Pay it forward

There’s a nice segment on On the Media about plagiarism as a new art form. A poet called Kenneth Goldsmith teaches his students to give up all ideas about creativity and focus on recycling material.

The choices that we make are as expressive of ourselves as any kind of personal narrative we might do about our family or growing up. We’ve just never been taught to value those choices.

Until now, that is. Until recently; until the internet and aggregator sites and blogs.

Or, not so much until recently, perhaps, but it’s actually not completely new. There used to be things called commonplace books, where people collected passages from their reading. I’ve always loved both the idea of them and the things themselves. I’ve also always kept them myself, starting in childhood.

That’s one reason I like Montaigne so much – his essays are among other things giant extended commonplace books, and that’s interesting. Keats talks about his reading in his letters, and that’s one reason they’re so brilliant.

One of the haters’ tropes about me is that a lot of my blogging involves pointing to other people’s writing. Yes, that’s right, it does. And?

That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. I like being pointed to other people’s writing, and I like returning the favor. I like a good salmagundi, and I like making one. It’s all good.



  1. Shatterface says

    The whole ‘plagiarism is an art form’ but has been done before.

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

  2. Shatterface says

    What matters, I think, is citing sources. The thing about horror films is, though they’re often dumb and sometimes repellant, the writers, directors and fans know their genre inside out: they’re always citing each other in character names, posters in the background, etc. They’re intertextually dense. Same too with science fiction.

    It’s not like, say, passing off someon else’s work as your own.

    The kind of thing you do here is bring things to the attention of people who might have missed it. We don’t all have time to follow everything and I don’t see the point in you rewriting something when you can quote it and link to the original article.

    Passing something off as your own ideas without looking into it yourself is basically what Laurie Penny did. She drew on someone else’s work and pretended she’d researched it herself when she was basically recycling another’s opinions.

    I have read some very self-conscious plagiarism though – like Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations.

  3. Acolyte of Sagan says

    The whole ‘plagiarism as an art form’ idea has been done before.

    (Sorry, Shatterface, couldn’t resist):-))

  4. says

    Well quite – that’s a whole different thing. Years and years ago there was some guy posting whole articles from (the original) B&W without even saying he hadn’t written them himself, let alone including a link (or asking permission or posting only a portion). That was not cool.

    He did the same to a lot of major media. His site disappeared rather quickly.

  5. Shatterface says

    I’ve been rewatching Sherlock in perpetration for the new series tomorrow.

    Now that’s a pretty flexible character open to all kinds of interpretation and I enjoy Jonny Lee Miller’s version in Elementary and Robert Downey Jr’s in the Guy Richie films. I adore Jeremy Brett’s interpretation, love Basil Rathbone and have a huge affection for Robert Stevenson in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. There are some splendid literary pastiches too but right now it’s Benedict Cumberbatch who is my hero.

    Thing is, nobody ever doubts that Conan Doyle is the author.

    It would be different if Doyle was unknown or if he went unacknowledged.

    Helps too that Doyle explicitly gave permission for people to do what they liked with him.

    Michael Moorcock tried the same with Jerry Cornelius but it never really took off.

  6. Jackie wishes she could hibernate says

    Do they not realize that if they’d like to read a blog about something else, written a different way, that they could just read a different blog or even write one themselves? Do they think they are required to read your blog?
    Maybe they do. That’s the only reason I can think of that they’d be such devoted, bitter, haters.

    Hey, haters! It’s OK. You don’t have to read this blog. You can even go make your own and show us all what brilliant writers you are. Won’t that be nice? You are free! Go and run wild through the internets enjoying things you like. No one will stop you.

  7. please clarify says

    Shatterface wrote:

    Helps too that Doyle explicitly gave permission for people to do what they liked with him.

    Why then did Leslie S. Klinger have to sue the Conan Doyle Estate for such a right, winning a summary judgment just last week? See: Free Sherlock! December 2013: Ruling.

    The ruling applies only to character and plot elements in the fifty stories no longer under U.S. copyright. Conan Doyle’s ten post-1922 stories are still protected.

  8. says

    Shatterface @ 8 – I think you mean Robert Stephens? Was married to Maggie Smith for a time; their spawn Toby is also an admired actor.

    Jackie – beats me. With millions of blogs out there to dislike, why obsess over mine for months and years? No clue.

    That’s great, Cuttlefish!

  9. rnilsson says

    Not quite fair – cuttlefish is inimitable. So it only cuts one way.
    But that’s OK, because cuttlefish is inimitable.
    Polydextrous clear-eyed visionary.
    Creature of the deep.

  10. ran out of names says

    Stealing from one author is plagiarism.

    Stealing from many authors is research.

    Stealing from yourself is style.


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