March 3, 2009
Another lesson from art: the found object.
“Among the most notorious found objects incorporated into the sculptures,” wrote Barbara Ross in the Wall Street Journal in May 2008 of the artist Robert Rauschenberg, “were a stuffed angora goat, a paint-spattered unmade bed, and an American bald eagle.” He also “reproduced images taken from print media and photographs” in combines and silk-screen paintings.
And from Picasso.
“By leaving visible the two toy cars that constitute the baboon’s head or the milk pitchers that represent the goat’s udders,” Michael FitzGerald wrote in the Wall Street Journal in October 2008, “Picasso invited us on a game of hide-and-seek that demystifies his creative process while allowing us to share his imaginative leaps.”
Now we need to re-define a found object. In the Supernovel, the found object could be a story from the real world appropriated with minor modifications, like a celebrity gone amuck. A found object could be a “shard” left over from THE BIG HOUSE. A found object could be just about anything. But that’s good news for the Supernovel—monumental news, actually, because said Supernovelist can construct a self-contained Joseph Cornell box using digital “found objects” found anywhere. Such an “object,” once “found,” can be incorporated into the Supernovel and take it into any number of directions. That kind of flexibility gives the Supernovelist a whole new toolbox with lots of toys in it.
Appropriation can happen the same way—appropriation of parts of other works of art in the Supernovel, in the same way that sampling occurs in music. (Questions of copyright and originality do apply.) Found objects come from the real world to be incorporated into a work of art. Artists, in contrast, can appropriate existing works of art. An important distinction—but both appropriation and sampling are fair game and perhaps even necessary to the Supernovel in the same way that source material matters.
Found objects, appropriated content, sampling, and source material can be thought of as the “stuff” of the Supernovel, like Rauschenberg’s goat, and though I’ve barely tried any of this just yet it strikes me as being on target. Like the illustrated manuscript of THE BOOK OF KELLS—now that’s an interface for you—this concept of incorporation (my term for all of the above) means almost nothing remains outside the wrapper of the Supernovel as long as you can break it down to some kind of digital form.
Found object, appropriation, sampling, and my own incorporation: these can all happen, at least in a sense, in the existing print novel. But the Supernovel changes the game. Now anything that exists digitally or can be converted in digital form is on the table. When you think about it, for the artist-writer-producer-director, that has to be the ultimate challenge for the next hundred years or so.