Nothing is original; every idea comes from somewhere . It not where you got it from, its where you take it to. Every thought we have comes from somewhere – either inspiration or vicariously from someone else. It is not original, but derivative. The former is rare while the latter risks the danger of theft called plagiarism. However Tennyson acknowledges that ”we are part of all we have met”. Copying another person’s work verbatim, is theft of intellectual property, while adapting, appropriating elements and transforming their ideas into a hybrid version can be creative. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Charles Coulton
The genius of the artist is to be as absorbent as a sponge; soak up other people's experiences and writings and transform them into realistic recreations to inspire others.
What the syllabus says:
Transformations of texts have occurred for centuries, as stories have been adapted to contemporary situations. The inspiration of the known reflects upon the new, while the new resonates with the known. This process provides the basis for study in this elective.
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes declares that “there is nothing new under the sun”. If it's not in the Bible, or if Shakespeare didn't say it, it's likely not worth saying. Though everything worth saying has already been said; not everyone has yet said it.
Many critics claim there are no new plots, only variations on a few standard structures. Even Chaucer, writing in the 14th C. based many of the stories of his Canterbury Tales on French, Celtic or Italian sources. Most of Shakespeare’s Plays are adaptations of any raw material he could get his hands on. Hamlet is based on the 12th C. Danish primitive legend first printed in 1514. In other plays, Shakespeare had no scruples about stealing plots, names, dialogue and even titles. Parts of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra consist of passages of texts lifted verbatim from Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutrach. Shakespeare excelled in taking dormant works and breathing life into them with his mastery of language, as in Romeo and Juliet.
George Bernard Shaw, said “Shakespeare was a wonderful teller of stories so long as someone else had told them first”, and when accused of borrowing a plot, said, “If I find in a book anything I can make use of, I take it gratefully. He also said “I often quote myself; it adds spice to my conversation.”
John Dryden reworked Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida because of its ungrammatical, coarse and figurative expressions. Nearly everybody agreed that Dryden’s version, Truth found too Late was a vast improvement. “You found it dirt but have made it gold” gushed the poet Richard Duke. (Bryson)
Charles Dickens is often credited with the saying “the law is an ass” but he was not the first to write it and fails to credit to any source. It was first documented some 200 years previous.
T. S. Eliot claimed that “Good poets borrow; Great poets steal.” Or in another version: “immature poets imitate, Mature poets steal”. His early poems are often described as “Pastiche” - patchwork, as they contain lines taken from other classics as allusions to create a new work of Art. Australian novelist Thomas Kennealy admits he "plunders" other books to give his more heft.
New translations of old classics from the Greek, Latin or even Italian seem to occur every year. With so many people writing; it's a wonder there's anyone to read them.
Music is also influenced by preceding performers, so the Beatles borrowed heavily from Buddy Holly, Elvis and Mozart. Recently Simon Hattenstone described Lady Gaga as “a musical magpie” as she brazenly nicked and nicked and nicked to create something of her own. She admits influences from Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, the S*x Pistols, Madonna, Bowie and Prince.
Rod Stewart’s beloved (and derided) 1978 hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? became the subject of a plagiarism case brought by popular Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor, who said that the hook of the song was lifted from his 1972 composition Taj Mahal. Stewart conceded: ‘Clearly the melody had lodged itself in my memory and then resurfaced. Unconscious plagiarism, plain and simple.”
According to Christopher Allen, Artists learn by copying great paintings. Rubens copied from Raphael, Michelangelo and later Titian in order to learn the secrets of their success. Sometimes great painters had their assistants reproduce copies of their best paintings. The best known are additional versions of Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks and other paintings by Caravggio and Raphel.
For David Bamman, a senior researcher in computational linguistics with Tufts University’s Perseus Project, analysing collocations can help unwrap the way a writer “indexes” a literary style by lifting phrases from the past.
We can conclude that most literature (as other areas of life) is a transformation of an idea derived from another source or as Harry Mathews puts it, “all books come from other books".
As Newton first and then Einstein echoed, “we are all pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Finally, To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is called research. I forget where I stole that from.
Transformations of earlier works can be effected by:
updating, contemporizing, modernizing, resurrection …
transposing the geographical setting or the epoch of time - transposition
adaptation to a different medium, to a film, stage, poem, novel, or even a parody.
appropriation; borrowing, stealing, imitation, plagiarizing, quoting, literary piracy, a pastiche, derivative.
an inversion or change of perspective.
A subversion changing the meaning of the text by undercutting it.
a spin-off – taking lesser aspects of plot or characters and making them central to a new work.
A Parody – imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Characters can be counter-pointed, replicated, parodied or made counterparts;
Situations or plots correspond, or are parallel or consistent with the original source.
Themes can be reinforced, contemporised or subverted; changing the meaning of the text by undercutting it.
Adaptations of texts to film is a hard call. Not many good books translate well onto the cinematic screen. While reading, the responder has time to reflect and for introspection, that the pace of a movie often denies; there is no time or space to absorb, pause, think or process the events. The most successful transformed novels are those with plenty of description and dialogue, such as Thomas Hardy, Dickens or Austen.
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