In my post DJ Spooky’s Remix Simulacrum I questioned the concept of an “authentic voice” in general, and the concept of a “remix” in particular:
“Given that the human history of ideas, progress, art, etc. is the history of remix, i.e. the unexpected association of different, seemingly unrelated memes, should “remix” be classified as an authentic voice or an unauthentic one?”
That post ended with only questions. I might have now a sort of an answer, which will be based on literary criticism, specifically on Roland Barthes “The Death of the Author”, as well as on our memory, or rather on our capacity to… forget.
In “The Death of the Author” (1967) Barthes states that “the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original”. Any text, therefore, be it an “original” or a “remix” is deemed to be the reincarnation of older texts. Let’s forget, than, the illusion of authenticity [, or of truth, or of reality etc.] – there’s no such thing.
Here’s an excerpt from Barthes:
“We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture. Like Bouvard and Pecuchet, those eternal copyists, both sublime and comical and whose profound absurdity precisely designates the truth of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original”.
Yet I’d like to suggest a distinction between the authenticity of the text and the authenticity of the voice (leaving aside concepts of author, writer, speaker etc.). Indeed, the text is essentially unauthentic; the author is being dead, and the reader is, righteously, the new meaning-provider. Yet from all this destruction, I think that something new is born: the voice.
Barthes continues the above quoted text with what can be understood as a minor observation on his part, but a one that I think is key to understanding the essence and the role of the authentic voice – that which tells an essentially unauthentic story:
“his [the writer, the dead author, the layman speaker] only power is to combine the different kinds of writing, to oppose some by others, so as never to sustain himself by just one of them”.
I’d like to interpret this last sentence as suggesting that authentic voices are those associating old texts in a certain way in a certain time for a certain society. And even if the last sentence from Barthes doesn’t say that, I’d still like to stick to this idea, and to maintain that this role of the authentic voice is of an extreme importance.
The authentic voice is that which reminds us of old, forgotten texts. What I’ll say now is not original, but it’s important: the past contains many answers for us, mostly in the form of unanswered questions (yes, I noticed the paradox). Faulkner has this saying that the past is never dead and that it is not even past. This insight, I think, is critical for our survival, for our progress. The right old question [or text in its broadest meaning] brought up in the right moment in the right context can change things. What Barthes cannot take from the dead author is his choice of the texts and of the moment and context of their reincarnation.
In other words, the role of the authentic voice is to bring up, to remind, in a certain point in time, some old texts so that the “reader” will start his/her process of creating meaning – actual, relevant meaning – around them. The authentic voice is the catalyst, the trigger of the whole process.