that Comcast had recently bought NBC Universal from GE. Throughout the current season, episodes of 30 Rock have been completely current with respect to the acquisition. The “Kabletown” logo unveiled here and Comcast logo are nearly identical. Further, the day after this episode aired, Comcast released a new NBCUniversal logo. This brief clip creates an intricate web of cultural intertextuality, and shows that even lowbrow media can be thoughtfully dialogic.


Zachary Allard
The notion of a museum is an ontologically tricky one. They are meant to be synecdoches of an entire time, place, people, or movement: a symbol that implies unity and wholeness in its representation. It is this static unity that post-modernism/deconstructivism has a problem with. As Crimp details, “The set of objects the Museum displays is sustained only by the fiction that they somehow constitute a coherent representational universe.” Museums want to represent a world that is already fractal in nature as somehow whole, so the very essence of their nature (as a finite place in time) already inaccurately represents the universe it is meant to stand in for.

Malraux’s Museum without Walls tries to overcome these limitations. Crimp writes, “Any work of art that can be photographed can take its place in Malraux’s museum.” This allows an impressive flexibility of objects to be included in this super-museum as Crimp describes it. But, the moment photography became regarded as an art, the theoretical underpinnings of his idea fell through. However, his idea for a museum containing a functional infinity of various objects that, “in the process they have lost their properties as objects” still holds tremendous value. In fact, it is an idea that almost seems to anticipate the onternet. His museum without walls, filled with various disembodied objects that have lost their physical properties perfectly describes the reality of artistic artifacts on the internet. The internet also transcends the traditional limitations of the museum. It is a simulacrum that makes no claims to completion or finity in any way. It is not only functionally infinite but ever-expanding as well. In being an, intangible, growing, messy, often ugly representation of so much of what humankind was and is, the internet is the perfect museum (without walls).

Art, Technology, Ecology:
what art tells us about ourselves

Do cyborgs and robots have a ghost in their machine? Do we have a ghost in ours? The “myth of the ghost in the machine” alludes to the Cartesian view that our minds and bodies exists separately and parallel to one another. Gilbert Ryle, who coined the phrase, argues that there is no mind distinct from our bodies, that the mind is just an intelligent way of using our bodies. This mind-body dualism – the hallmark of Cartesian thought – has been subject to skepticism since the Enlightenment. So why are films like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell still harking on Descartes? One could argue that the myth of the ghost in the machine is a meaningful discourse that has the capacity to be repurposed into different contexts again and again. We are currently appropriating Ryles' ideas into cyber and consumer culture - i.e. films and graphic novels - wrapping them around questions we are grappling with in our current environment.

Both of the films referenced and the artwork soon to be described are a dialogic response to the idea of the ghost in the machine, as well as it's expression through creative means. Just as Oliver Nelson's 1961 Abstract Truth album occurs in reference and response and communication and an expansion from the the iconic Kind of Blue album by Miles Davis, so too are these works in dialogue with other works and with each other. (See Martin Irvine for more on dialogism and hybrid culture within the context of Jazz.) If you're wondering about other cultural artifacts addressing the relationship between technology and human beings, just go here.

The film Blade Runner is based on a book by Philip K. Dick ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"). Both film and book raise questions about the relationship between humanity and technology.

The relationship between technology and human beings is becoming more and more fluid. The way in which we use digital technology as an extension of ourselves raises questions similar to those posed in Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell: What defines us as human beings, at what point within our embedded relationship to technology do we begin to lose that thing which makes us distinctly human? In both films that which makes us authentically human is real memory and consciousness. Both films raise the question of whether a completely synthetic replica of ourselves – a copy, a simulacra – can in fact become sentient, that is, have feelings and emotions as a completely autonomous being. For the most part, these questions are left unanswered.

In any case, the conjoining of ideas about art, technology and ecology (I think that Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell address all three of these ideas) is not such an unusual direction for artists to go in, considering the state of our current environment. As such, many artists have moved beyond a direct focus on the phenomenon of intermediatlity, appropriation, dialogism; these features of the ‘new’ epoch (post-postmodernity?) are already, if you will, an implanted feature of their individual and collective habitus.

