Repetition Compulsion

Why do we remake the past?

“Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” –Andy Warhol

Are great works stand-alone moments of original genius and inspiration, or copies, adaptations, and remixes endlessly presented as new? This question gains new importance in a world where digital technologies create a dizzying array of mash-ups, remixes, and memes, and where pastiche, sequels, adaptations, and remakes routinely out-do the “classics” from which they draw inspiration.

In the age of the remix, what is original, and, beyond the obvious issue of copyright, does it really matter? This course explores the possibility that our fascination with adaptation and borrowing is the latest manifestation of an age-old tendency to refashion what has gone before that may not only place remaking on a par with other forms of creation, but entirely undermine the notion of originality.

Repetition is never simple and takes many forms, from subconscious or deliberate imitation or homage to parody and subversion. From the traces of Plato’s allegory of the cave in the simulated reality of the Wackowski brothers film The Matrix, Rousseau’s secularized reconstruction of the story of creation and loss of Eden presented in Genesis, Atwood’s imaginative reworking of Homer’s Odyssey, Francis Ford Coppola’s relocation (and Achebe’s scathing rejection) of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kamau Brathwaite’s transformation of Sycorax from the dead witch of Shakespeare’s Tempest to the living muse of the Caribbean literary canon, to Alan Moore’s alternative history of a Cold War America complete with costumed superheroes, we invite you to join us in exploring the ways in which invention and creation can be both submerged and inspired by a deceptively familiar past.

• Tap here for pdf of textbook list, including ISBNs and EditionsArtsOne GrpB 2014W reading list