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I Collage, Therefore I Am
An Introduction to Cutting Across Media
“A good composer does not imitate, he steals,” Igor Stravinsky once re-
marked, expressing a sentiment that many well- known artists have
shared (quoted in Oswald, 1990, 89). Whether we are talking about Dada,
Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Situationism, or Pop Art, creators across
artistic movements have long acknowledged the centrality of appropria-
tion in their creative practices. Collage was an essential method used to
create literary works like T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Kathy Acker’s Blood
and Guts in High School, William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, James Joyce’s
Ulysses, and Marianne Moore’s poetry. In the world of audio, collage prac-
tices played a key role in the development of avant- garde music, as well
as the birth of hip- hop—a largely African American musical genre re-
sponsible for popularizing remix culture within the mainstream, perhaps
more so than anything else.
Innovations in communication technologies (the phonograph, radio,
magnetic tape, and, later, digital media) gave people new ways of cap-
turing sound and image, which fundamentally changed their relation-
ship with media. Starting at the beginning of the twentieth century,
newspapers were the dominant media outlets that circulated cultural
and political texts, acting as ideological gatekeepers that shaped popu-
lar culture. For artists armed with scissors and paste, the messages in
newspapers’ pages could be literally cut up, rearranged, and thus trans-
formed with available household tools and technologies. Later, magnetic
tape and celluloid were subjected to the hands- on manipulations of art-
ists who critiqued the dominant culture.
Collage is not merely a technique that characterizes a series of artis-
tic, literary, and musical movements, for it can be much more than that.
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