Sunday, April 17, 2011

Xanadu vs. the web: Part IV - Quotations

The whole concept of Xanadu, particularly transclusion, is based on the idea of taking pieces out of existing texts and re-presenting them in new combinations as new text.  Xanadu as I understand it in no way precludes producing new text -- obviously that has to happen -- but it assumes that quotation is a major activity.

As far as I can tell, it isn't.

That's not to say that there aren't forms and genres that rely on quotation.  Collage, for example, goes back to the beginning of the previous century under that name, entertainment journalism uses quotation extensively, sampling is famously part of the turn-of-the-century music scene, and there are older examples in history.  The Victorian commonplace book comes to mind.  Nonetheless, most works don't rely extensively on quotations.

From a personal perspective, I hardly ever quote in this blog.  I do try to include links where appropriate, but most of those are internal to this blog, and even then they're not dominant.  There are quite a few posts here with no links at all [actually, not so many -- the other blog is less linky, being less webby -- but there are relatively few posts that you can't get most of the good out of without ever chasing a link].  In any case, including a link and inviting the reader to chase it is clearly not what Nelson has in mind.  A transclusive Xanadu document is essentially a new literary form, which is great, but most content hews to existing forms because those forms work.  Likewise, most content tries to be original because that's what audiences and creators both want.

That's not to say that most works don't refer to other works.  One one level they do so simply by adhering to existing forms, which are established and modified over time by the works of previous creators.  On a more familiar level, they tend to refer allusively.  If I refer to, say, sampling, as above, I'm not going to paste in a bunch of audio clips from Old School rappers sampling James Brown.  I just mention sampling and assume that you're already familiar with the idea.

This more subtle mesh of allusions and cultural references has always been the sinew that holds literature and culture together.  A too-literal interpretation of this as a mesh of actual quotations seems more limiting than liberating.

No comments: