Only Non-Authors Plagiarize
in defense of guerrilla plagiarists
Plagiarism is the corollary of the idea that ‘literature’ itself exists only as an aesthetic judgment. What is being judged is not an inanimate object, the text, but rather the agent of a criminal or immoral act.
In contrast to the particular author that Barthes sees as having died, the function of authorship is a historical constant that refers to the capacity of particular writers, or perhaps designated communities in historical contexts, to appropriate the attributes of authority, authenticity, and originality – a capacity that varies and is displaced over time.
Whether invested in the authority of the ancients or the Church Fathers, or reappropriated by avant-garde revolutionaries such as Montaigne and Kathy Acker, the original and authentic expression of authority has always characterized the ‘author.’
Plagiarists are essentially failed or false authors – those who are seen to have transgressed or left unfulfilled the cultural function authorship defines for them.
Plagiarism is seen as a positive antidote to the evils of cultural imperialism. And the spirit and practice of plagiarism as reverse imperialism extends in postmodern times beyond national or ethnic imperialism into a general critique of power and property in diverse contexts.
‘Plagiarism’ might be the necessary or logical form of aesthetic production available to an author who has been deprived of the attributes of subjecthood: in short, only ‘non-authors’ plagiarize.
The self-consciousness of contemporary appropriation differs from previous artistic imitation principally in that, like the plagiarist who knows what he is doing and that it is wrong, the post-Romantic appropriative artist knows that copying others is not the proper way to be creative, original, or perhaps even legal.
What is explicitly being claimed through this practice of ‘aesthetic appropriation’ is that some form of ‘plagiarism’ is the natural or necessary mode of production of the artist as ‘non-subject.’
Self-conscious plagiarism is a guerrilla tactic of a subversionary movement whose value lies in its pure oppositionality to dominant power – in other words, whose importance lies in the pressure it exerts against the institutions it attacks, but without which it could not exist.
The principal strategy of postmodern ‘guerrilla plagiarism’ is to confound the aesthetic, ethical, and legal dimensions of originality, undermining the accusation of ‘plagiarism’ by an outrageous degree of explicitness, achieving ‘originality’ by an excessive degree of imitation, and slipping through the hands of the law by out-of-court settlements and legal exploitation of the public domain.
In the end, guerrilla plagiarists are not real plagiarists, but they might be real revolutionaries.
Authors may or may not be dead, but the space of authorship is impossible to maintain as a vacuum: a signature will always fill it up.
Lifted and slightly adapted from Pragmatic Plagiarism (2001), by Marilyn Randall, and non-authored and signed by