Creative ImitationT.S. Eliot has said:  "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something...

Creative Imitation

T.S. Eliot has said:  "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.  The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws into something which has no cohesion.  A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest."

Eliot's observation is cited in Richard Posner's study, "The Little Book of Plagiarism."  One of Posner's compelling claims is that "creative imitation is a modern market imperative."

http://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Plagiarism-Richard-Posner/dp/037542475X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199474795&sr=8-1

Now, our students are typically not looking to publish, but they do want to sound impressive.  They often feel dismayed by asking them to render an original opinion on, say, Jane Austen, when so much has already been said by others.  Often, the smarter ones will try to re-work an idea of another author into their own.  In my experience, most don't even know it is wrong to reword someone else's language and then present the idea as their own. 

What experiences have you had with more stealthy thefts? How have you resolved it? 

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mrerick's profile pic

mrerick | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

When I have time, I sometimes take my sophomores through a poetry writing unit where we write poems in a ton of different styles.  One of those styles we use is a villanelle.  Apparently, this villanelle wasn't supposed to be familiar to me - imagine my surprise when the first line of a student's "original" villanelle began like this:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

The student was absolutely amazed that I knew of this poem because he had to look a long time to find one!  I told him he needed to work on his internet search skills, then, because it shouldn't have taken any effort at all to find this one...

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Creative Imitation

T.S. Eliot has said:  "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.  The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws into something which has no cohesion.  A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest."

Eliot's observation is cited in Richard Posner's study, "The Little Book of Plagiarism."  One of Posner's compelling claims is that "creative imitation is a modern market imperative."

http://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Plagiarism-Richard-Posner/dp/037542475X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199474795&sr=8-1

Now, our students are typically not looking to publish, but they do want to sound impressive.  They often feel dismayed by asking them to render an original opinion on, say, Jane Austen, when so much has already been said by others.  Often, the smarter ones will try to re-work an idea of another author into their own.  In my experience, most don't even know it is wrong to reword someone else's language and then present the idea as their own. 

What experiences have you had with more stealthy thefts? How have you resolved it? 

I can speak only from my experience as an editor. It is true that you can't steal someone's ideas, but you can cover yourself by saying "it is said that..." or "some have said that..." In that way, your getting the idea across, but you're not presenting it as your original thought. I once had to call in my senior editor to intervene in an argument I had with an author. In a commentary on one of the books of the Bible, a well-known Bible scholar was claiming to be using her own translations of the Greek text. But when I checked her "translations" against the New Revised Standard Version text, I discovered that maybe one or two words in each of her quotations were different from the NRSV. My argument was that unless she was on the NRSV translation committee, she could not claim that this was her own translation. Sure, it is possible for two people to get the same translation independently, but they won't have the same nuances and punctuation. The senior editor finally ruled that for safety's sake (since her manuscript was work for hire and not copyrighted in her name), we had to identify the scripture quotations as having come from the NRSV. 

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