" iPod ECOsystem #D-2

Saatchie Online

Image above from [dNASAB]'s iPodecosystem series, a multi-media project expanding upon Warhol's use of consumer goods in out of context art worlds, as well as appropration of Gilbert Ryle's "ghost in the machine" imagery and philosophy - mind-body dualism and questions of identity addressed by the Ancient Greeks, Descartes and modern philosophers such as Nietzsche. now postpostmodern artworks are in dialogue with these themes and applying them to a new networkes technologically complex cultural landscape

For example, In a new series of audio-visual works titled “iPodecosystems” (above), [dNASAB] uses the iPod as his primary ‘raw’ material. The use of the iPod as something raw (that is, relatively untouched) takes for granted its artificiality. It has become such an extension of ourselves that we question our own relationship to networks and machines … if the iPod has become an extension of, and therefore an inherent part of our existence, aren’t we, like one of the human/machine/robot/sentient beings in Ghost in the Shell or Blade Runner, forced to confront the changes to our own person, the result of our close relationship with digital technologies?

[dNASAB] writes in his blog:

“Via the use of evolving technologies, we are projecting ourselves into a virtual, digital domain. It's a pivotal time in human creative history. We are evolving from merely consuming content to actually creating content. We are building our avatars, and online identities, broadcasting our lives, transmitting our gps coordinates, tweeting our thoughts, and uploading glimpses into the way we want our lives to be perceived by others.

We are also living a larger majority of our lives online, in the info-sphere. Many of us have more daily interactions with humans via technology than real-life human interactions, or more "online" friends than "real" friends that you have actually interfaced with face-to-face. We have begun "being digital", we have begun moving closer to traveling back in time, we have begun becoming immortal, we are populating virtual spaces. We are inhabiting the info-sphere. This is not the future. This is now! It is a revolution! "We are human projectors"”

In considering intertextuality and dialogue, a major takeaway from this week’s readings, has been the dissolution of time in postmodernity (or is it post-postmodernity? -- I’m still grappling with that one). Bakhtin speech posits that “[t]here is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and boundless future).” This seems like such a romanticized notion, so much so that I couldn’t help but think of this line from a Paulo Coelho book I’m reading: “For those who travel time does not exist, only space.” And, however unrelated the context I pulled that quote from, it only reaffirms the belief that every thought intersects with the other.

Aside from appreciating the rhetoric, I think this week’s readings on intertextuality were compelling in their exploration of read-write culture; wrestling absolute control from the author and empowering every reader to participate in co-authoring a never-ending story. Kristeva writes, “linear history appears as an abstraction. The only way a writer can participate in history is by transgressing the abstraction … signifying structure in relation or opposition to another structure.” There’s a conscious shift away from codified language, which I instinctively relate to the pages of academic readings I encounter that seem to speak “to” rather than “with.” In this sense, defining all written work as “a mosaic of quotations” is strangely liberating to me as a cultural studies scholar. I’m afforded a vessel-like position that can contain, dilute and/or distribute information as I see fit while discarding of the excess for another to consume.

The read-write discussion is also particularly appealing to me because of the documentary project I’m developing. My fixation with metro graffiti grew out of passive consumption. Everyday I would encounter these names and images that spoke to me, to each other and I wanted a way to talk back. I was -- and remain -- interested in bringing as many opinions into the fray as possible -- graffiti artists, city officials, property owners, commuters, etc. So, what I can ascribe to the notion of polyphonic discourse is literally as many voices as possible sounding off on the same subject so that their thoughts may echo, contradict and intersect many times over.

-- SEY

New Moon- Romeo and Juliet or Dracula?

