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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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