She’s making me blush. I don’t usually get admiring emails from law profs.
Hi Jan — I just wanted to introduce myself, having followed your blog with great interest. My name is Sonia Katyal, and I am a law professor who specializes in the area of art, law and technology at Fordham Law School in NYC.
Being a fan of your work, I wanted to send you an abstract and article I finished on intellectual property, appropriation art, copyright, and the notion of the relationship between semiotic democracy and disobedience; it seemed like something that was relevant to your work. I’m thinking of turning part of it into a book, and so would be thrilled for any thoughts you might be able to share — you can also download the paper for free on SSRN. Feel free to pass it on to interested folks via blog or otherwise, and I’d be grateful for any thoughts you might be able to pass along.
I told her I read the abstract. Twice. I also said I’d have to study it, let alone the paper it refers to, before I had any thoughts she might find worthwhile. Since I’m no academic, the terminology went right by me. Off the top of my head, though, I said the whole issue of postmodern appropriation and what it entails made me gravely ill. I called my illness “conflicted feelings.” And just to show I was still breathing, I added, “Whether it’s semiotic disobedience or outright theft seems to me to depend on whose ox is gored.”
When I was finally able to download the paper itself — not easy to do, it turned out — I got a short way in and came across this passage:
…the spirit of semiotic disobedience reflects some of the same classic goals and interests of traditional civil disobedience. The individuals I am speaking of do not expressly seek to reclaim the protection of the law; rather, their very objective is to demonstrate the expressive value of transgressing its limits. If our First Amendment jurisprudence has taught us anything, it has taught us the importance of recognizing the value of symbolic dissent, even when unpopular, as a key mediating tool in integrating the marketplaces of prohibited and protected expression.
Which clarifies what she’s getting at. I think. More thoughts, anybody?
(Crossposted at HuffPo)
Postscript: A reader writes:
Hey, who cares what she’s saying? She’s pretty hot. In the immortal
words of Baudelaire:
Que m’importe que tu sois sage?
Sois belle! Et sois triste!
PPS: Clayton Patterson writes:
If I am getting this, without reading the paper (or going too far into this, as I don’t have time), appropriation — especially after Warhol — seems like the backbone of many of today’s art treasures. The Warhol soup can is clearly someone else’s design. I’m not sure why no one seems to mention this fact or gives credit to the original designer. The same for Roy Lichtenstein’s comics. (Today’s Damien Hirst shark in formaldehyde at least is not stealing another person’s work. But please, where is the art?) Young designers are taking lettering styles from The NY Post, for example, and using it — and on and on. It is unimportant to be original anymore. Just take it — whatever it is — use it, and it is yours. This appropriation as art thinking is another large stone sinking the American culture and society. It is like a cancer — appropriation of words or pictures, or sounds, or tunes, or looks, or whatever — sad really.
PPS: Another reader writes:
hmmmm … semiotics, “the analysis of the nature & relationship of signs in language,” plus disobedience. er…uh…duh…d’ya think a clenched fist w/ an upright, erect middle finger would qualify? jist askin’.
PPS: Holly Crawford writes:
Given what I read, which was only your quote from her piece, I would want to know if she is OK with you or me publishing [her ideas] with our names and no reference or citation to her. In art and music it’s OK, but in other fields it’s plagarism and not freedom of speech. Did she draw a line? Everybody gets inspired by others’ work. Obviously you can’t have satire or parody without some appropriation, which is why appropriation artists position work as a cultural joke.
PPS: Another reader writes:
As cute as you are, I suspect that the law professor’s “having followed your blog” and “being a fan of your work” are boilerplate, along the lines of those pop-up IM’s one gets from Cinnamon or Tiffani saying that they’ve just looked at your online “profile” and you seem like a “cool guy.” In short, she says “semiotic disobedience” to all the boys.
PPS: William Osborne writes:
An incredibly interesting and very important article. All artists interested in media theory should read it. It’s astounding to find a law professor is so erudite in the area of postmodern cultural theory. And she ain’t just any law prof either. Read about her brother.
How delighted you must be that someone like her has taken note of your blog!!! I think your off-hand deconstructions of the media pass most people by.
I have printed the article out and am going to pour over it. It is closely related to what I have been working on with our music theater studies of the media, like Cybeline. We want to go much deeper into these themes with our newest work, and I think Katyal’s article will be very helpful, not so much for legal eventualities, but for how she discusses the social and aesthetic themes involved.
If all someone can say about her is that she is pretty, then I would rather forget the French and use some good ol’ German: Was für ein Dumbkopf!
PPS: A reader writes:
“who cares what she’s saying? she is hot!” love that guy. and in addition to fortifying ourselves with baudelaire, let’s get interested in semantic righteousness and call a rip-off a rip-off. we know it when we see it. lawyers should stay out of this.
PPS: David Ehrenstein writes:
“Semiotic Disobedience”? Isn’t that disciplining your slave by thwacking
him in the cojones with the complete works of Julie Kristeva?
William Osborne adds:
From the comments, I don’t think anyone actually read her article. I at least went through it, even if pretty quickly, and her arguments are very differentiated. She is not advocating stealing people’s ideas. In fact, she discusses in detail all of the problems surrounding appropriation, including very sophisticated arguments about how legal theory must distinguish between simple copying and work that turns the appropriated ideas into very different statements, especially those that involve social protest.
Dec. 6 — Now for la piéce de rèsistance: “If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original?” And don’t forget to have a look at the slide show.