Jonathan Lethem on the joys of plagiarism
From “The Ecstasy of Influence: A plagiarism,” by Jonathan Lethem in the February 2007 Harper’s Magazine.
Appropriation has always played a key role in Dylan’s music. The songwriter has grabbed not only from a panoply of vintage Hollywood films but from Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza. He also nabbed the title of Eric Lott’s study of minstrelsy for his 2001 album Love and Theft. One imagines Dylan liked the general resonance of the title, in which emotional misdemeanors stalk the sweetness of love, as they do so often in Dylan’s songs. Lott’s title is, of course, itself a riff on Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, which famously identifies the literary motif of the interdependence of a white man and a dark man, like Huck and Jim or Ishmael and Queequeg—a series of nested references to Dylan’s own appropriating, minstrel-boy self. Dylan’s art offers a paradox: while it famously urges us not to look back, it also encodes a knowledge of past sources that might otherwise have little home in contemporary culture, like the Civil War poetry of the Confederate bard Henry Timrod, resuscitated in lyrics on Dylan’s newest record, Modern Times. Dylan’s originality and his appropriations are as one.
From the Web
To be fair to [Mark] Helprin– and 99% of Americans if they could be brought to think about the matter– there really is something apparently weird about the Constitution’s design. Given the way we regulate ordinary property, it is completely understandable to be ignorant about the justification behind this weirdness. I spent the first five years as a constitutional law professor with no clue about the justifications for this “obvious inconsistency,” as I once described it to my students. “A bit of Karl Marx slipped into an otherwise conservative text,” was how it was described to me. So I could well understand the intuition that drove Helprin to write as he did, and can even empathize with how he must have felt to see his breezy reflection on copyright policy explode on the New York Times website, and elsewhere. Helprin was ignorant. But it was an understandable, and forgivable, ignorance. The sort all of us have about most things save those few things we spend time trying to understand. What is not understandable, however, and certainly not forgivable, is everything that has happened since. For in the months since triggering his digital riot, Helprin has been busy penning a book about his digital putdown. And while the ignorance of the essay may be forgiven, the ignorance of the book cannot. There is no excuse for the careless and uninformed screed that Digital Barbarism is. I don’t know what this is a story about. It might simply be a story about a single author– angry, self-righteous, and oblivious in his solipsism. It might be a story about bad friends. Friends don’t let friends publish books like this. —“The Solipsist and the Internet (a review of Helprin’s Digital Barbarism),” Larry Lessig, Lessig 2.0
Lawsuit by Thomson Reuters over Zotero bibliographic management software has been dismissed; Coppola dislikes Godfather videogame, but doesn’t have the rights to the story; St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sues Twitter for fake tweets; FTC shuts down Internet provider; free book: A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll (with six illustrations by Arthur B. Frost, and a MIDI file) (via)
Embedded YouTube Parody of Copyrighted Song
Someone else took SAT for former University of Memphis forward Robert Dozier; “in China, video cameras are being installed in almost 60,000 examination halls to prevent cheating in next week’s national college entrance exams”
A decision by Falls Police to use a Taser to obtain a DNA sample from a suspect in an armed robbery, shooting and kidnapping is not unconstitutional. Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza reached that conclusion in a 16 page decision handed down Wednesday that refused to dismiss an indictment against Ryan Smith and denied his request to have DNA evidence that links him to two separate criminal cases thrown out. The ruling left Smith’s attorney, Patrick Balkin, stunned and requesting additional time to prepare for a trial that had been scheduled to begin later this month…. “She’s the first judge in western civilization to say you can use a Taser to enforce a court order,” Balkin said. —“NIAGARA COURTS RULING: Taser use to obtain DNA not unconstitutional,” Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara Gazette
Negative evidence alone compels the conclusion that Osama is long since dead. Since October 2001, when Al Jazeera’s Tayseer Alouni interviewed him, no reputable person reports having seen him—not even after multiple-blind journeys through intermediaries. The audio and video tapes alleged to be Osama’s never convinced impartial observers. The guy just does not look like Osama. Some videos show him with a Semitic aquiline nose, while others show him with a shorter, broader one. Next to that, differences between colors and styles of beard are small stuff. Nor does the tapes’ Osama sound like Osama. In 2007 Switzerland’s Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compared the voices on 15 undisputed recordings of Osama with the voices on 15 subsequent ones attributed to Osama, to which they added two by native Arab speakers who had trained to imitate him and were reading his writings. All of the purported Osama recordings (with one falling into a gray area) differed clearly from one another as well as from the genuine ones. By contrast, the CIA found all the recordings authentic. It is hard to imagine what methodology might support this conclusion. —“Osama bin Elvis,” Angelo M. Codevilla, The American Spectator
A collection of experimental Iranian music curated by Bidoun magazine; Bidoun itself; also from ubu.com: readings by William S. Burroughs and Alain Robbe-Grillet; Air France 447 downed by meteor? (“if there were 3500 planes in the air at any time, this would correspond to covering two-billionths of Earth’s surface…”); iron nanoparticles to store data for one billion years
Final Gear, Encased in Concrete, Turns Less Than Once Every Two Trillion Years