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Mashers Wanted: Mad Hatters and Bunk Collide (12/1, 2/1/09) at WRT: Writer Response Theory




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The Call to Mash
(updated: deadlines 11/18/08)

Next spring, Bunk Magazine will be mashed with Carol Novack & co.’s Mad Hatters’ Review, an online literary magazine based out of New York. Of course, both magazines already feature multimedia context and even pieces that could be considered mashed. However, this is the first time, as far as they know, magazines have been mashed in this context.

The magazines are looking for mashers to volunteer to mash the poems and short fiction submitted for the explicit purpose of being mashed. Such an auspicious collision seemed to warrant some thoughts on mashing…

A Legacy of Mashing

The mash-up is an art form that seems quite at home on the Web. Perhaps there is something about the combination of databases, templates, and style sheets? From mashed music to mashed movies, mashed forms find their audience in the well-Digged nodes of the WWW. These gunshot weddings seem to appeal to an online habit of snagging, snatching, and reposting as well as a browsing public with a taste for the novel and the re-appropriated. Of course, people have been listening to “Dark Side of the Moon” while watching “The Wizard of Oz” for over a decade now. And, we can trace earlier examples.

Even in film, you might happen across a 1987 dub called Apocalypse Pooh, written up here. The tradition of mashing seems even more direct in recorded music. In a Wired interview, DJ Spooky traces musical mashups to “dub” reggae from the 1960s. Yet already the definition has changed once we stay within one sensory track: audio. We could make a similar move into visual art with Dada, and literary works would no doubt reveal themselves to be deeply dubbed and mixed. Are The Canterbury Tales a mashup? Is the Book of Genesis a mashup of the Tale of Gilgamesh and other creation stories?

In a 2007 issue of Harper’s, Jonathan Lethem’s wonderfully playful “The Ecstasy of Influence” (remixing Bloom’s anxious title) offers an extended meditation on the proliferation of remixes. Lethem writes,

Visual, sound, and text collage which for many centuries were relatively fugitive traditions (a cento here, a folk pastiche there)-became explosively central to a series of movements in the twentieth century: futurism, cubism, Dada, musique concrete, situationism, pop art, and appropriationism.In fact, collage, the common denominator in that list, might be called the art form of the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first.

As he traces out his own thoughts on remixing, Lethem explores the works of the surrealists and issues of copyright, high culture collage art and Bunk culture Mad Magazine pieces. Later, Lethem argues,

As examples accumulate- Igor Stravinsky’s music and Daniel Johnston’s, Francis Bacon’s paintings and Henry Darger’s, the novels of the Oulipo group and of Hannah Crafts (the author who pillaged Dickens’s Bleak House to write The Bondwoman’s Narrative), as well as cherished texts that become troubling to their admirers after the discovery of their “plagiarized” elements, like Richard Condon’s novels or Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons- it becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of
the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres.

Yes, these previous artistic plunderings are interesting touchstones for discussions of mashups. Most fun is his “key” at the end of the essay, which like Elliott’s notes in “The Wasteland” log all of his acts of petty literary larceny.

Nonetheless, for “mashup” to mean anything, we must be more specific than just to talk of “appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration.

So What is Mashing?

There seems to be general agreement that mashing involves the combining of two works and that those works should be re-appropriated. To call it a “mashup,” instead of using some more neutral word like construct, assemblage, or collage, is to suggest performing a kind of violence on the two works — using them in unintended ways — practically forcing them to be together. However, the aesthetic seems to suggest just the opposite, that those two works fit together so uncannily that it’s hard to imagine them apart. Mashup then is finding that long-lost sibling for a work of art, or better yet, discovering the counterpoint for a sympony in a performance of the blue prints for the concert hall.

However, increasingly, programmers are using “mashing” with a different emphasis. In this use, mashing combines content, or data, from two different places from the web. In 2007, Marwan Sabbouh and company presented the Web Mashup Scripting Language at the 16th international conference on World Wide Web:

The Web Mashup Scripting Language (WMSL) enables an end-user (you) working from his browser, e.g. not needing any other infrastructure, to quickly write mashups that integrate any two, or more, web services on the Web. The end-user accomplishes this by writing a web page that combines HTML, metadata in the form of mapping relations, and small piece of code, or script.

However, it is less clear in the case of computer code when content is being “mashed” as opposed to combined, since some level of “mashing” is already involved in most productions of web content — as opposed to the production of visual art which certainly does not presuppose the use of pre-existing content. In fact, programmer’s use of “mashup” minces the core of the word, shifting from a kind of resistant intervention a deconstruction to positive and productive construction. The netlingo entry on mashup notes:

The term “mash-up” originated in the music industry. According to Aaron Boodman in BusinessWeek, “The Web was originally designed to be mashed up. The technology is finally growing up and making it possible.

Consider how different previously mentioned mashups are from this one:

HousingMaps: a mash-up of Google Maps and Craigslist rental ads that displays geographical information for rental properties

Meanwhile, Intel has a browser designed to provide “mashups to the mashes.

Once the act of mashing is naturalized into information retrieval, it seems a different entity altogether.

This is a long of saying that The Mad Bunkers Review will be seeking mashes and mashers who lean more toward happy accidents and unlikely bedfellows, rather than Recess Peanut Butter Cups. (Although commercials for the tasty cups used to feature variations on foundation myths about the happy accidents that created the treats.)


Perhaps we mash throughout our lives. Anytime we attend a lecture with an iPod earbud playing in our ears. Or when we drive and listen to the radio. When we listen to music while using the computer. Text message while someone else is talking to us.

To Mash:

By Dec. 1, send an email saying you would like to mash an discussing the form your mash might take.

Carol Novack and I have tried to offer as few guidelines as possible for what constitutes a mash. However, some ideas do come to mind: e.g., video, animation, text, interactive, audio, collage, etc.

Or Mash Your Own: Deadline Feb 1.

The issue is schedule to be published April 1, 2009.

Submit inquiries and works to madbunkers [at] gmail [dotted] com.

Mad Hatters’ Review:

With issues dating back to 2005, Mad Hatters’ has established itself as a well-respected site of literary and multimedia works and commentary. With its own musical composer, the magazines has been producing works that if not mashed at least have a multi-sensory, layered aesthetic. In the current issue, a number of the works seem to call themselves out as mashups, particularly “I do…I do…I do” from Army of Clowns.

Mashing Memory

(As early as 1990, I can remember using a two-track cassette player for mashing the song “Ghetto Heaven” with this Ernie and Bert Sketch from episode 573).



2 Responses to “Mashers Wanted: Mad Hatters and Bunk Collide (12/1, 2/1/09)”

  1. 1 Fasat

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    Thats great. Keep up the mashin

  2. 2 Carol Novack

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    Despite the deadline, we’re still open to hearing from artistes who want to mash!

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