Mimesis versus attribution

Distinction between mimesis and a couple of very different kinds of attribution. Why mimetics matters, even more than attribution.

Mimesis is the quality of memetic replication. Attribution is the practice of crediting something to a source. Rolequeers generally prioritize mimetics over attribution, but distinguish between attribution as ownership (a dangerous marker of coolness and social capitalism) versus attribution as sourcing (an important defense against historical erasure or cultural appropriation).

If you like this idea, please spread the word; I have no interest in ownership. Mimesis matters more than attribution. So if you think you can implement a system like this better or faster than I can, what the fuck are you doing reading this instead of implementing it?

—maymay (source)

Cultural tensions

Mimesis and attribution are often in tension with one another because, at least in contemporary Internet culture, the more mimetic an idea is, the more likely it is to be stripped of its original context. In the early days of the Internet’s remix culture, many people whose works proved mimetic criticized the way some other remix artists failed to attribute the sources of their works, thus decontextualizing their origins. Such de-contextualization can easily become oppressive because it embodies a defining element of oppressive practices, which is the erasure of history (see historical erasure and cultural appropriation).

A frequent result of this dynamic is that the same acts and ideas that were once subversive often become oppressive later on. This is known as the conquest of cool. To rolequeers, the tendency for a subversive thing to get adopted by an overculture as a visual marker for “coolness” is considered a trap.

Those interested in gathering social capital through coolness and maintaining their online reputation will coerce attribution (whether in legal terms such as in the form of intellectual property, copyright, etc., or through extralegal means such as through intimidation or shaming), is an act in service to a binary power relationship between “cool” and “uncool,” and thus frowned upon.

Rolequeer theorists, however, do not generally believe mimesis and attribution are binary opposites, instead holding that the importance of mimetics is as a tactic, whereas the importance of attribution (linking to primary sources) is as a principle.

There is a difference between a tactic and a principle. A tactic is a certain action taken for a certain purpose in a certain context. This is different from a principle, which is a general guiding philosophy used to inform a given person’s choice of what action (tactic) to take, when, and why.

—maymay (source)

The tension between mimesis and attribution is exacerbated when attribution is treated as “a thing one has,” like an intangible object, rather than as “a thing one does,” composing one step in a string of actions to complete a given task.


Treating attribution like an object is attribution-as-ownership and manifests in attribution clauses within copyright laws or similar contractual social frameworks. This, in turn, leads to inherently abusive legal frameworks such as “intellectual property”, in which ideas themselves are considered property with a rightful “owner” and “the right balance” of violent control must be struck between “the interests of innovators” and the interests of others.1 This is analogous to the promises of “progress” and “innovation” from typical (predatory) capitalism, Statism, and other widespread systems of social repression and abuse, in which the right amount of inequality, or the right amount of violence, used by just the right people, in just the right way, is imagined to lead to a perfect society, which is obviously a preposterous proposition on its face.

On a more individual level, attribution-as-ownership also becomes a mechanism in which certain forms of authority are deemed legitimate while others are not. For instance, rolequeer theory generally condemns the broad authority given to authors of a work to define the meaning of their work regardless of whether such authority is helpful to or desired by others, a critique that draws heavily on the 1967 essay by Roland Barthes, Death of the Author. As a result, rolequeer art is defined by the blurring or destruction of the roles of, for example, “artist” and “viewer,” or “author” and “reader,” arguing instead cleanly delineated roles can not reflect the holistic environment in which a work is produced in a social context, which includes any context in which humans produce creative work.

By definition, attribution-ownership necessarily discards or diminishes important contextual influences on the interpretation (and subsequent re-interpretation) of a text. This impedes the natural, fluid process of cultural change and so it is yet another form of social repression.


In contrast to attribution as ownership, attribution-as-sourcing is integral to any meaningful understanding of a text because it allows for the connection of a work’s current interpretation to the context of its creation, in its own time and place. This does not mean a given interpretation must agree with the past (that would be an appeal to tradition), but rather that the current interpretation offers a way for listeners to access more information than the given interpretation itself provides to them, therefore following the principle leaving people more autonomous than you found them.

Attribution-as-sourcing is akin to the mandate of ethical journalists called journalistic sourcing. The idea is that primary sources and historical references are necessary to guard against historical erasure, decontextualization, or other forms of misrepresentation and disinformation attacks.

See also

External references

1 World Intellectual Property Organization: What is Intellectual Property


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