Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bees Do It

More stuff on the uh... quantum nature of the written word. (Previously discussed here and here). That grand grey majesty, Wallace Stegner, stands accused of plagiarizing Mary Hallock Foote, an early 20th century a magazine writer and illustrator. Stegner taught her stories while at Stanford and included her in anthologies, before deciding that page-long passages of her unpublished memoir were just too irresistible. So he jacked them for Angle of Repose.

It seems like we’ve reached a critical mass where there should be some micro-department of Plagiarism Studies. And there are noises in that directions, some serious, some less so. I mean, it’s got everything! Music, martial arts, you name it. Helen Keller was terrified of it. That’s why she wrote an autobiography. (Good news for those of us who are content producers, though: the courts have ruled that you cannot plagiarize yourself. Mostly.)

In grad school, I took a great course by Helen Sword on “Hauntology” (an expansive metaphor that encompasses literal haunting within texts, the author haunting linked texts of his/hers, and books haunted by other authors.) Check out her book, Ghostwriting Modernism, here. Of course with all of its ambiguities, plagiarism is a form of haunting (obscured intentions, chronological uncertainty, doubtful presences, etc.)

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