According to the principle of intertextuality “meaning and intelligibility in discourse and Texts are based on a network of prior concurrent discourse and texts”(“Intertextuality” Metapedia). We understand texts based on our understanding of previous texts which we have stored in an “encyclopedia of references” (“Intertextuality” Metapedia) in our minds and due to our ability to connect the new texts we come upon with these old texts. We organize these texts by genres due to the fact that in our heteroglot language, we often come upon contradicting ideas or meanings. However the concept of intertextuality also encompasses the mixing of genres, and as Agger argues, nowhere has this mixing of genres been more marked than in television and film. Perhaps because the mass culture phenomenon of Twilight has have to adopt a format which will allow audiences all over the world to understand it, its intertextuality of genres and literary texts is particularly salient.The movies of the Twilight saga are part of the vampire mass cultural phenomenon which could be traditionally classified under the genre of the terror film. However Twilight, like other recent vampire TV shows, represents a mix between this terror genre and the genre of romance. Thus, as the principle of intertextuality predicts, our understanding of these films depends not only on our reading of this story but on our understanding of previous texts which fall under these two genres, and provide us with an “intertextual framework”(Chandler,4) or a set of common conventions under which we can analyze this new text. What is curious about the Twilight saga, and particularly of New Moon, the second movie of this saga, is that it appears to have a greater level of intertexutality with those texts which fall under the category of romance than with the vampire texts themselves.

Like the rest of the movies of the Twilight series and like most soap operas, the plot of New Moon is structured around the topic of love which happens between members of two different and opposing worlds, social hierarchies, or enemy families, who must risk their lives to overcome the obstacles that society has imposed upon them. This theme, can be traced back to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, although probably even Romeo and Juliet is itself intertextual. However New Moon differentiates itself from those other texts because of its highly marked intertextuality. In this story Edward (the vampire) decides to separate himself from Bella (his fragile, mortal love) because he is afraid that Bella does not belong in his world and might be injured if she stays at his side. However Bella, cannot stand the thought of being with out him and because she knows that he is aware of everything she does, despite the distance, she begins to constantly engage in life threatening activities in order to urge him to come back to her. Towards the end of the movie Bella jumps off a cliff in front of the ocean, and she hits herself in the head with a rock but is saved by Jacob, who is also in love with her. Because Edward is only aware that she jumps off the cliff and thinks that she has committed suicide he decides to kill himself as well. Hence it can be said that this work has a high scale of adoption of the borrowed text, it is a parallel of Romeo and Juliet, and its plot has been structured around the plot of Shakespeare’s play. It thus follows that the intertextuality in New Moon is highly reflective and that being familiar with the borrowed text is critical to one’s comprehension of this film. Perhaps because of this reason and because the director and author have anticipated that some members of the audience might not know Shakespeare’s text the director makes its connection to Romeo and Juliet highly explicit. He directly quotes the play during the first scene of the film and even makes the characters discuss Romeo and Juliet in one of their classes. During this class scene Edward tells Bella that during the split second he thought that he was going to loose her (in the previous film), he began to contemplate ways of killing himself, hence foreshadowing what will come latter on in the film. This scene ends when Edward, who is caught speaking with Bella, is asked by his professor to recite Romeo's last verses. The intertextuality of this film with Romeo and Juliet is thus marked to the point that it hits you in the head. And although we are pretty much told how it is similar to Romeo and Juliet, our reading of New Moon, like Kristeva explains, depends on both “a horizontal axis connecting the author and reader of a text, and a vertical axis, which connects the text to other text”(Chandler, 1).

In addition to our knowledge of Romeo and Juliet, our reading of this film also depends on the connections we are able to make with other texts of the terror/vampire genre. Twilight makes part of a vampire literature, that like Eagleton predicts, has evolution according to the society in which it is re-written. Like Jennifer Fountain argues, vampire literature can be traced back to the superstitious stories adopted by Eastern Europeans in order to “explain people and situations that did not comply to social expectations”(Fountain). According to this author, they have been used to explain the un-known and the socially threatening, as can be exemplified through the novel Dracula, which exploits the fear towards the foreign which existed in America around the time it was published, but they have been gradually adapted by the American media until achieving the sort of every-day human-like characters which we have come to see today. Twilight, like other vampire shows, has emerged during a time when teens have to start dealing with issues of sexuality at younger ages, and when gender roles are increasingly negotiated, and as a result belongs to a sub genre of vampire texts which reflects this. In this movie the vampire and the protagonist’s love is triggered by the immense attraction they feel towards each other, an attraction with which they must also fight with through out the film, because Edward can’t get too close to Bella without wanting her blood and Bella can not loose her “virtue”. The vampire is our heroe and the victim our heroine, and finally she saves him and he saves her in order to prevent any “untimely deaths”. Thus goes our contemporary Romeo and Juliet.

