One of the most interesting books I read this year was Marcus Boon‘s In Praise of Copying (free PDF download). It’s a philosophically broad consideration of copying, informed by Buddhism – which has long considered essencelessness — and a really good soundtrack. Published on Harvard University press, it gives me hope for akademic writing: Boon’s prose is lucid and approachable, whether discussing “Louis Vuitton” bags or Taoist views on the ecology of copying…
Here’s an excerpt. After describing a breakdance battle between two dancers with highly divergent styles, Boon writes:
Of course ‘style,’ including hip-hop style, has long been integrated into the capitalist marketplace — and there could be no capitalist market at all without very particular organizations of appropriations of copia abundance. But to see style, and for that matter ‘copying,’ as mere epiphenomena of capitalist production is to invert things, and to radically underestimate the power of these forces. The power of hip-hop, and the five elements, which are five ‘styles’ of being in the world, constitute five types of magic, if you like — five ways of transforming things, and therefore five ways of changing what gets called a ‘person’ and what gets called a ‘world.’ I would like to think, though I can’t prove it, that folk cultures have always had this power, have always discovered it for themselves, insofar as folk cultures are always cultures to whom nothing belongs, from whom everything is taken.
The New Yorker described the book as: “. . .not an investigation of the ethical dilemmas of copying but a Gertrude Stein-like affirmation of the mimesis that happens everywhere and everyday. Boon sees copying as fundamental to existence, part of ‘how the universe functions and manifests.’ . . . Boon encourages us to rethink terms like ‘subject,’ ‘object,’ ‘different,’ and ‘the other,’ in order to “account for our fear of and fascination with copying.”
Marcus Boon has a great radio voice and will join me on WFMU 91.1 FM NYC next Monday, December 27th, 6-8pm, to discuss In Praise of Copying and share some music!