A Hierarchy (of art) of a Hierarchy (of culture) within the Hierarchy (of society)

Social hierarchies are nothing if not timeless and ubiquitous. It seems almost human nature to create hierarchies. It is, therefore, unsurprising to find hierarchies in art as well. Alfred Stieglitz emphasizes this in his essay “Pictorial Photography” and this concept is exemplified in Michelle Chen’s article “How the Slants Reclaimed Their Name.” Through these two different pieces, Stieglitz and Chen show how hierarchies persist within artforms themselves and bring social hierarchies and stereotypes into art.

Stieglitz, in his piece, essentially argues for a higher place in the hierarchy of art for photography. He describes how photography has previously been viewed – primarily as a simple observer of time. He then presses on about the technicalities of photography, but how only the true artist can manipulate these technicalities with a passion that highlights some truth. In other words, he argues that photography is as much on an art as painting or other types of visual art are. This is important because it frames how photography was previously viewed in the late 19th century (and most likely in the early 20th century as well). Clearly, did not hold a high place in the society’s previously held view of “true” art. For this reason, Stieglitz explains that photography has most likely been represented this way because there are a majority of amateurs (who he describes as “ignorant” and bringing nothing to the artform of photography) and technical photographers (who bring skill, but no passion). The third group of photographers he describes are the “artistic” ones who he says guide their work with skill and passion. These three separate groups he describes are a hierarchy. It may or may not have been a preexisting hierarchy, but it is one he establishes in his piece nonetheless.

In Chen’s piece, the article discusses the legal battle of a group entitled The Slants. This group is an Asian-American rock group formed in the early 2000’s. Shortly after banding together, the group attempted to trademark their name. The Patent and Trademark Office flat-out refused because of a previously established law that disallowed “racially offensive” trademarks (Chen). The complication, however, begins because “slant” as a historical epitaph was a racial slur towards Asians and Asian-Americans. Yet the music group chose it as their name for this purpose. As members of the victim-group, they decided to own it by reclaiming it. Further, this was a steady characteristic of The Slants music. They frequently commented on racial and other injustices in their lyrics. So, as members of the group targeted by the racial slur, why could they not have the ultimate decision about what was or was not acceptable to them? In this way, a hierarchy is established as well. Those in minority groups are given much less decision about their artistic freedoms within the intellectual property system. This, in turn, gives them less autonomy and pushes them further down the hierarchy of art.

All in all, the system is complex and constantly in conversation with hierarchies outside of art – like cultural, social, and religious, just as a couple examples. Stieglitz, as a white male, can establish hierarchies without much push-back. Asian-Americans, as a minority, are seen in Chen’s piece to be unable to redefine the hierarchies. While sad and understated, it is undeniably true that hierarchies of all kinds in all different aspects of life, culture, and society exist.


Addison, Carlyle, and Lethem Response

Of the works by Joseph Addison, Thomas Carlyle, and Johnathan Lethem, I find myself most agreeing with Lethem’s piece “The Ecstasy of Influence.” In this essay, Lethem describes how our “original” writings are not so original after all. He draws on plenty of examples throughout the piece. For instance, one is a song called “Country Blues;” the songwriter, Muddy Waters wrote it with melodies in mind from his youth that has a “complex genealogy” (60). Another example describes the extensive use of stories already in the commons (Lethem). Today, people and corporations like Disney™ consume and use these stories from folklore and mythology. None of it is original – in the typical sense of the word. Lethem draws on these examples and others in order to show how nothing is really “original.”

In comparison to Addison and Carlyle’s works, Lethem is in complete opposition. Addison and Carlyle, writers of the 18th and 19th centuries, argue for a type of originality we are all familiar. Addison discusses the idea “genius” as originality in his piece while Carlyle relates his bearers of originality to “prophets.” Read together, they weave a complicated web of what it means to be original. And it has a lot to do with Christian ideals of “truth” and “divinity” (Carlyle). It also sets up a hierarchy where those who do not have this genius or truth of divinity end up in a lesser position. Their works are deemed close to worthless.

These ideas seem ludicrous at best. First and foremost, who decides who is a “bringer of light” and who is not (Carlyle 142)? That kind of power in and of itself creates imbalance and a hierarchical structure. Furthermore, if we were to delve into the merits of  these “genius” and famed pieces – according to Addison and Carlyle, anyway – for “originality,” I do believe we would find copying, sourcing, and voices of others within these works: a distinctly un-original work to these two centuries’ old writers.