Jessica Gesund

Dialogism/Intertextuality in Modern Media

Dialogism and Intertextuality definitely take a completely new role in modern artistic and literary mediums, particularly if you think about the amount of metanarratives that ultimately affect the nature and expression of the original. Bahktin cites the existence of a "boundless past and future" which implies that the contextual begins to alter the original. On the other side of fan culture and its impact on the original work, it seems that often devices are actively used by writers and creators to conceptualize this construct of ongoing dialogue through techniques like continuations of synthetic worlds (The Matrix, Harry Potter) or obscure, poignant references in hip hop.

Ghost in the Shell is one of those continuations of synthetic worlds that seems to visibly exist within a timestream. The show is just absolutely staggering to watch because of the detail that its animators have sunk into this "world infrastructure." The show's themes and episodic plots all deal with predominately everyday crime which similar to crime dramas are designed to feel realistic. However, taking its cross-medium influences into consideration, its existence is definitely "dialogic in relation to reader and audiences." While its a pioneer of its genre (net-based dystopian future etc.), how has recent futuristic thrillers like Surrogates or other trashy cyborg movies affected its existence? All these movies/series borrow elements from "seminal" literary texts in this genre ranging from Shelley and Asimov to Lovecraft and Wells.

Intertextuality and dialogism often go hand in hand particularly in modern manifestations. My personal feeling is that modern literature and media exist on an increasingly transparent continuum. HIp Hop is almost completely centered around intertexuality and dialogism. To an extent, the depth and breadth of explaining how past, current and future popular, cultural and literary influences have changed one's life makes up a majority lyrical content. This is essentially intertextual appropriation. Kanye West is always a great example; in College Dropout, West is rapping about rocking pelle pelle jackets, meeting Jay-Z for the first time and moving to Newark. Three albums later it's lamborghinis and his Taylor Swift blowout. It's clear that each song exists on its own dialogic timeline relevant to its chronological position, audience and medium.

All these works tease out another huge post-modern driven concept-- hyperrealism. We can not perceive the difference between reality and fanstasy, or original and derivative. Again, this is a further continuation of a post-modernist mindset, this move towards individual subjectivism and the awakening of the subjective consciousness. The richness of synthetic worlds is measured by how well they can negotiate the line between reality and hyperreality. Anime is one of the most hyperreal genres in existence. One minute characters are embroiled in cataclysmic incidents in a densely constructed world, the next minute there are commercials featuring the same characters selling ramen or explaining a photo sweepstake. The fantasy of a created world is foiled by characters literally breaking the fourth wall or existing, moving and living in our reality-- and at the same time everything is still animated.

This is actually a trailer for a movie called Summer Wars that was released in the past year. Notice the interplay between the "real" world and OZ or online world. This is clear intertextual work, with art supplied by noted superflat sculptor and artist Takashi Murakami.

I can't even begin to think about what remix and appropriation means within this context. The taking of past and present inspirations to create new "complete" works is almost simply another medium-based manifestation of the original. This must be the intermediality that is rapidly engulfing media forms today.

Lian Han


by Alicia Dillon

Within this weeks themes of dialogism, intertextuality, and appropriation, I see the term “coherence,” as a productive addition.

Coherence activates the idea of progression in the arts and in as much as coherence relates to the underlying organization and categorization of (original) texts, I see it as an important aspect to consider when beginning to discuss the mediums of cultural objects. Specifically relevant vis a vis Crimp’s discussion of art and museums, in many ways coherence deals with defining authenticity.

