The copy – some ideas

Copying has long been seen as the inferior partner in the binary original/copy.  How do we rethink this relationship productively?

The copy as transitional act: When something is copied a change is effected within the action. Can copying then become a generative rather than a derivative act?

‘The copy (is) the underlying condition of originality’ (Rosalind Krauss The Originality of the Avant-Guard and Other Modernist Myths)

Is Krauss right?  If so was the post-modern turn to simulacra the return of the repressed of all that the historic avant-garde was founded on but denied?

The copy is only a problem when it comes into conflict with capital. Only when proliferation undermines profit does the copy become a subversive act. Discuss.

The conceptual copy: to steal the idea but not the form. Kraftwerk were huge Beach Boys fans and decided to copy them. Not by apeing them formally, but by trying to embody/capture the environment in which they lived. For the Beach Boys this was the surf and drag racing culture of South California. For Kraftwerk this was the reconstruction of industrial Germany.  What of the opposite – to steal the form but not the content? Consider artists like Blinky Palmero, who uses the forms of Rothko/Newman high modernism but rejects the metaphysical/existential content.

Parody/Irony- the copy as critique

Are there copies that are better than the originals? John Coltrane’s version of My Favourite Things surely beats Rodgers and Hammerstein’s.

Walter Benjamin- please, not The Work of Art essay –  let’s have  ‘the new as the ever the same’

Mark E Smith: ‘All I learnt at school where the three R’s: Repetition, repetition, repetition’      Quentin Crisp: ‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another’.   What is the relationship between originality and copying in the formation of subjectivity?

The doppelganger, the clone and other doubles: Is the obsession with the human copy a permanent feature of the human imagination or is the uncanny double a social historic concept? Do we need to have reached an era of technical reproducibility for it to appear?  Science fiction and psychoanalysis are contemporaries. How does technological progress effect how we depict our doubles?

Scientists tell us something about cloning! Lawyers tell us something about copyright! It will counter our tendency to artistic and metaphysical excess.

In Kale Iasn ‘originality is dead’ . In the contemporary era only the copy remains.  The market’s need for novelty could be seen as condemning modernity to creativity – to its ceaseless production of ism’s.  If so, what was the relationship between the market and the postmodern turn to repetition? Is there a relationship between the market and copying that goes deeper then copyright issues?

There are two distinct but interrelated discourses of the copy.  On the one hand there is the copy as metaphysical conundrum, a trans-historical debate of essence and appearance that has dogged philosophy since its birth in ancient Greece, whilst on the other there are historically specific arguments over who controls the copy. From the Church and State’s attempts to control printing – the birth of copyright law- through to today’s debates about the internet, the copy is connected to the needs and interests of capitalism.  Control of the copy is also the control of wealth and information.   What is the relationship between these two levels of discourses?

For further information on this section: Simon Marginson (

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