Marcus Boon


On his book In Praise of Copying

Cover Interview of November 10, 2010

A close-up

Although I purposefully avoided paying excessive attention to computers, the internet and social media, I think that there is a strong and helpful analysis of those things in my book.

One of the arguments you hear a lot today is that we’re living in a totally new world because of computers—in particular because of the new abilities to copy that they offer us.

While I don’t totally discount that argument I have a particular take on it.  Whatever the advances in technology, our minds are still the fastest computers and still crank out more copies than any computer could do.  Pornography, spam, symbolic representations of infinity: our minds already make it all.

In the “Montage” chapter (pp. 167-172), I examine digital and analog modes of copying and point out (via the work of techno theorists Brian Massumi and Julian Dibbell) that there is no such thing as a digital copy—because all copies have to be translated into analog form in order to manifest. In other words, processes of digital copying obey the same principles that I set out for other kinds of copying that seem more lo-fi: tactile contagion and a similarity that emerges from nonconceptual sameness.

If I can be allowed to point to a second aspect of the book, it would be the importance of what I call industrial folk cultures.

We know that subcultures, indigenous cultures, peasant cultures and the various groupings of the people are intensely interested in copying, whether it’s through practices such as quilting, the transmission of folk songs or the cut and paste of hip-hop.  Often those activities put ordinary or poor people on the wrong side of the law—they’re “stealing,” because they don’t have the economic power to participate in the culture of ownership.

I think there’s an interesting and neglected politics to folk cultures as regards copying—and one that we’ll be hearing a lot more of, as the poor people of the world start to communicate with each other and discover the details of each other’s situations.

I find things like hip-hop, punk or cumbia very interesting in this regard—because people around the world “imitate” those styles in a way that’s profound and empowering.  We saw what happened in the 1960s when practices of freedom “went viral.”  I think there’s a lot more of that going to be coming up.