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In Writing, Art, And Music, Everybody Steals

Good post by David Shields in HuffPo:

In Writing, Art, And Music, Everybody Steals

My new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, is awash in conscious, self-conscious, conspicuous appropriation. I and many other contemporary writers, musicians, visual artists, and copyleft lawyers are trying to think in new and different and (we believe) exciting ways about quotation, citation, appropriation, and plagiarism. We’re trying to regain the freedoms that writers for millennia took for granted but that we have lost. As I say in a preface to the appendix (I wanted to publish the book without any citations, but I wound up needing to do so, to comply with Random House’s legal obligations), “I can hardly treat the topic deeply without engaging in it. That would be like writing a book about lying and not being permitted to lie in it. Or writing a book about destroying capitalism, but being told it can’t be published because it might harm the publishing industry.” The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art. Citation domesticates the work, flattens it, denudes, it, robs it of its excitement, risk, danger. I want to make manifest what artists have done from the beginning of time–feed off one another’s work and, in so doing, remake it, refashion it, fashion something new.

Art is a conversation between and among artists, not a patent office.

Reality can’t be copyrighted.

William Gibson: Who owns the words? We all do, though not all of us know it yet.

And once we all did: artists have plundered one another since the beginning of time; copyright has existed only during the last 60 years.

In digital culture, it’s especially important for us to be able to sample, remix, mash-up materials available to us at the click of a button, but the law has a stranglehold on literature, perhaps because both literature and the law are verbal.

The mimetic function has been replaced by manipulation of the original.

Examples from the history of Western civilization, most ancient to most recent:

Roman sculptors’ direct copies of Greek sculptures.

John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (1991), which is painstakingly researched and shows in great detail how the New Testament is a mash-up of epic proportions. The Gospels are pretty much collages of many ancient texts, with the older ones being borrowed from and rewritten in the newer ones. The New Testament that people read today is a composite of numerous sources, and in many cases, such as the Gospel of Mark, one ancient writer wrote over the top of a previous one, tacking the whole rising-from the-dead ending onto a previous document that ended without any such miracle.

Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (circa 1603-1607); the description of Cleopatra on her royal barge is a near verbatim sample from Plutarch’s Life of Mark Antony (75 A.D.). (Eliot used this passage in The Waste Land.) Shakespeare “plundered” Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562) for his play of (nearly) the same name. Two thirds of Henry VI (1591) is directly derived from Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577).

Goethe: People are always talking about originality, but what do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world begins to work upon us, and this goes on to the end. What can we call our own except energy, strength, and will? If I could give an account of all that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, there would be but a small balance in my favour.

Thomas Jefferson’s miracle-skeptical remix of the Bible (1820), keeping only the social teachings.

Emerson: Genius borrows nobly.

Manet’s Olympia (1863) is a reworking of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538).

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (1880) hijacks the French national anthem (1792).

Josh Billings: About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.

Igor Stravinsky’s music.

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.