Friday, December 31, 2010

Grandmaster Flash

Sampling, in which old songs are spliced into new musical numbers, is not only the province of rap and hip-hop, where mythic DJs like Grandmaster Flash have embellished its notoriety. It has also occurred through the history of world literature. For instance, James Joyce’s Ulysses is an essay in sampling, primarily in its exploitation of Homer. Shakespeare sampled Holinshed big time, and then there are those influential anonymous works of world literature, from the The Book of J (which Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg depict as the antecedent to the Old Testament) to Beowulf (which recently was reinterpreted by Seamus Heaney) to La Chanson de Roland. What parts of Indian culture did Herman Hesse sample in Siddhartha, and where did Goethe’s Faust and Marlowe’s Faustus, titles that are part of the vocabulary of human thought, find their common roots? Talking about provenance is a little like asking when being actually commenced. Oh yes, there was a documented Big Bang, but if time existed before matter, where do we place the idea? Did something actually come from nothing, or must there at least have been the idea of something? And if we believe in a subjectivity freed from any possible object, can it only exist if we accept the notion of the divine? All of this is a long way of saying that there is nothing new under the sun. As people used to say about perversion, “If it’s been done, it’s been said, and if it’s said, it’s been done.”

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