More than a year ago I wrote about the possibility of a mashup of Mormon literary works a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now, this past week I came across an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that not only argues for “repurposing” other works, but advocates using these techniques in education.
While acknowledging the view that these works are basically plagiarism, the article’s author, Kenneth Goldsmith argues (successfully, IMO) that our understanding of creativity as requiring wholly original works is flawed, and that even the organization of pre-existing material can be highly creative. Goldsmith, who teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, bases his argument on a course he teaches called “Uncreative Writing,” in which students are penalized for showing any originality and creativity. Everything they produce must be plagiarized.
While his article does explore the issues around plagiarism, Goldsmith ignores plagiarism’s more formal and rigid sibling, copyright infringement. Unless the source works an “author” uses for these works are in the public domain, publishers and print-on-demand service providers will hesitate to accept these works when they know about them. While I find these ideas invigorating, I, too, hesitate at the copyright issues (I think the plagiarism is easy to resolve — simply disclose what you’ve done).
If nothing else, Goldsmith’s article gave me a lot more food for thought, and more ideas about possible mashups, patchwriting, sampling, etc. Given that more than 10,000 General Conference talks have been given since the 1850s, surely a patchwritten talk would be easy to come up with. I sometimes think that enough has been said in General Conference that a creative “author” could say almost anything he wanted!
Or what about poetry mashups? Already archives of poetry contain thousands of poems; how hard would it be to piece together something new from a bunch of similar poems?
Even scripture, I think, is a source candidate. Of course many chapters and verses of scripture already come from other scriptures. In particular Proverbs and the other books of wisdom literature have been pieced together from many sources. It might be simple to do the same with favorite Mormon scriptures, perhaps constructing a doctrinal argument by moving from verse to verse on a topic. Or, the words of a favorite scripture might, with a bit of work, be transformed into poetry, even if the original wasn’t poetry.
Goldsmith explains his plagiarism requirement for his “Uncreative Writing” course by saying “the suppression of self-expression is impossible.” And that seems right to me. But it also leaves me wondering why we don’t have more self-expression from Mormons. I suspect that we lack writing of this nature because of issues like plagiarism and what we believe to be the appropriate ways to use sources, we self-censor. Perhaps using techniques like these might help us overcome this self-censorship.