Not in Someone Else's Words

The distinguished literary scholar Marjorie Perloff is upset with me. She has written and published multiple responses to my recent article, "In Someone Else's Words," which I published here on The Huffington Post as well as in The Crimson, in which I criticized Professor Kenneth Goldsmith's theory of "uncreative writing" and his view of literary plagiarism as a legitimate art form. As I noted in my article, Professor Perloff is a supporter of Goldsmith's approach; Perloff devotes a full chapter of her book "Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century" to a discussion of Goldsmith's work, and Goldsmith identifies Perloff as a fan of his theory of "uncreative writing."

As a 21-year-old writer and columnist for The Crimson, I really do welcome any and all responses, especially those of an accomplished scholar. However, I think her comments are unfounded.

In "Unoriginal Genius," Perloff claims that "the language of citation" is "the logical form of 'writing' in an age of literally mobile or transferable text" (4, 17). And yet she believes that the hyperlink I included to her publisher's website is an unacceptable and insufficient form of citation. She also takes issue with the content of my overview of her book, which accords with her publisher's interpretation of her book as well as the description of "unoriginal genius" that Kenneth Goldsmith provides on the very first page of his book.

I respectfully disagree with Perloff's theory of citational poetry, and I take issue with her claim that Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project is a foundational example. Walter Benjamin never called his Arcades Project poetry; Perloff's description of it as such is conjecture and is hardly a sturdy pillar upon which to develop a theory of poetics.

True, Goldsmith does use a tongue-in-cheek tone when he pokes fun at society's views about plagiarism. But this tone does not change the fact that he advocates unoriginality and re-appropriation of text, contending that

"With an unprecedented amount of available text, our problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists."

Perloff says that I "get Goldsmith all wrong." One example of a laudatory feature of Goldsmith's work that I apparently do not understand is the way that Goldsmith shows "just how subtle 'copying' can be." I do not misunderstand -- I disagree. I do not think that subtle plagiarism should be applauded or encouraged.

I have thought about and read Goldsmith and his work, although perhaps the reading was unnecessary. Goldsmith doesn't want people to actually read his books; he says it's more important for people to think about them than to actually read them. Maybe that's right -- if you think that striving for literary originality is obsolete and unimportant. With all due respect, I simply disagree.