When I think of “appropriation” the first person I think of is Kanye West. Regardless of what you think about the man’s music, or his chops, he’s a master of appropriation. I’m not even sure he’s familiar with some of the music he’s sampling. But let’s forego such bourgeois sentimentality for a moment, and call it what it is– stealing. And, that’s okay. I know it’s been drummed into our heads that stealing is wrong. Yet, we all steal stuff, if we are honest with ourselves.
Literary innovations, such as they are, are mainly a series of very covert appropriations over time. In this milieu, no one will admit to stealing an idea, or technique. In the hip-hop milieu, it’s the exact opposite. It’s pretty much okay to steal stuff. It’s even encouraged. That attitude, luckily, is now making its way into the rarefied halls/sectors of the “Arts.” The conceptual poet and literary showman, Kenneth Goldsmith, has made a livelihood advocating for poetic appropriation. He’s gotten tons of push-back from defenders of the status quo, as you might imagine.
Yet with the advent of the Web, and the appropriation of language the Web promotes, there’s no going back to the so-called halcyon days. Like it or not, stealing stuff is the new normal. We need to get used to it.