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Rhetoric Society of America

Review
Author(s): John Logie
Review by: John Logie
Source: Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), pp. 102-105
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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102

RHETORIC

SOCIETY

QUARTERLY

The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation,


and the Law by Rosemary J. Coombe. Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 1998. xi + 462 pp.

Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators by


Rebecca Moore Howard. Stamford, CT: Ablex, 1999. xi + 195 pp.
T hese very different volumes represent the best recent work on questions
of authorship and textual appropriation. Such questions are, of course,

fundamentally rhetorical questions, as the tasks of interrogating "The Author,"


and investigating the politics of plagiarism both necessarily imply engage-

ment with the first rhetorical canon, invention. But these books demonstrate
that the pathways to such engagements vary considerably according to investigators' theoretical and disciplinary investments. In Standing in the Shadow

of Giants, Rebecca Moore Howard's pursuit of "a Pedagogy of (Re)Formative


Composition" is grounded in her critical readings of familiar arguments from
Plato (especially Socrates in the Phaedrus describing words as a speaker's
"legitimate offspring") and Quintilian (in particular, the Institutes' endorsement of imitation as a pedagogical strategy). Rosemary Coombe's Cultural
Life of Intellectual Properties, by contrast, advertises itself as a work in "cul-

tural studies/legal studies/anthropology," and, as such, works by Mikhail


Bakhtin, Clifford Geertz, and Jurgen Habermas (among others) serve as the

basis for her investigations.


Despite Howard and Coombe's pronounced differences in approach and

discipline-Howard directs the The Writing Program at Syracuse University, while Coombe is an associate professor of law at the University of Toronto

-their books share a common critical ancestor. These texts, like most recent
North American studies of authorship, build on the work of Martha
Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi, who prompted a sustained interdisciplinary
investigation into the topic as organizers of a 1991 meeting of the Society for
Critical Exchange entitled "Intellectual Property and the Construction of Authorship." This truly interdisciplinary meeting reflected the assembled scholars' responses to the late 1960s Continental critique of authorship, epitomized by Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author" and Michel Foucault's

"What is an Author?" Most at the meeting also depended, to some degree, on


Woodmansee's 1984 essay, "The Genius and the Copyright" in which

Woodmansee persuasively posited the emergence of The Author as a byproduct of the rise of mass-market publishing in the eighteenth century. Among
the presenters at this meeting were Karen Burke-LeFevre, building on the

arguments she developed in her 1987 book, Invention as a Social Act; Andrea Lunsford, drawing on her joint efforts with Lisa Ede on the topic of
collaborative writing; and Rosemary Coombe, presenting an early version of

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REVIEWS

103

what is now the second chapter of The Cultural Life. Both Coombe's book
and Howard's book build on the conclusion suggested by this meeting; that
proprietary authorship, regardless of discipline, is best understood as a contingent, contested, and recent social construct.
In Coombe's text, recasting The Author as an expressly Foucauldian "au-

thor-function" serves as a springboard for a sustained investigation of the


movement of intellectual properties within and across cultures. Throughout

these investigations, Coombe enriches her readings of the legal issues at stake
with pertinent references to work in both anthropology (especially Geertz)
and postmodern theory (key referents include Jean Baudrillard, Judith Butler, and Jean-Francois Lyotard). Predictably, this makes for dense prose, and
the sheer breadth of Coombe's scholarship can also be overwhelming. In one

exemplary chapter, Coombe weaves together Baudrillard's commentary on


the meaninglessness of signifiers in a culture over-saturated with signs; the
U.S. Olympic Committee's deployment of trademark rights in order to prohibit an event billed as "the Gay Olympic Games"; the furor over Sikh members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police substituting turbans for the
Mounties' usual Stetson; Procter & Gamble's active response to a rumor that
its logo had Satanist connotations; and Homi Bhabha's descriptions of signs

welling up from within marginalized cultures. Coombe's arguments are typically more associative than progressive, and readers who prefer conclusions
to connections may become frustrated. Her arguments are also weighed down

by the book's ninety-seven pages of footnotes, constituting, effectively, one


page of footnotes for every three pages of the core text.