Lethem, on the other hand, describes how even when an author thinks they are composing originally, they are not. We are products of the world we live in. Lethem draws on neurological studies that show how “memory, imagination, and consciousness… [are] stitched, quilted, and pastiched” (68). Not only does this show that the very makeup of our minds is a patchwork of everything we experience, but it demonstrates the point perfectly as well! Lethem is quoting here. He is not a neuroscientist who has studied the brain in this way himself. He had to draw from studies. In this way, we as people are “quilted” beings of everything around us. If this is true, how can we – as Lethem says – expect to create “original” works when we ourselves are not “original.” Personally, I know I have written scenes and stories based from real experiences. It is not nonfiction I write either. I use those experiences to create, but these scenes themselves (and perhaps even the dialogue) are nothing new. This can be seen in plenty of songs, books, movies, and various other artworks that are called out for copying. Plenty of songwriters have sued others for using their melodies. Most often, I believe, these instances of copying are unintentional. A song gets stuck in the mind of the songwriter. A week later, without realizing, the songwriter repeats the melody unknowingly. Lethem demonstrates this further himself in writing. As a last stroke, Lethem describes how nothing can be truly original by including at the end of his piece the entirety of material he drew from – even if it was just a short phrase. Now that is truly “genius.

Response to Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle, a 19th century writer, discusses in his essay called The Hero as Man of Letters. Johnson, Rousseau, Burns the idea of originality as a heroic quality. He relates originality of “letters” or writing to “Truth” and the “Divine” (139). He further claims a difference between writers of original work and writers of imitation by exclaiming that imitators were “heroic seekers of” the light while the originators were “heroic bringers of” it (142). His discussion continues with the same claims through the examples of three different writers he believes were these “heroic bringers” of divinity and truth. They were Johnson, Rousseau, and Robert Burns. He relates them to “Prophets of that singular age” (159, italics preserved). In other words, they were like the prophets of old, but in this renewed age because they were the “heroic bringers of light” (142).

I find these claims interesting. However, I am not certain if I truly agree with them. There are aspects that I agree with. For instance, on page 143, Carlyle declares that the “Art of Writing is the most miraculous of all things man has devised.”  I agree with this statement. While Language is, in my own opinion, the most important feature humans have and what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, it was not devised by humans. It occurred through evolution. Now, Language is inherited and passed down through a combination of nature and nurture. However, writing was invented by humans. Writing is not acquired like Language. Writing is learned. In this way, I agree with Carlyle that writing is the most important invention humans created. It allows communication in ways that Language, in itself, does not allow. Basically, writing is a vehicle of Language. But I digress.

These are not Carlyle’s main claims. However, I thought it necessary to explain and discuss these smaller claims because it was these that I found myself agreeing with. That said, I did not find common ground with Carlyle on his claims of originality and its relation to “Truth” and the “Divine” (139). He believes the great writers are original writers that bring truth from divinity. I have seen no such instance where a writer is completely original in all ways from diction choice to overall structure of a work. It is, I believe, virtually impossible to achieve such a thing. Writers and all creators are influenced by their teachers (whether knowing teachers or not). They observe, model, and create with their inspired works in mind. It is how they produce something with their own style and flare that separates one from another. We are all imitators, but that does not mean we are all copiers.

I believe some (or rather very little) originality occurs in a work through style. How a creator makes the piece their own is how they introduce their originality into the piece. Yet even that is not pure originality. We are all shaped by the people who influence our lives, good or bad. These experiences are what build us into the people we become. For this reason, even the part of a work that might be “original” is formed from the life experiences of the person. So, can it really be considered “original?” I certainly do not know. The most important concern, however, is not that the works are original, but that the public has those works to learn and grow from. Whether they are original or not seems inconsequential to me.

Works cited: Carlyle, Thomas. “The Hero as Man of Letters. Johnson, Rousseau, Burns.” On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, John Wiley, 1852, pp. 138–174.                          

The Phaedrus on Authorship and Writing

In the Phaedrus, Plato discusses – through dialogue – his opinions on a variety of topics related to composition. Particularly, I find Plato’s views on authorship quite interesting for they are tied with his views on writing. Group E, from class, examines Plato’s view on authorship and summarizes them by stating “Plato believed authorship came from who was speaking information” (Group E).

In regards to writing, Plato is most ungenerous. He believes writing is a “disgrace” to the author because truth comes from the soul and an author can only achieve this truth by speaking (Plato). When writing is introduced it offers the ability to “patch” and “piece” together new words and ideas after the fact. This erodes the original truth, according to Plato (or rather Plato’s Socrates).

