Monday, September 19, 2011

It’s not plagiarism, it’s repurposing

Kenneth Goldsmith, who teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania and has just published Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age with Columbia University Press,  writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education on how in the digital age it is better to steal than to invent.

Intertextuality isn’t new, but. . .  Well, see for yourself. You couldn’t make this up, and if Goldsmith had his way, you wouldn’t – you’d nick it and “repurpose” it.
For the past several years, I’ve taught a class at the University of Pennsylvania called “Uncreative Writing.” In it, students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they’ve surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness.
We retype documents and transcribe audio clips. We make small changes to Wikipedia pages (changing an “a” to “an” or inserting an extra space between words). We hold classes in chat rooms, and entire semesters are spent exclusively in Second Life. Each semester, for their final paper, I have them purchase a term paper from an online paper mill and sign their name to it, surely the most forbidden action in all of academia. Students then must get up and present the paper to the class as if they wrote it themselves, defending it from attacks by the other students. What paper did they choose? Is it possible to defend something you didn’t write? Something, perhaps, you don’t agree with? Convince us.
Monitor: Mark Broatch

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