The Ecstasy of Influence – A Plagiarism by Jonathan Lethem

Comm Lab - Video and Sound

Jonatham Lethem’s article on “plagiarism” and its versions draws many comparisons between artists’, scientists’ and other public figures’ work and criticises the ownership of ideas. It explains with various examples, like that of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Martin Luther King’s sermons, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, since all were inspired by other artists before them, that the originality of the works of art and science with the greatest contributions to contemporary human history is in the assembly and the rearrangement of ideas.

Loss Aversion 

Collaging, Lethem explains with the words “the cut-up method”, is an art itself, and there can be true originality there. It is what teachers would call plagiarism, but when done right can invoke the profound effect intended by the artist. For me personally, inspiration did awaken what I consider my previously hidden talents, and my career shift from engineer to fashion designer was heavily influenced by the work of Indian couturist, Sabyasachi Mukherjee. “Like a memory never before experienced” I designed, incorporating bits and pieces of his vision into my work, and the results snowballed into designs that were my own but which borrowed his ingenuity.

I instinctively agree with the notion put forward by Thomas Jefferson that some things are say, sacred enough to never be commodified. Although he did consider copyrights “a necessary evil”, promoting the mentioned culture that everything of value must be owned by someone, ideas, like sex, can not be property. Lethem is right when he calls them “government granted monopolies.” Ideas are both personal, yet they belong to humanity as a whole, like airspace.

Gift Economy and the Commons — “You can’t steal a gift.”

My favourite quote in the article: “Don’t pirate editions, plunder visions.”

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