ENGL 123
Borrowing and Stealing: Originality in Literature and Culture Spring 2016
Division I Writing Skills
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Class Details

Someone once said that bad poets borrow and good poets steal, suggesting that acts of theft, as well as their subsequent cover-ups, might be behind some of the best and seemingly most original works of art in history. And it’s not just the poets. More recently, an exhibition of artworks that employ copyrighted material, dubbed “illegal art,” has challenged current U.S. copyright law. Given the ubiquity of visual, electronic, and audio sampling in contemporary art, one might wonder if anyone even bothers to come up with alibis for today’s artistic thefts. This course is about artistic and intellectual influence, inspiration, borrowing, revision, appropriation, sampling and outright stealing. Rooting our inquiry in literary texts, we’ll ask a series of questions as we look at a variety of material that troubles ideas about novel and derivative art. Where does inspiration stop and plagiarism begin? Does originality have a history? What happens to the image of the artist as a figure of solitary genius in works that make ample use of others’ material, and where did that figure come from anyway? We’ll read theories of authorship, literary manifestos on behalf of unoriginality, novels about the pleasures and burdens of influence, recent re-workings of older literary texts, as well as a load of aggressively unoriginal works of literature—what we might call uncreative writing—while doing some uncreative writing of our own. Finally, we’ll consider the effect of media technology on art, as well as think through new considerations of copyright and intellectual property to gain some sense of originality’s shifting status under the law. Authors / Artists include: Wordsworth, Borges, Roland Barthes, Nabokov, Oscar Wilde, Andy Warhol, David Markson, Kenneth Goldsmith, various Hip Hop artists, & Sol Lewitt.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3277
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: 5 papers totaling at least 20 pages, frequent short essays, regular and sustained contributions to class discussion
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: first-year students who have not taken or placed out of a 100-level ENGL course
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills

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