PreRamble: I surfed around to find a quote on the denigrating effects of quoting on the communication of information and/or meaning. I wanted to use it to enhance and support this exploration of the same topic as advanced by writer and opinion columnist for the New York Times, Maria Konnikova.
Since I wasn’t able to find a suitable quote, we’ll have to start off with the very articulate words of Ms. Konnikova herself. Here she laments the modern day consumption and transmission of truncated bits and pieces of information — the use of quotes – “snippets that stream past as links, tweets, posts, memes, etc.” … that she calls “decontextualized knowledge.”
“Quotation becomes a way not to add depth to your thinking, but to avoid thinking in the first place … When we [quote something] we strip away context, we strip away everything that enables us to determine what something really means. Words themselves become decorative — evocative, perhaps, but denuded of their essence.”
Konnikova attributes the crutch of quoting to laziness,
“ … the laziness of not really knowing what you’re looking for but hoping to find something that fits, the intellectual equivalent of mindlessly yanking open the fridge.”
She decides that decontextualization is okay in the realm of the visual arts, as it can give an image or object new meaning, allowing us to see elements of the piece in a new light. Yet, she finds the written counterpart to this dynamic, troublesome. She believes that true comprehension can only come from a detailed bigger picture “with precise strokes and every element fully rendered.”
As a gal who hangs her shingle out on the value of context to meaningful articulation of a concept or brand, I really want to rally around Maria K.’s premise here, but the tug is strong from an opposite perspective as well —
Cut to Maria Popova’s recent and relevant blog post where she cites the work of Austin Kleon, artist, writer and “keen observer of and participant in the creative economy of the digital age,” who originated (or maybe patched together) the concept of “combinatorial creativity” … “remix culture” … “sharing as modern art.” To Maria K.’s point, these word snippets only scratch the surface of the wonderfulness that is discussed in the writings of Austin Kleon.
Maria P.’s blog, Brain Pickings, by the way, is a consistently fascinating presentation of interesting perspectives, concepts, writings, pictures and wonderful random other stuff — frequently supported by quotes – woven into a daily discourse that elevates cultural sampling/curating/collage to an art form.
The Take-Away: I see what Maria K. means, but I also appreciate and value what Maria P. does. Context is important to communicate intended meaning, but like art, words and thoughts can be chopped out of their original context and mashed-up with other decontextualized bits to make fresh, new, original, exciting meaning. The decontextualized/mash-up dynamic is practically the definition of creativity.
Sometimes when you whip open the fridge, you don’t want to eat a whole meal, you discover that you just want a few Kalamata olives and a little slice of heaven.