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Monday, October 23, 2017

Andy Croft

This kind of thing drive me crazy:

Personally I have never been remotely interested in“plagiarism” scandals, which always seem to me to demean everyone involved,like excitable children accusing each other of copying. All poets writing in English use the same language, the same alphabet and the same grammatical structure. We are all inheritors of the same literary traditions. We all drink from the same well. No poet should be so lacking in humility as to think that they can ever write anything that is “original”. All any of us can ever hope to do is to restate in a contemporary idiom what has already been said, probably by much better poets than we can ever be. An original poem is as impossible as an original colour. Which is perhaps why, for all the current emphasis on poets finding their “voice”, so many contemporary poets sound the same...

 This is so fallacious it beggars belief, but I see people making this argument all the time. We know, mathematically speaking, that the chances of two people coming up with the same 8 word sentence is infinitesimal.  Because, well, math. It's not the alphabet that's preventing originality.

The fallacy is conflating originality 1 (unique sentences and paragraphs never existing before) with

originality 2 (something original in a more profound sense)

Originality 1 is very easy to achieve, and just involves not copying things verbatim, writing the ideas that come out of ones own brain.

Originality 2 is impossible to achieve, therefore let's not bother with 1 either?

I despise this discourse of humility.

This also

And why should the poetry world suddenly be the focus of these questions about ownership. Why now? Why poetry? Why not the worlds of, say, ventriloquism, athletics, topiary or pottery? Who benefits from the importation of this legal vocabulary into poetry?   The current moral panic over “plagiarism in poetry” seems to me to derive from several overlapping elements—the post-Romantic privatisation of feeling and language, the fetishisation of “novelty” in contemporary culture, half-hearted notions of intellectual property, the long-term consequences of Creative Writing moving from university adult education onto campus as an academic subject, the professionalisation of poetry, and the creation of a large pool of Creative Writing graduates competing for publication, jobs and prizes at the same time as a catastrophic decline in the number of poetry publishers.

People like to know who came up with the words of a poem, poets don't like their work stolen.  It is very simple.  It is not a moral panic at all. This also commits the famous "why now" fallacy.  There is no "why no" because there are always plagiarism controversies, whenever someone plagiarizes and gets caught.  And the list of factors listed didn't all happen at the same time either so they have no explanatory power.  


Leslie said...

I thought the current scandal was about plagiarism of mini-encyclopedia-type entries?

Jonathan said...

It is, but one of the guys who's helping to track down her plagiarism, Ira Lightman, is a well-known plagiarism sleuth in England who also found problems with books published by this guy.

Leslie said...