Re: re-/mix and (res, rei)/mix

One of my prelim exam committee members pointed me towards Mark Amerika’s new work at (@remixthebook) last week. I have previously read–and read about–Amerika’s work, but that isn’t necessarily the focus of the thoughts to follow in this blog post.

Mark Sample has a (great) guest post on the blog this week, in which he deconstructs “remix” a bit, arriving at some questions and conclusions I thought interesting. And that’s what I’d like to hash out, ineloquently, here.

Sample writes:

What’s wrong with simply mix? Why the prefix? Why remix? Why use to describe some of the most innovative and startling work of our generation a prefix that evokes return or restoration?

To remix suggests that pieces are tossed and turned and tumbled and reassembled into a whole that more or less resembles the original in structure. Like a kaleidoscope, the parts shift, but they’re always contained and framed by the shaft of the scope.

These, I think, are pertinent questions, especially for someone who has thought about remix, appropriation, interactive narratives, simulations, participatory readers, blah, blah, blah. In my own understanding of how these pieces fit together (perhaps peek at my prelim rationale for a brief overview/context), there is always something that comes first, a ground state: whether it’s a context or mission in a simulation or game; a rabbit hole or puzzle in an ARG; a texton in ergodic lit, etc. The ground state is something supplied by the “author,” sometimes with the express purpose of making it available for derivative works and/or semiotic sequencing (or re-sequencing).

Admittedly, that’s a bit of a daft, simple response.

What really gets me excited by Sample’s post is the smart etymology of “re.” I’d like to move it a step… somewhere: I’m not sure if it’s further, closer, in a different direction, or whatever the appropriate spatial metaphor in relation to the “ground state” of the post.

I want to offer the Latin res in response to the Latin re- — more specifically and perhaps in the spirit of Derrida’s différance, the ablative of res, re.

Wiktionary (and Cassell’s Latin dictionary would agree) gives the definition of res as:


rēs (genitive reī); f, fifth declension

  1. thing, matter, issue, affair

In the ablative case, re literally becomes translated as something like “away from the thing or source,” a separation or removal–or in the context of remix, away from the original. The opposite of a return.

This isn’t (only) some definitional game to overturn the re- to a re, though. One potential consequence of the oppositional meaning of the re is the middle ground created: what is preserved or returned to while simultaneously being separated from the original?

To think about this, I want to carry forward Sample’s discussion of remix and mix–and, more specifically, what it seems he finds problematic with the act of “remix,” when defined as such.

First, the remix:

There is only one possible reason why an artist or writer of radical intent would speak of remixing a book as opposed to mixing one, scrambling one, or breaking one. And that is that the artist or writer recognizes that all books begin as mixes. Books are always already mixes.

Then, the consequence of the re- as return to the original mix:

Why use to describe some of the most innovative and startling work of our generation a prefix that evokes return or restoration?

In the latter, the point of contention seems to be the notion of return as “retrograde.” But I see the re- more as a re here: in order to critique or to transform a work or conventions or anything well-established, we often need that “ground state” to serve as a pole. For me, the meaning is made in the difference between the two. (Something akin to what Derrida describes in writing about différance as “the movement according to which language, or any code, any system of referral in general is constituted ‘historically’ as a weave of differences.”) Remix as derivative that speaks back to the original and is also a movement away from that original.

As such, I see the act of remix as (often) a critical act. Earlier today, I finally posted my CCCC11 presentation on remixing Lynda Barry’s comic “Common Scents” in the First Year Composition classroom, an activity I use to facilitate my students to recognize the organizational and multimodal rhetorical choices of Barry. In one sense, this is exactly what Sample recognizes when he states “And that is that the artist or writer recognizes that all books begin as mixes. Books are always already mixes.” From my experience, my students often take this construction for granted, viewing organization and relationship between graphical, textual, and gestural choices as being “just how it is” and not up for discussion. Or critique. In this way, understanding the remix in terms of the difference between “ground state” and derivative can be both useful and constructive.

Furthermore, I’d like to take up Sample’s own Hacking the Accident, an Oulipian remix of Hacking the Academy, “an algorithmically-altered book that challenged the conventions of sense and meaning.” In my understanding, in order to challenge those conventions, we have to know those conventions, whether through a specific textual example (such as Hacking the Academy) or through the conventions of a genre, as Anne Frances Wysocki notes (quoted in my presentation).

So, while I believe in the usefulness of the “metamix,” I think there’s a large amount of play available in a flexible definition of re-/re -mix.

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