Patrick J. Burns

Postdoc at the Quantitative Criticism Lab | Formerly ISAW Library | Fordham PhD, Classics | CLTK contributor

The Hyper-Alexandrianism of the Virgilian Centos and Girl Talk’s Mashups

Paper presented at All Roads Lead From Rome, Rutgers Classics Graduate Conference
April 10, 2010


Although separated by many centuries, a similar artistic impulse can be observed in the centos of Luxurius and Ausonius and recent mashups by laptop DJ, Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk. The centonist dissects and reassembles hexameters of Virgil refashioning the discrete elements of the original into a genre-bending montage. Girl Talk mutatis (multum) mutandis dissects and reassembles samples from pop music into a similar genre-bending montage. As Scott McGill’s recent work on intertextuality in the Virgilian centos argues, Luxurius’s wedding cento, Epithalamium Fridi may have quoted material from Ausonius’ earlier wedding cento, Cento Nuptialis. Similarly Girl Talk often samples songs which are themselves built upon samples, and while the listener’s initial impression is that of random assembly, there are places in his work which appear to comment on their sources. In this paper I will look at loci in works from both forms where the artist engages in “sampling samples,” a sort of hyper-Alexandrianism. Second, and not without a degree of caution, I will read Girl Talk’s practices back onto those of the centonist. For the most part the songs used by the DJ are “hits,” often part of the listener’s daily experience, and filled with the kind of stylistic nuance that can only be absorbed through constant exposure. The listening-reading experience of the cento audience, steeped in Virgil’s poetry and aware of the rules of the cento “game,” may be unavailable to us and, while we can never fully recover their intertextual world, by rehearsing these details on our contemporary material, we may recover some small part.

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