On Plagiarism

On Plagiarism June 27, 2021


I’m reading along in this wonderful book on The World of Bob Dylan and there is an entire chapter on the issue of his ‘borrowing’ by Kevin Dettmar (pp. 205-213 in book. The quote below is from p, 205). The thing that keeps rattling around in my brain is the fact that only God is truly creative, making something out of nothing. In fact, that seems to be why the Hebrew verb bara is only predicated of God in the OT, beginning already at the outset of Genesis.  We are simply adapters, refashioners, reusers, remolders of pre-existing words and things.  Even neologisms are in fact modifications of things that pre-existed, for example the word blog is a shortened form of the word web-log.   Here is the quote for your rumination…..

“The term ‘plagiarism’ (from the Latin for kidnapping’) is a pretty blunt instrument with which to comprehend the complex relationship of any artist to his or her source materials. It suggests a cartoonish model of artistic inspiration. The devil, named Plagiarism, sits on one shoulder, whispering to the musician, ‘Ah go ahead. Lift that phrase (lyrical or musical): no one will ever know.’ On the other shoulder the angel, Originality urges the virtues of inspiration over imitation. It’s a picture of artistic creation as a straightforward struggle between genius and subterfuge, good and evil. No one who has ever struggled to create anything could have come up with it.

In his great polemic essay, Tradition and Individual Talent’ poet T.S. Eliot pushed back against the constraints of a certain Romantic conception of originality, arguing that ‘no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning along’– that ‘we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of [a poet’s] work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immorality  most vigorously.’ Rather than springing forth fully formed from the brow of Jove, Eliot argues, the work of art comes into being when an artist’s mind plays the role of a catalyst…”


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