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Montaigne once astutely noted that all knowledge is public property and that an idea is not exclusively the property of anyone, as it ‘partakes of human thought and language which belongs to everyone’.1 Bearing such a premise in mind, concepts such as the anxieties of influence, the nature of tradition, plagiarism and the literary canon come into question in this discourse. The idea of tradition encompasses the influence of the past on the present, how the latter is a consciousness of the former and ultimately there is no creation of an idea but rather, the refinement and development of one. The obligation not to plagiarize is a deeply embedded virtue of any student belonging to any higher educational institution however, the perimeters between intellectual theft and merely borrowing ideas is evidently problematic to define whereas the stigmatization of plagiarism perhaps conceals a more implicit anxiety besides the fear of intellectual theft. The literary canon at its best is taken as a gauge of the pioneering literature of each time period however the complications surrounding the process may undermine the legitimacy of canonization. The idea of the anxiety of influence is developed by Harold Bloom who examines this concept through a Freudian perspective but essentially pertains to the sense of anxiety a poet feels in writing his pièce de résistance without wanting to rely heavily on the precursor poets in doing so. It is arguably the angst that every new and aspiring writer struggles with, the deep desire to escape the original writer and break away from the greater text. The manner in which a writer may attempt to forge his originality is likened to the Oedipus complex, a rivalry between the established, superior writer and the aspiring, inferior writer. The more significant enquiry is if it is truly possible to write independently of the influence of the predecessor writers and the deconstructive situation in which a writer attempts to be more original but subsequently ends up being more traditional. In efforts to be original, the writer
Françoise Meltzer, Hot Property: The Stakes and Claims of Literary Originality, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994) p. 1
3 implying that the idea of absolute originality is not only dependent on the preconceived notions of a critic. it is when one puts aside this prejudice that one would realize that ‘the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets. but is a construct of one’s perception rather than an actual signifier of the literary text in itself. assert their immortality most vigorously’. p. from The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. Tradition encompasses the idea of monuments. ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’.2 Considering the immortality of writers as such. his ancestors. Wed.Lynette Cheong ID: 1483673 Rachel Torbett. T. Associated with the nature of tradition is the historical sense. following this logic. a writer still writes in a contrived manner with the considerable influence of the precursor poets whether it is to separate themselves from the influence of the past or vice versa. Eliot has also observed that while a poet’s prestige is majorly measured by the unique features of his works or what sets him apart from the rest.4 which sustains the argument of originality being a superficial desire. Criticism and Theory: Second Edition (Harlow: Prentice Hall.5 tradition functions as the blueprint in which preceding and contemporary ideas are based off. 4 ibid. which is the extent of a poet’s consciousness of his past for one does not write ‘merely with his own generation in his bones. the binaries of a poet being both alive and dead is evident here. One may not improve art nor does its material ever completely change.S. With regards to his theory that the difference between the past and the present is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past. 3 T. An Introduction to Literature. 1922. as it is more of a development and a refinement rather than an utter creation by itself.S. Eliot argues. 1pm 22 May 2011 2 may likely never escape the influence of the past as no matter how one sees it. 1999). but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own 2 Andrew Bennet and Nicholas Royle. 5 ibid. . the concept of the literary afterlife in which a poet may live on through the ‘life’ of his book despite his death in reality. 44. Eliot.
his analogy of.9 arguably a recycling process of works.Lynette Cheong ID: 1483673 Rachel Torbett. 9 ibid. The ambition for originality is a difficult one to achieve considering this analogy of compounds and how it relates to the nature of tradition. in efforts to avoid plagiarism. 8 ibid. preliminary elements need to exist and be introduced into the mixture.. Eliot likens originality as the result of a fusion of compounds. therefore to define any works as genuinely original is problematic. 1pm 22 May 2011 3 country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order’.. . Furthermore. Neil Hertz discusses the moral implications of intellectual theft. in order to form a new element. The complete absence and failure of originality is referred to as plagiarism and with it bears negative connotations in a literary context. ibid.7 The poet’s mind is represented by this ‘shred of platinum’ and also functions as ‘a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings. or rather an idea. novel idea from the initial elements may be deemed as ‘what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it’. which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound’. as he does not create exclusively from his own capabilities but with a deep consciousness of the embedded past.platinum (being) introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide’ where the combination produces sulphurous acid containing no trace of plutonium in itself.6 and this sameness also suggests at the impersonality of the author in his works. Wed. images.8 What one may deduce from such parallels is the premise that original works cannot simply be created out of nothing. In this sense. utilizing a pamphlet from the Cornell 6 7 ibid. tradition operates as the pre-existing compound to the poet’s creativity and the consequent phenomenon of the creation of a separate. However. phrases. one can never know when to stop indicating influence when interpreting a text.
