Friday, October 15, 2010

On "pla(y)giarism versus plagiarism"

I have recently read an online article by writer Lily Hoang about "pla(y)giarism versus plagiarism," and what happens when the concept of "pla(y)giarism" is taken to an extreme.

Here are the definitions, according to Lily Hoang:
"OED says plagiarism is: The action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft."
 "Lance Olsen coined the term pla(y)giarism, which he’d playgiarized from Raymond Federman, but whatever way it’s spelled, it’s basically a clever name for appropriation. Back in the day, I used to teach pla(y)giarism to my fiction workshops. I used to make them appropriate texts."
The new term used is appropriation: for literary purposes, the act of taking the writing of another and creatively using it as a (playful, inventive) basis of reinventing the original--a sort of "mega" writing prompt in which the written product still may retain much of the structure, flavor, or substance of the original.

"Appropriation is: Art (orig. U.S.). The practice or technique of reworking the images or styles contained in earlier works of art, esp. (in later use) in order to provoke critical re-evaluation of well-known pieces by presenting them in new contexts, or to challenge notions of individual creativity or authenticity in art."
 In literature, I can see where taking the work of a great writer and rewriting it to create a new vision could be not only educational but also inspirational. One would have to climb into the skin of the original author. Any transubstantiation would begin first with the absorption of the original.

Some writers use "appropriation" to create a new story--and then publish that story with acknowledgments to the original writer, a sort of literary citation: a nod and tip of the hat to original genius. Some writers forget (to use a forgiving word) to tip the hat. In its truest sense, appropriation should not only lead to a new, lively piece of writing; it should also in some manner provide or provoke new insights into the original.

In art there is also the concept of the "master copy," an exact reproduction of the master's original. What better means to gain insight into a painting than to reproduce it brush stroke by brush stroke? But to sell that reproduction as an original? Tsk, tsk!

"Appropriation" or pla(y)giarism is one step from the master copy, and in order to publish an "appropriation," one would need to credit the original and to bring, in my opinion, equal creativity to the new writing. Otherwise, according to Lily Hoang, one would be "a hack. That’s about as generous as I can be." Writing appropriation that "appropriates" too much and contributes too little is unfair to both the original work and also to the publisher, both theft and fraud--to use extreme words for extreme "appropriations."

To move from all things literary to a more hands-on topic, the crowbar is a very useful tool in the field of construction. However, it also has great utility in the field of burglary.

Appropriationists! Don't burgle the verbal.

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler


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