The means through which we generally establish the concepts of “originals,” “styles,” and “genres,” is key to further drawing out issues in intellectual property rights and understanding how culture selects foundational, essential, referents. Coherence relates to the larger dialogue surrounding what exactly constitutes the attributes of any given object or set of objects, idea or group of ideas, and with appropriation, establishing a timeline for real and or original objects by which to reference their iterations, it is inextricably tied to coherence. For example Douglas Crimp makes reference to the, “structural coherence that made an image-bearing surface legible as a picture” (50), and another later quote states that objects displayed in a museum are, “only sustained by the fiction that they somehow constitute a coherent representational universe” (53). In other words, what is revealed is that within all three core concepts the idea of coherence binds, separates, and outlines objects themselves as well as the way objects come to be understood once they are introduced to an institution or cultural realm.

In addition, by drawing on the fact that coherence relates to the way in which we perceive the underlying structures of the true and the real we are able to open a space for discussing these definitions. As when an artist combines something that is understood as a simulation with something that is perceived as an original, there is simultaneously a break in historical coherence yet at the same time a continuity created in the object through the simple act of pairing the two together (with the understanding that in the creation of this new hybrid, a type of cohesion is created through its objecthood). Greenberg’s writing on collage produces an interesting conversation surrounding what we call literal. In addition to suggesting that the artist might, “declare as well as deny the actual surface” his analysis proposes that artists hold the power to control these devices through their use of the medium. Of course, this aligns nicely with Greenberg’s perception that, with art, the meaning of a piece is contained within the piece itself and this significance is revealed in its entirety the moment a painting is viewed (as opposed to the idea that art can be activated by the meta dialogue within which it exists), as well as the fact that it is medium specific.

For Greenberg, the highest art was that which pushed a given medium to its “truest” and “purest” form-- which lead me to pose the question: when discussing intertextuality and the Remix, how might our acceptance of this reading affect the way we can discuss the use of any given medium, and how might we argue for or against this idea of purity of medium and high art? Is defining high art still a relevant gesture, or have the present levels of appropriation present in works of art rendered this obsolete?

For anyone who hasn't read Greenberg's seminal essay, __Avant-Garde and Kitsch__, it's a worthwhile read especially as per our debate over what constitutes original art versus a "copy” and can be found via the link above.

Lastly, I would like to introduce a timely example.

Touching on the idea of photography and museums, or "museums without walls" as Crimp discusses-- today __Gizmodo__ did a feature on what __Google is calling their "Art Project,"__ in which Street View is used to take high-res images inside some of the world's top museums. __Here__ is a link to the article.


Daniel Chandler states, “when writers write they are also written.” This intellectual reaction to the problematic of authorship while examining intertextuality in early literary form struck me as quite an important concept. Although the definition has widened to incorporate many other forms of art and media, the earliest examples referenced by Barthes and other scholars are literary. I was surprised to find these scholars shying away from one of the most borrowed authors, William Shakespeare. Perhaps this is because of the multitude of claims regarding single authorship, but the Bard has certainly been much borrowed.

One of the most clever purveyors of intertextuality on television today is The Simpsons. While the Simpsons reference everything from Gone with the Wind to Full Metal Jacket in film, Homer and that lovable yellow family have over 20 Shakespeare References - that’s essentially one per season. Among the most memorable was “Tales from the Public Domain “(season 13, ep. 14), where Hamlet is recreated - with Bart playing our lead, avenging his father’s death. The plot __summary__ not only references the substantial portion of the episode that is dedicated to the Bard’s masterpiece, but also points out the flourishing intertextual references found interspersed in the writing of the show.

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What is so winning about the use of intertextuality in The Simpsons is the fact that we as the audience are given credit for understanding these nods, from the most obvious to the subtlest tip of the hat. Sometimes I marvel at the global success of the cartoon just because of the cultural references alone. The art of animation lends itself well to intertextuality in general. One theory I’ve tossed around is the idea that cartoon characters are afforded a greater license for re-appropriation, parody, and intertextual references precisely because they’re not rooted in reality. Because actors and writers appear to be even further removed from the process, the examples of these cultural, literary and theatrical references can shine even more brightly.
Jess Perlman