of an ‘anxiety that originality may be impossible and illusory’. The Pedagogical Imperative: Teaching as a Literary Genre. 40. borrowing ideas as opposed to stealing them but ultimately.. Hertz goes on to argue that plagiarists do ‘get away’ with such an act inevitably.. 63. 14 ibid. owners of intellectual property.12 doubtless a result of the ongoing ‘obsession with recognition (that) entails demonstrating originality. considering the possibility of no actual owners from the start. ‘Two Extravagant Teachings’. However. rather than escaping the original. p.. originality is thence equally problematic as it arguable that the authenticity of one’s innovation may just rely on the degree in which one is able to incorporate extraneous influences and passing it off as their own. one must appropriately credit it. 70. p. no. p. 60. (1982).10 an interesting contrivance resonant of the historical branding of criminals as a means of humiliation. Wed. stigmatizes the act of it by including descriptions such as ‘corruptness’. as it is problematic to define the borders dividing that of the influential text and that of the student’s own work.11 In this sense. 5-6. plagiarism and the punishment of it is arguably a mask for the paranoia in the ‘creators’ or rather. 61.Lynette Cheong ID: 1483673 Rachel Torbett. With the complications surrounding the discourse of plagiarism: the unclear borders separating influence and theft and the obligation to avoid plagiarizing despite the likelihood of there 10 Neil Hertz.. 12 Meltzer.. 13 ibid. Additionally.(and) in turn generates the fear of being robbed’13 without realizing that it is unclear whether what one produces is theirs to begin with14 and intellectual theft is a slippery concept. This device of instilling guilt into the plagiarist recalls the anxieties of influence but works in a converse manner. never really creating any. a result of the fact that Western culture is so embroiled in the ‘myth of discovery’. ‘disloyalty’ and ‘baseness’ and asserting plagiarism as ‘inevitably (leaving) an ineradicable mark upon him’. . 1pm 22 May 2011 4 English Department which warns students against plagiarism but more significantly. 11 ibid. p. p.
. essentially such enquiries blur the 15 16 Bennet and Royle. the idea of originality is perhaps as Meltzer noted. p. class. with messages that are applicable to every generation however the legitimacy of canonization remains an open-ended discourse with critics raising questions over the socio-political factors that have likely influenced the process of canonization as well as the argument that the canon is merely a fabrication. 49. 46. or the problem of it. gays. 1pm 22 May 2011 5 being no exclusive origin from which to steal from. and such critiques seem to be conjectures. Thus originality. political and institutional constraints’ points to the idea that the canon is a fabrication. 50.Lynette Cheong ID: 1483673 Rachel Torbett.. Conversely.15 The features that constitute a text as legitimate for canonization are intrinsic and enduring as well as possessing an ‘openness to accommodation which keeps them alive under endlessly varying dispositions’16 however contemporary critics argue that politicization bears a negative influence on the literary critical institution that has ‘valorised the work of dead white males’ while simultaneously excluding the work of marginalized writers such as women.17 highlighting the idea that the literary canon is focused on the elitist minority rather than an impartial judgment to discern literature worthy to be canonized. economics. as perceived by the literary critical institution at least.. that one’s judgment is greatly influenced by ‘social. this side of the argument is flawed as the selection of literary works to be canonized may not necessarily have been influenced by socio-political concerns. p. relates to the question of the extent it is ‘bound up with questions of education. is a timeless monument. regardless of the superficial factors associated with its author. The literary canon. a myth and an illusion. race. p. ethnicity’ and so on and so forth. Wed. ibid. Hispanics or members of the working class. 17 ibid.
. if not an impossibility. 1pm 22 May 2011 6 definitions of what is original even if one were to rely on one’s own judgment without worrying that it would be ‘a learned response’. . The literary canon’s reliability is brought into question when one considers the critics who theorize the influence of superficial and extraneous factors in the process of canonization. developing or refining would be more appropriate terms. it is technically impossible to completely create any idea. Wed. 51. 18 ibid. p. recycling.18 With tradition and history having significant bearing on the concept of novelty. an aspiration of any artist. and author alike however the accomplishing of such an ambiguous goal blurred by shaky definitions and surrounded by complications remains very much a challenge. The idea of originality is still for the most part. Plagiarism is a problematic term as there is evidence that plagiarists are able to get away with intellectual theft by manipulating the blurry borders apparent in plagiarism while the foundation of plagiarism itself may hint at the anxieties of originality being a myth and the ownership of intellectual property being a construct resulting from this unease.Lynette Cheong ID: 1483673 Rachel Torbett. poet. a result of one’s schooling.
Françoise. Harlow: Prentice Hall. An Introduction to Literature. and Nicholas Royle. Eliot. Wed. 63. The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. T.Lynette Cheong ID: 1483673 Rachel Torbett. (1982). ‘Two Extravagant Teachings’. 1922. . Hertz. 1pm 22 May 2011 7 Bibliography Bennett. 59-71. ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’. 1994. pp. The Pedagogical Imperative: Teaching as a Literary Genre. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.S. Criticism and Theory: Second Edition. no. Andrew. Hot Property: The Stakes and Claims of Literary Originality. Meltzer. 1999. Neil.
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