Plagiarism or homage?

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July 4, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

Obviously, there are some forms of plagiarism that are 100% Bad and Wrong. For instance: directly lifting someone else’s writing, smacking it into your own, and whistling innocently. Or taking an essay out of the communal printer and handing it in under your name. Both of these examples (and many, many more) work on the assumption that it’s okay to commit outright theft.

But things get murkier when there is creativity involved. If I deliberately include a phrase from another writer, but I intend it to be there and am cheerfully willing to admit that I borrowed it and it’s an homage to their work which I have always admired, that’s different. And then we get to sound all literary by tossing around terms like ‘intertextuality’ (here, let me save you the trouble of typing it in yourself).

What if it’s even more complex than that? What if, say, two writers shack up together for a time and one of them writes something and claims the other one ‘sucked, bled, squeezed, plucked, picked, grabbed, dipped, sliced, carved, lifted the body of my work’? But the other one (or, rather, the head of his fan club) claims it was an homage and anyway he’d been using those themes for a while already?

Meet Robert Graves and Laura Riding Jackson.

I’ll be interested to read Dr Mark Jacobs’s book; this article doesn’t give enough evidence for me to decide one way or another. It will also be another interesting example of gender relations within literature. For all I know, Jackson may have been the better poet.

Sorry, no conclusions or great thoughts here. As you were.


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Photo credit: Rahima Subhan

Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.


CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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