Tag Archives: english composition

A Master Among Master Thieves

13 Oct

In the Times Online, there is a piece about plagiarism detection software “proving” that Shakespeare didn’t write The Reign of King Edward III by himself:

What about the tomcat’s meow an’ milk cow’s moo?

What about the tomcat’s meow an’ milk cow’s moo?

The Shakespeare matches came from four scenes, about 40 per cent of the play. The remaining scenes had about 200 matches with works by Kyd, best known for The Spanish Tragedy, a play known to have influenced Shakespeare, indicating that he wrote the other 60 per cent of the play.

This is fascinating to me for a number of reasons. Imagine the nerve of using the kind of tool usually employed to detect lowly student thefts on The Bard himself! What messages are people getting from this? That, alas, Shakespeare was a common thief (et tu, Billy?) and somehow a lesser writer? Or that perhaps we should stop making criminals of students for doing what “the greats” do themselves? Should we instead study the uses of influence along with our students in order to show them how to employ these methods appropriately instead of just banning them outright? Shall we encourage collaboration and imitation as an early and necessary stage in their development as writers?

These issues were explored in the Master Thief series about Bob Dylan and plagiarism.

Here are a few words from Shakespeare himself (I think) on thievery:

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More Master Thieves: Mozart, Shakespeare, and Arthur Laurents

16 Sep

Romeo, he said to Juliet, “You got a poor complexion.

It doesn’t give your appearance a very youthful touch!”

Juliet said back to Romeo, “Why don’t you just shove off

If it bothers you so much.”

Bob Dylan

When this blog began, we looked at plagiarism issues in the three part series If I Was a Master Thief Perhaps I’d Rob Them, which explored Bob Dylan and the role of appropriation in the creative process (and which also explored what this might teach us about writing and teaching writing). Here is some more on the issue, beginning with the “stolen” West Side Story:

First we have some interesting thoughts on plagiarism from Matthew Yglesias who is responding to Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto:

To me, and I think to most people, it’s a good thing that the authors of West Side Story were able to put their work together without constantly looking over their shoulder at whether or not things were getting too close to Romeo & Juliet or needing to somehow deny that that’s what they were doing. The fact that the work is more-or-less explicitly a retelling of an already classic cultural landmark gives it a kind of additional resonance.

And here’s kos expanding on what Yglesias said while responding to a Helprin quote.

Helprin: Continue reading

Tom Lehrer: “Lobachevsky” (a delightful song about plagiarism, plus a bibliography of sorts)

1 Jun

Here is Tom Lehrer‘s song about Nikolai Lobachevsky, an inventor of non-Euclidean geometry and an accused plagiarist.

Click below for a  list of sources (with links) used in the “If I Was a Master Thief” three-part series.

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If I Was a Master Thief III

24 May

dylanwoody (In Part I, instances of plagiarism in Dylan’s most recent works were discussed, plus the common practice of appropriation in the blues, folk, and jazz traditions, along with findings of similar thefts in the literary tradition. With help from Richard F. Thomas, Jonathan Lethem, and Lawrence Lessig, an examination of appropriation’s crucial role in creativity was introduced, preparing for later explorations of how to reconcile these methods with the ways writing is taught.Part II looked what Lessig calls “remix” in more detail, extending the principles into the business world, the sciences, and to Paulo Freire’s ideas on education, setting the stage for rethinking approaches in writing instruction.)

I Try My Best To Be Just Like I Am

But Everybody Wants You To Be Just Like Them

All this knowledge about how artists, musicians, lawyers, and writers really get things done fills this lowly comp teacher with acute anxiety. How can I deny my students the same methods and still claim to be teaching writing? Like Disney, shall I proclaim from on high unto to my students, “Do as I say, not as I do”? And if I say that, then what the hell am I teaching? Tidiness? I suppose I could rationalize and say English papers aren’t works of art anyway. Few would dispute me on this. And, of course, my students are not Bob Dylan. But neither was Bob Dylan at their age. And yet, even the young Bobby Zimmerman was a college freshman once. Imagine that––he was in someone’s English class. How annoying would that be? (D+. Please follow Chicago-Style documentation. Mississippi-Style is not accepted here. And quit dropping your G’s! You sound like some lonesome hobo!)

Story has it, Bobby Zimmerman rarely went to class. Thank God. Wait––did I just say that? Yet, I wonder. Are we not making room for creative types in higher education? Must they all drop out and hitch to Greenwich Village in the dead of winter? And if more of them stayed, what would they teach us? Continue reading

If I Was a Master Thief, Perhaps I’d Rob Them (part II)

23 May

dylan-fairey-warhol-obama

(In Part I, instances of plagiarism in Bob Dylan’s most recent works were discussed, plus the common practice of appropriation in the blues, folk, and jazz traditions, along with findings of similar thefts in the literary tradition.)

To Live Outside the Law, You Must Be Honest

Jonathan Lethem’s study of Bob Dylan’s appropriations, “The Ecstasy of Influence” (a play on Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence), includes the subtitle “A Plagiarism.” Turns out, the article is a string of thefts lovingly tied together to show the crucial role of borrowing in creativity. Lawrence Lessig, one of those appropriated heavily in the article, told Washington Post writer Bob Thomson the piece is “beautifully crafted” and it “teaches more about the importance of what I call ‘remix’ than any other work I’ve read.” (Citing Lethem’s piece, however, is a Dylanesque experience, as you will see. Think of any quotes from him here as something more akin to a wink.)

Appropriately, the first section of Lethem’s piece is called Love and Theft (no quotation marks this time), acknowledging that the title comes from Dylan by way of Eric Lott’s “study of minstrelsy” and that Lott’s own use of the title “is a riff on Leslie Fielder’s Love and Death in the American Novel.”  Lethem uses such examples to show that “Appropriation has always played a key role in Dylan’s music.” Most importantly, he says, “Dylan’s originality and his appropriations are as one.”

And he doesn’t stop there. “The same might be said of all art,” he claims.

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If I Was a Master Thief, Perhaps I’d Rob Them: Bob Dylan, Plagiarism, Freshman Composition, and the “Cult of Originality”

21 May

They’re Planting Stories in the Press

After spending many years among the has-beens, a once renowned performer releases a series of well-received albums. Before long, amid the new rave reviews, reports surface that some lines from these new albums have been stolen from an obscure nineteenth century poet, a Japanese gangster novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, old films, and a number of blues songs. Talk of plagiarism emerges. The guy may have written some strikingly original songs back in the day, people say, but now, clearly, the well has run dry. Sadly, he must rely on the work of others to produce much of anything.

Yet to others, this is no surprise.

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