October 28, 2011

Plagiarist, Thief, Faker

A discussion on plagiarism in the context of Indian English poetry has been started by the poets Sumana Roy, Anindita Sengupta, Aruni Kashyap, Nabina Das and Nitoo Das here. I wonder how much of my resistance to their framing of the issue has been shaped by my encounters with America-land and the poems and discussions and theories it has brought me. Oh what a callow thought. All of it, of course. Where I’ve been is who I am – but I wonder if as an immigrant I’ll always retain a slight anxiety around my (inauthentic) influences? “On Stealing Beauty”, and this is the comment I left:
"I am curious about the anxieties that plagiarism brings up in artists. I think collage—the handloom emporium—is great as a method for writing poems, and no less legitimate than writing “original” poems. The question is: should the method be disclosed to the reader? Under what kind of dialogic conditions should any method be disclosed to the reader? Attribution I think is just one way in which literary influence can be disclosed as an agenda or method—we as writers/artists need to think beyond its limitations. 
I recently saw someone use stanza/line breaks in a way I thought I had “invented” for my book Kala Pani which is coming out next year, and excerpts from which have been published in a couple of journals. For a second I felt proprietary, then shrugged. This is how lineages/lines of flight happen in poetry. Someone “makes” something and others “copy” it. At some point, it all gets mixed up in the belly of the poetry machine (like metaphors)—(or blown up)—and it doesn’t matter too much who was “first” except to masculine ideals (and structures) of literary scholarship. 
While it is unethical that certain people are lifting off phrases from other people’s poetry and passing them off as their own, and sure, a “polite silence” does not seem to be an adequate response, I’m not comfortable with the discourse of private property aka capitalism that seems to underlie language such as “stolen lines”, “real thing”, and of course the allusion to copyright laws. 
Instead of thinking of it as a “suffering”, are there new ways in which we can conceive of plagiarism—even when it does hurt our sense of the integrity of something we have lovingly created/collaged? How can we, as creative artists, engage creatively with the act of copying, even unethical copying, and show—lead by example on—what it means to engage with found texts? How can we extend generosity to second-hand texts? 
For instance, can the plagiarized poem become a source text for a “new” poem? Or for many, many new poems?"

UPDATE: There's also a discussion on this going on at Montevidayo

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