“The art of quotation”

November 11, 2006

I’ve been reading an excellent book by Michael Taussig called Mimesis and Alterity. Mimesis = imitation or copy; alterity = difference. Taussig has a background in anthropology, and much of the book is an investigation into the culture of the Cuna Indians. This is a lovely passage that considers mimesis in speech:

“Cuna speakers, he affirms, ‘tend to present facts, opinion, arguments, not as their own but as retellings and reformulations of what others or even they themselves have previously said. Discourse of all kind is heavily embedded with speech that has previously occurred…’ (which is what I myself am doing right now). …Cuna speech is always one or more steps, to quote Sherzer, ‘removed from the actual speaker and that what one is listening to at a given moment is always a retelling, a rehearing, a reviewing, or a reinterpretation of something said before.’ These words deserve retelling themselves. With what nonchalance they estrange, making the new old, the oft-said new, undermining mimesis itself, creating new forms through mimetic doubling such that, as Sherzer points out, ‘retellings blend into interpretations.'”

After this passage I couldn’t help but think of the blogosphere. Blogging is by nature “heavily embedded with speech that has previously occurred.” The basic blog devices of cutting and pasting pictures, text and links, retelling an experience or reproducing information, are all mimetic practices where ‘retellings blend into interpretations’.


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