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Break is Fake

froggies315's picture

One of the major themes in our class discussions and readings thus far is that the concept of originality is bogus.  Everything we write, say, experiment, and do is just some iteration of what has come before.  I’ve been convinced.  In another one of my classes this week, a professor mentioned the idea of “evolutionary tinkering.”  Here’s a definition written by Francois Jacob posted on Larry Moran’s blog Sandwalk: Strolling with a Skeptical Biochemist:

In contrast to the engineer, evolution does not produce innovations from scratch. It works on what already exists, either transforming a system to give it a new function or combining several systems to produce a more complex one...the tinkerer manages with odds and ends. Often without even knowing what he is going to produce, he uses whatever he finds around him, old cardboards, pieces of string, fragments of wood or metal, to make some kind of workable object. (  

From this definition, it’s easy for me to draw parallels between Darwin’s evolution and literary evolution.  All life today is based off of life that has come before just as all literature is based off of literature that has preceded it.  

Another thing I’ve picked up on from our readings this week as that re-imagining the humanities to be more accessible and widespread by using digital powers is a subversive, new idea.  One that hoity-toity people in the ivory tower don’t want.  In response, the rebellious undergrads angrily shove their way up the tower to right the wrongs of the discipline they love.  Their Tweets about the futility of conformity and rules reverberate across the Internet, from one small, prestigious liberal arts college on the East Coast to another .

What I wanted to illustrate with those admittedly melodramatic two sentences.  Is that the new, subversive ideas we think we’re having about the digital humanities are not, at all, revolutionary.  Even if they haven’t been doing it on Twitter, people have been talking about changing the system every since there was a system.  Reform is not a new concept.  Our thoughts have happened before.  There is no such thing as radical.  There is no such thing as “break.”   Change and evolution, by their fundamental nature, are S      L                   O                                      W, iterative, “tinkering” processes.