COOL CLASSES: “Theories of the Remix”

This English course introduces students to the study of literature through the art of borrowing, sampling, recycling, and remixing.

Class name: “Theories of the Remix”

Taught by:  Assistant Professor of English Lindsay Reckson


Here’s what Reckson had to say about her class:

“Theories of the Remix” is a class about borrowed materials, promiscuous forms, and plagiarized fictions. It is also about the radical art of the mash-up, the copy, the sample, and, of course, the remix. We start from the premise that literature is a circulation system: a network of ideas and forms that travel geographically and temporally, rather than a fixed set of aesthetic conventions. From there, we explore the way techniques like allusion, intertextuality, and parody point to literature’s investment in (and anxiety around) the power of origins and originals. From William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel Clotel—almost 25% of which was borrowed from other sources—to William Burroughs’s dada-like cut-ups, we’re examining texts that have been alternately dismissed as imitative or celebrated as avant-garde, and analyzing the forms of cultural power embedded in those distinctions. As we explore literature’s unwieldy practices of citation, we’re also re-conceptualizing the work of scholarly citation as an intellectual and an ethical practice, a way of marking how ideas travel through and across us.

I created this course because I wanted the chance to think with my students about remixing as a creative and critical practice, and to spend time with some amazing remixes like Harryette Mullen’s dialogue with Gertrude Stein in Recyclopedia, or Terrance Hayes’s homage to Gwendolyn Brooks in “The Golden Shovel.” This course is an introduction to the English major, so I was also excited to imagine with my students how literary studies might look different—and enable different kinds of questions—if we let go of “originality” as the standard of literary value. Part of what we gain is a better sense of the way literary conventions travel, develop, and transform over time: the way they are shaped by, and help give shape to, their historical moment. We’re also learning how remixes can serve as radical critiques of those conventions, even as they attest to the pleasure and the power embedded in them. As we’re already discovering, the remix is repetition with a difference: a way of making visible the forms we’ve inherited, and of asking where we go next. To me that feels like a question we are always remixing, and also a pretty urgent one right now.


See what other courses the Department of English is offering this semester.

Photo of Distinguished Visitor Michael Gillespie, a film theorist and historian, speaking to Reckson’s class by Wanyi Yang ’20.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.