The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism

In response to the work Brian, Matt and I presented this past weekend (which is now behind a password-protected wall), my friend Evan Ratliff forwarded me this essay written in Harper’s a few years back.

It’s a treatise on influence, the commons and remix culture. It says more elegantly what we are beginning to say with our work. It’s called “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” written by Jonathan Lethem.

It’s written a few years after Malcolm Gladwell wrote “something borrowed” for The New Yorker, which takes – it seems – a different approach to the problem.

These are wrapped around ideas of participatory culture described by Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture, Larry Lessig in Remix and Cory Doctorow’s writings with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and boing boing.

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2 comments

  • john April 5, 2010   Reply →

    FWIW — There's been an interesting debate here in Germany on the difference between plagiarism and “intertextuality” or a kind of textual remixing. A 17-year-old girl wrote a club-kid novel (Axolotl Roadkill) that was lauded by critics, was apparently quite good, but then turned out to have lifted large passages from people's blogs without attribution or changing much of anything. Much of the litcrit establishment here rallied around her, calling the work an expression of intertextuality, while she more or less defended it as the way things are done online in the age of remixing. When she got nominated for one of the biggest literary prizes in Germany a group of writer heavyweights like Gunter Grass issued a declaration condemning literary “theft” (meaning the use of others' materials without permission and attribution). Ultimately she didn't win the the prize, but the episode has given a slightly different cast to the idea of plagiarism vs. remixing over here.

  • Brad_King April 5, 2010   Reply →

    That's awesome, but not surprising. I can't even say which side I'm on.

    The point I tried to make was that we need tools that allow us to search through copyrighted works much more easily because, as you and I know, if people can't easily find something in a digital world they will just take it. We need searches that allow us to parse through this world and annotate.

    Otherwise, you know, the Plagiar-Mix will continue to happen without discussion.

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