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Works of the imagination have a life of their own. A work may live on after its creator dies; some have been around so long by now that we are tempted to call them "immortal."

It's natural to think of imaginative creations as living things. Lakoff and Johnson would say that a "metaphor we live by" is A WORK OF IMAGINATION IS A PERSON - an instance of what they call "ontological metaphor" and, more specifically, of personification.

Metaphors we live by are by definition ones that typically inform our speaking or writing - or just our thinking - in unconscious ways. We may not visualize Shakespeare's works as a person with arms, legs, and a face when we call them "immortal," but we are conceptualizing them as a person nonetheless - as we are when we refer to his works, collectively, as a "body."

As with all metaphors we live by, an inventive variation of A WORK OF IMAGINATION IS A PERSON can suddenly make us conscious of the metaphor. When Ishmael Reed writes, "this poem has had you up to here/belch", he foregrounds the poem-as-person idea in a way that makes it inescapable. The poem isn't just a person but specifically a hungry person that consumes readers. When he writes, "move & roll on to this poem," the poem becomes not just a person but a person the reader touches - perhaps a sexual partner.

Genetically Modified Literature is a space in the Geneseo wiki whose name is intended to bring the literature-as-person metaphor home to you in another way.

Real people are composites of their ancestors, carrying bits and pieces of ancestral DNA recombined in new ways, to produce in each a unique genotype with a visible expression (the phenotype) that more or less distantly resembles, but is never identical to, the outward form of those ancestors.

Literary works are composites of their ancestors, too. The genetic code of Homer's Odyssey survives, altered through numerous recombinations, in Joyce's Ulysses.

In our age of recombinant DNA technology, we're accustomed to (if not always comfortable with) the idea that we can modify the geotype of an organism by switching out bits of code rather than waiting on the natural recombinations produced by sexual reproduction.

This more active kind of recombination has its literary equivalent, too. Consider the variations on Frost's "The Road Not Taken" that Amanda wrote about on her blog. (She found them here). These poems recombine the genetic material of Frost's famous poem with (in turns) chromosomal matter from the works of Edward Lear, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and others.

We might think of all parodies as involving this kind of genetic modification.

Translations of works from one medium to another might also be thought of as genetic modifications. Consider MC Lars' music video of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Or consider the film The Hours, a media translation of Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours, itself a recombinant organism built partly of genes from Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

Later this semester, when we discuss the impact of copyright on our contemporary culture, we'll want to consider how this literature-as-life metaphor might influence our understanding of imagination's role, and prospects, in society.

For now, though, fired up by this blogpost, you might want to don your labcoat, gloves, and goggles, and see what new life you can brew over at the Genetically Modified Literature space of the wiki.