So, where does authorship fit in? Group E explains that authorship belongs exclusively to the person who speaks. More specifically, Plato insinuates that only the original speaker of the spoken composition is the author. Group E expands on this by drawing from an example from the text. They explain that, in the Phaedrus, Plato’s Socrates tells Phaedrus that while Lysias may have written the document Phaedrus presents to Socrates, Lysias, himself, was not the original author. Socrates can only mean that although Lysias wrote the document, he was not the original speaker.

This ties authorship to writing in a peculiar way that Plato never explicitly says, but that can be uniquely conflated. Plato’s Socrates says that authorship comes from the original speaker. About writing, he says that to record any speech in such a way is a “disgrace.” However, if a great speaker were to write down one of his better speeches, I wonder how Plato would respond. I imagine a response that would separate the speaker from the writer – even though they may be the same person.

Plato greatly despises writing at the time of the Phaedrus (if we are to assume his views are reflected in the dialogue of Socrates). Yet, there were great thinkers at that time who did both speak and write (including Plato himself). This, therefore, leads to the idea that the speaker is still the original author. Authorship belongs only to speakers in Plato’s view. In this way, a single person must be separated in to two entities by time: the younger person who spoke and the same, but older, person who wrote. The younger is the true author while the older has disgraced his younger self by writing the speech. For at that point, the older person has already degraded the truth by setting it to words.

In all, Plato’s views on authorship are quite interesting and Group E did a great job of identifying those views. Through their analysis and my own intrigue on the differences and similarities between writing and authorship, is this particular thread possible to see.

Most Interesting Part of TyAnna K. Herrington’s “Intellectual Property on Campus: Student’s Rights and Responsibilities”

What most interests me about TyAnna K. Herrington’s discussion of intellectual property in her book entitled Intellectual Property on Campus: Students’ Rights and Responsibilities is her discussion of plagiarism and copyright in relation to students in chapter 4. Herrington spends a majority of the book dissecting copyright and its relationship to relevant systems or other intellectual property. However, I found her points about plagiarism in relationship to students and copyright most enlightening.

Herrington explains that the idea of plagiarism originated from Romantic ideas. Herrington, first, draws on the idea of authorship because of its importance in the beginnings of the system of plagiarism. Authorship, defined by its Romantic origins, is about the sense of “superiority in the presumed potential” of the work’s reach (Herrington 74). This is important because that sense of “superiority” is inherent of the desire to own the work and have it been represented as such. In the Middle Ages, the idea of owning a piece of writing was radical. By the Romantic period, however, there was something to be gained by adding a name to a work of writing. In this new view of writing, the need for copyright and plagiarism rules arose.

Plagiarism and copyright are distinct, though. Both originate from the idea of authorship. However, they do apply differently to creative expressions. Copyright is the protection of the “commodity” of the work whereas plagiarism protects the “credibility” of the creator (82). In other words, copyright protections keep people who do not have the copyright from gaining financially while plagiarism protections keep those people from claiming that even pieces of the creator’s work are theirs. Herrington explains that “plagiarism, unlike copyright, provides an ethical or moral system for protecting” creative works (82). The distinction made is an important one because, in contrast to copyright, plagiarism protections are not legalized ones. Therefore, in terms of students, plagiarism is typically only enforced by their educational institutions. Since plagiarism protections are not enforced by law, universities and other schools typically have very rigid punishments for plagiarizers. For instance, Herrington lists “failing grade[s]” for classes or individual assignments, “suspension” or even “expulsion” as a few of the worst consequences (103). While a student may not need to pay fines or wind up in jail because of plagiarism, their entire educational careers (and subsequently, their professional careers as well) are threatened if they so much as poorly paraphrase.

This leads to Herrington’s additional point about numerous types of plagiarism and how a disregard for these types leads to unfair punishments. Often in schools, Herrington insinuates, that a student who cites incorrectly (and therefore plagiarizes) could potentially be punished similarly to someone who purchases a paper from online companies (and therefore explicitly plagiarizes in a major way). This simply makes no sense. Herrington explains that students, in the more understandable cases, have no idea that they were plagiarizing simply because they are not fully aware of how not to plagiarize (Herrington). Herrington describes several, more-forgivable plagiarism types. These are “’voice merging, ‘echoing,’ intertextualizing,’ ‘synthesizing,’ ‘textual appropriation,’ ‘resonance,’ and ‘patchwriting’ (89). All are more understandable forms of plagiarism. Some even develop because of a lack of education on plagiarism in these institutions. Herrington points out these issues out as a way of drawing attention to the system of plagiarism in education. They are not designed for students and serve usually as terrifying consequences that are barely defined in order to frighten them from even considering plagiarism. However, as explained, because plagiarism is barely defined, students who plagiarize (more often than not) do so because they were not educated about it.

