Response to The Ecstasy of Influence

As a skeptic of this whole “Plagiarism is Good” movement,  I spent this entire piece waiting for Lethem to give me some concrete examples. I understand that this is a very rudimentary criticism, and perhaps I should take the piece for what it is and stop looking for the evidential proof, but I have trouble being convinced that intellectual property is so damaging to our collective creativity and progress when I haven’t really been told why, but rather had the theory thrown in my face several times over the course of the essay.

I did really enjoy Lethem’s point about the power of pop culture symbols that have been taken into our culture on a less-than-conscious level. It would be interesting to observe a culture or society that has remained isolated from pop culture media (from the east and west alike), like the Cacataibo region of Peru, which is home to a tribe of Native Americans who have chosen to separate themselves from the rest of the world. Lethem asserts that creativity and artistic evolution are not possible without taking on aspects of already produced pieces, and I would like to study how art has evolved in cultures like the Cacataibo, where there is a much smaller pool of past work to draw on, versus a place like the United States, which has access to much of the world’s work through globalization and the internet.

While Lethem’s stringing together of sentences from different preexisting works is beyond impressive and drives his point home in many ways, I think the work still lacks something in the idea of an action plan. He mentions citation being basically futile because plagiarism happens so much outside of the quotation marks, but does that mean we should do away with it in all forms? While many artists, authors, etc have only good intentions with their plagiarism, conscious or not, some do have bad ones, and removing legislation to protect artists who have had their original works stolen and passed off as original by someone else (I’m thinking Jeremy Scott and Jimbo Phillips), rather than “remixed” into something else.

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