But Coombe's richly intertextual strategy is largely successful. Her book


represents an informed attempt to understand intellectual properties without

divorcing these investigations from the real property-based practices which


often serve as the models for current intellectual property laws. This linkage

underpins Coombe's sustained investigations of the cultural consequences of


colonialism, the umbrella term encompassing the most dramatic "real prop-

erty" events of the last four centuries. Coombe benefits from her ability, as a
resident of Toronto, to both participate in and distance herself from the culture of the United States. Throughout her chapters, Coombe demonstrates a
particular sensitivity to the ways in which cultural signs and identities, particularly those of indigenous peoples, are appropriated and transformed by
dominant cultures, and conversely, the ways in which dominant cultures are

transformed by their use of these signs. In this light, the cover of Coombe's
text seems especially apt. The cover features (with permission) an Andy

Warhol image in which the pop artist rings "primitivist" changes on the familiar Arm & Hammer logo. Warhol's image ably announces and comments

on Coombe's core themes, and contributes to the text's standing as one of the
most elegantly packaged academic texts in recent memory.

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While Coombe works to read expansive networks of signs, and understand their resonances, Howard's purpose is, especially by contrast, bracingly
specific. Howard is, as she states in her introduction, arguing for substantial
revision of university plagiarism policies so that evidence of a writer's intent
to deceive readers, rather than proof of inadequately acknowledged appropriations, would be needed to sustain a charge of academic misconduct.

Howard expands current understandings of textual appropriation by offering the term "patchwriting," which she initially defines as "copying from
a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures,

or plugging in one synonym for another (xvii). Coombe nuances this definition in a series of subsequent explications, wherein patchwriting is described
variously as: "a form of imitatio, of mimesis"; "a process of evaluating a
source text. . . "; "a form of verbal sculpture, molding new shapes from pre-

existing materials"; and "a form of pentimento, in which one writer reshapes
the work of another while leaving traces of the earlier writer's thoughts and
intentions" (xviii). While most of these activities would clearly be restricted
under typical university plagiarism policies, Howard provocatively concludes
that patchwriting is "something all academic writers do" (xviii) and her later
arguments make it clear that she means professors as well as students. After
illustrating the popularity of patchwriting as a composing strategy, Howard
asks, quite reasonably, why the Academy no longer tolerates imitation and
appropriation as modes of learning.
Howard describes Standing in the Shadow of Giants as a "history of
composition studies" (xxi), but this is a partisan history, always focused on

supporting Howard's over-arching argument, that the teaching of writing has


been compromised by an overly punitive and legalistic treatment of textual
appropriations. While pedagogy is never far from her sights, Howard incorporates brief treatments of the debates over Homeric "authorship" ; the his-

torical construction of the Romantic Author; the Continental critique of au-

thorship; the challenges surrounding authorship in electronic media; and numerous examples of composers violating cultural norms for textual production.

Howard's prose throughout is notable for its conciseness and clarity. Her
arguments are supplemented by her extensive use of pertinent quotations from
philosophers, rhetoricians, and literary theorists, situating her work within a
2,500 year discussion about texts and the people who compose them. Stand-

ing in the Shadow of Giants is a focused, sustained argument which takes


clear aim at the gaps between the practices of postmodern composers, and
the implicitly Romantic laws and policies which govern them.
The two books ably inhabit theory and practice niches. Coombe's book
pursues a richly theorized reading of intellectual property's movements and

the degree to which authorship can be deployed to limit these movements,

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REVIEWS

105

and Howard's book focuses, more narrowly, on the consequences of ancient,


modem and postmodern theories of authorship within composition classrooms.
Taken together, these books reflect the increasingly rich discussions on ques-

tions of authorship occurring within and across disciplines, and in so doing,


Coombe and Howard create numerous opportunities for rhetoricians to catch
the tenor of these arguments, and, I hope, put in their oars.

John Logie
Department of Rhetoric

University of Minnesota

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