WITHOUT quotes, this could border on plagiarism, so allow me to punctiliously turn to a punctuational best friend, to give to you bits from Jonathan Lethem’s “plagiarism,” an ecstatically influential piece: “As a novelist, I’m a cork on the ocean of story, a leaf on a windy day. Pretty soon I’ll be blown away. For the moment I’m grateful to be making a living, and so must ask that for a limited time (in the Thomas Jefferson sense) you please respect my small, treasured usemonopolies. Don’t pirate my editions; do plunder my visions. The name of the game is Give All. You, reader, are welcome to my stories. They were never mine in the first place, but I gave them to you.”
I was part of the “reader” Lethem was addressing; now I am a writer, riding freely from parts of what he has given to us, freely.
If Jodi Dean’s quotation of Lethem at the beginning of Blog Theory is to be believed, then we can repeat what she cited, that for Lethem, “the only conspiracy was a conspiracy of distraction. The conspirers, ourselves. If I didn’t grasp this law of complicity, I should go back to beginning and start again.” The italics was here; I didn’t quite grasp this complicity, so let me begin again:
Without quotes, the porosity of who says what, and what says who gets punctuated, pronounced, made prominent. In most contexts**, it will likely count as plagiarism, packaging others’ wisdom as one’s invention. If I am not putting all the attention I can put, if I am not being mindful, then I am likely being distracted, losing focus, losing sight. My vision will be lost, and others would not have something to plunder, no matter how meager, no matter how mundane, no matter how magnetic, my visions are. As a conspirer, I cannot feign innocence. I am part of the landscape I am observing. There is no bird’s eye view—the bird is part of what is being viewed.
(**I said mostly because there are works like Angelo Suarez’ Maliit Lang Yung Sa ‘yo, Itabi mo, Magpadaan Ka: Adventures in Parataxis, where conversations in a cab were transcribed “in paragraph that downplays attribution on who says what”).
From Blog Theory: “social media marketers are far more active than overall users.” I use social media 26 hours a day; you use social media 72 seconds per minute; Filipinos are notorious for relying on social media for news about class suspensions, earthquake alerts, dinner recipes, vloggers’ feud, basketball news, among other kinds of “content” – the catch-all term for 21st century’s digital culture. Yet despite the exorbitance of our “use” of social media, it is no match to the hardly visible work of those who fine-tune the algorithms, those who market pages and content and subscriptions, those who crunch the big data so they can target us better with ads, with sleeping pills, with movie recos, with reconnaissance in the di-gee-tal realm.
They are the zombies the people in Train to Busan cringed at watching. They work all season long, all night-day long, to make sure we have the grandest, most seamless, most banayad, social media strolling experience, like ambling along the park with no poop to step on, just the familiar hardness of pavements with no cracks.
Then there are those who do the gruesome job of “filtering” social media content so we won’t see so much gore, so much chainsaw massacres, so much porn, so much abuse online. They are the ones tasked to pick up the poop so we can mindlessly walk our dogs, and cats, and crocodiles in the park.
Let Lethem speak: “And artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust, and glee that characterizes all artistic successors.”
Contra the liberal and vague notions of “artistic freedom” and the not-so-lowkey arrogant “exceptionalism,” Elaine Castillo elects the idea of “inheritance.” I will not preempt her elaboration, but you can check the essay “Reading Teaches us Empathy, and Other Fictions” from How to Read Now. It’s available na yata sa Pinas; but also online, in websites we all know in our hearts.