In brief, copyright is radically different than plagiarism. Copyright deals with the financial earnings one receives for producing a creative work. Plagiarism deals with the importance of the author as the creator of the work. Both arise from Romantic concepts of authorship, but copyright protections are enforced under law while plagiarism is enforced by individual institutions – usually educational ones. This distinction is necessary in order to describe the far-reaching consequences of plagiarism even if the person who plagiarized only committed a minor offence. This system has created an environment where more often than not, students are plagiarizing out of a lack of knowledge rather than from deliberate misconduct. However, these two types of students are subject to the same possible consequences regardless of intention. This shows a serious need to reform plagiarism education in institutions. For all these reasons, I found Herrington’s fourth chapter most interesting.

Response to TyAnna K. Herrington’s “Intellectual Property on Campus: Students’ Rights and Responsibilities”

What I found most interesting about Intellectual Property on Campus, by TyAnna K. Herrington was her discussion of Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). While I was aware that digital copying was illegal, I had no idea about its extent. Under the DMCA, it is not only illegal to download digital material without a license, but it would also be illegal to “create” technology that would break protective encoding of digital content (Herrington 65). Herrington comments on this Act, explaining that it limits technological advancement to disallow even the creation of this kind of device; she also explains though how the DMCA affects fair use exemptions (Herrington).

Due to the wording of the Act, Herrington startlingly explains that fair use is practically inaccessible as an exemption; this, she asserts, DMCA has blocked despite its claims that it would still abide by fair use exemptions (Herrington). However, in spite of the limiting rules of the DMCA, certain court cases and laws have since passed that challenge the inhibiting wording which could harm fair use exemptions. For instance, the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office put forth a law that allowed for certain encoding decryption of audiovisuals when it was done for educational purposes (Herrington). Another case included a class of students and professors who decrypted software from Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). The professor of the class and his students wanted to present their findings at a conference, but were pursued with legal action by SDMI. The professor addressed the federal court system, explaining that this was a proper instance of fair use. Without even going to trial, the government assured that no legal action would be taken against him or his students (Herrington).

This, in addition to the other cases listed, is helpful because it shows that many legal instances have favored fair use. However, given the limiting wording of the DMCA, many people are likely not to test the written law in court because of intense legal fees. Therefore, work still needs to be done to create a comprehensive standard that outlines fair use laws for digital content. As Herrington explains, digital content is taking the place of print content in educational situations (Herrington). This means that something must replace the well-outlined rules of print for fair use of digital content. As of right now, DMCA is limiting to the people and organizations that benefit most from fair use. In turn, these people contribute valuable findings to society and hopefully advance it in the process. Without fair use being properly outlined, these contributions will most likely limit the society’s advancement.

Group 6 Response

Group six’s answer to the question, “what is the role of literary originality in Donaldson v Becket? Why would Thomson’s “reputation for originality” (46) matter” seems to mostly respond to the question. However, it also seems to steer away from the most central part of it. They pulled together all the various components and created an effective background to answer the question fully, but by the end I was still puzzled about what their answer to the question was.

The initial points were necessary to create a proper background to the question. The first point about Parliament was interesting. It summarized clearly and succinctly Parliament’s role in the case of Donaldson v. Becket. However, at first, I was slightly confused because I thought this referred to Parliament acting as part of the trial. I, then, realized that this was not the case. The group was pointing out, very clearly, that Parliament’s role in the case was their rights to “grant” copyright. Eventually, though, the courts and the House of the Lords ruled against perpetual copyrights and the issuing of copyright as Parliament had instated. The second point refers to Lockean ideology that material labor deserves benefit. In the case, and in previous cases like Millar v. Taylor, this Lockean ideology was used as evidence that copyrights should continue to be owned by the author. This is useful to begin the dissection of the answer to their question because it provides background.

The next point discusses Thomson’s unique originality at the time the trials took place. This is important because Thomson’s originality was key to being able to discuss the legalities of copyright in court. It could not have been parceled out without Thomson’s popularity, modernity, and originality at the time. The group delves deeply into the reading about Thomson’s originality which could only be discussed with the background previously given in the other points. However, this is where they seem to lose sight of the question. To me, it seems as though group forgot to address the central question of “why” originality was important. They discussed originality and commented on Rose’s treatment of this point about Thomson’s role in it. However, I find myself asking “but why does it matter?” The group had all the components needed behind the question and acquiesced the necessary passages and background. Ultimately, though, I wanted to know more.