I am reading “Topologie der Kunst” (“Topolgy of Art”) by Boris Groys (as far as I know, it has not been translated to English). In the book Groys deals with contemporary art practice, the role of the museum, the significance of showing film and video in exhibitions and even with art on the web. Of course he does not escape referencing Walter Benjamin quite a bit since Benjamin’s topics are omnipresent in the book.
If I am not mistaken, it was Benjamin, who, ahead of his time as often, proposed writing a book by using texts from existing books only. Probably this has been done many times by now (not that I know of a specific example). Groys seems to have a slightly different approach.
More than once while reading the book I had the feeling that I had already read what I was reading. At some point (on page 94 to be exact) I was certain that I had indeed read the exact same words. I went through the previous chapters and found that Groys had recycled almost an entire page from an earlier chapter (page 64). Continuing I found more examples where he reused sentences and paragraphs, sometimes mildly changed, but often without any changes at all.
At first he managed to confuse me. Did he think he would get away with it? Did his lector not notice? Or did the editor accept it? Or did Groys manage to talk the editor into believing that it is part of the concept?
Then it struck me that they probably thought that no one would read the whole book anyway. After all Groys is fascinated with the idea that in art exhibitions one can just walk away from a work and that, when it comes to film and video, one usually has no chance to see the entire work (which would in most cases be missing the point anyway). Reading the entire book might be besides the point too. Maybe it is designed for being exhibited in a bookshelf or on a table and for flipping through the pages. Repeating important parts makes perfect sense in such a book. It’s a book for contemporary reading practice. One you can pick up, open on any page, find something that catches one’s attention, maybe read a paragraph to a friend.
That would also explain why fragments of the book sound smart, while reading a hundred pages make the whole thing sound a bit simple and naive.
I am thinking about employing a similar practice on this blog. Repeating the a few good thoughts a simple guy like myself can come up with seems perfectly appropriate in a world where people scan headlines in their news reader and only now and then click through to the article. The question is, should work on better headlines and first paragraphs or should I make them more boring, so people don’t often get to the the recycled part.