Eclecticism vs. Plagiarism

I am currently in the midst of a period of tragedy, loss and re-assessment in a life earmarked by great Beauty, Ecstacy, Love, Danger, Violence, Joy, Excess and Horror. To quote Carlos Castaneda quoting the brujo Don Juan in “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge”, I am reminded on a daily basis that “Death walks in your shadow.”

Of course when Carlos Castaneda quoted Don Juan, even the sorcerer himself was quoting a truism or “Old Saw” well-known to the Yaqui people. This raises the question of how far does one need to go in correctly crediting one’s sources without completely losing the train of thought and presentation in something that masquerades under the banner of original or creative writing?

I did some research and found that Charles Caleb Colton was the author of the term: “…Imitation is the sincerest (form) of flattery….”, I admit that I do not recall ever hearing of him or his works before, but everyone is familiar with the quotation; this is as good as any example that I know of a very small portion of that to which I speak, write, or refer.

I had to look it up to quote the author, now a relative unknown, and discovered that the original quote was: “Imitation is the sincerest of flattery…”. Although he was something of an erratic luminary of his day, with a propensity for self-indulgence and given to excess; he died broke and took his own life and is relatively unknown today except to scholars a great deal more erudite than myself.

If I should use some phrase, to what lengths should I go to quote the source; or should I even perhaps footnote it like a term paper on English Composition? I have read and listened to speakers whose most notable feature is the way in which they weave in and around endless quotations and references, making a kind of pedantic bibliography of the synthesis of whatever ideas they are trying to present.

Some of them are quite fascinating, if you can ever grasp the actual gist or meat of whatever it is they may eventually try to present as an original idea, although the synthesis of the literary Gumbo that they serve up becomes a casualty of the litigious, greedy nature of the modern culture before which we are all forced to bow.

I am a weaver of dreams and teller of tall tales,  mostly true, thinly disguised to protect the guilty (mostly myself) and the innocent alike for fear of implying an unsavory association with otherwise good people who do not deserve such shame for having known, loved, or befriended me.

It is my desire to resurrect the American storytelling tradition by incorporating it into a literary genre I like to call “enhanced and fortified non-fiction”. I was relatively well-educated, but must admit I have forgotten more than most people would even care to ever learn. My point is that in the attempt to not plagiarized, the homage of quotation can become cumbersome.

On the other hand, this pitiful self-indulgent,  self-destructive fiend named Colton has passed into relative anonymity although the mis quotation of his most famous line that is so commonly used that it has become a cliché for people who know nothing of his existence.

If you Google the phrase, you have to only see how many unrelated references there are through which I had to wade to find the source. And of course, there are times when we discover after the fact that what we thought was original was not, leaving us to feel as if as the song by Mark–Almond says: “…It’s all been done before…”

I know there are rules…I was raised on them…chastised if I did not strictly follow them, or warned of dire consequences if I did not adhere to them, courtesy of fear of the scholarly “Hickory Stick” of seventeen-century values, customs and protocols as they dragged their half-dead carcasses across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, leaving a trail of blood, venom, shit and bile like a dog hit by a car that refuses to die before it reaches its Final Destination.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in “Civil Disobedience” that “All machines have their friction…but when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression…organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer.”

This is not to say that I condone plagiarism. To outright steal the complete works and ideas of another author and preset them as one’s own is unjustifiable, but to pick from the marketplace of ideas like a chef choosing which ingredients he or she will use to prepare a meal, perhaps without so much as a defined recipe, instead simply doing a little of this and using a little of that in the style of something you may or may not entirely recognize, although seemingly vaguely familiar (which I have come to embrace as what I call Jazz Cooking) represents a synthesis of originality applied against the clichés and shop-worn ideas and techniques that threaten to strangle us all for fear of accusations of being excessively derivative.

There is a danger in being too well-read and educated. I was raised hearing that there have been no new thoughts or ideas since the Greeks, or biblical times or some other such horse-shit guaranteed to leave a right-minded person afraid to speak, think, or write. The more you know, the greater the risk…so why even bother?

Sometime early in my youth while studying Art and Cinematography. I was introduced to the technique of Collage and Photomontage. In its own way, it perhaps paved the groundwork of the modern Hip-Hop technique referred to as Sampling, which took legal action to be defined and separated from litigation for copy write violation.

Many years before, when George Harrison was sued for plagiarism attributed to his song My Sweet Lord, because of its remarkable similarity to “He’s so Fine” I heard Dolly Parton remark how in the same way, the same sequence of notes in I Saw Her Standing There was exactly the same sequence as Nine to Five.

Her point seemed to center around the fact that context, treatment, style and presentation are in fact the basis of originality, since after all, there are really only twelve notes in the modern Western musical scale.

In the last twenty years, we have seen an irrational preoccupation in the lengths to which attorneys have taken the concept of Intellectual Property on behalf of either Michael Eisner’s New-World Order of Disney, going so far as to attempt to sue a day-care center in Hollywood, Florida for using hand-painted images of Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or Snow White on the walls of the center. (BTW: When the threats got national media attention, Hanna-Barbara Studios flew their own artists to the day-care center to paint their copyrighted images instead…for free.)

Or consider the story of George Lucas suing a porn producer for making a movie entitled Star Whores and attempting to prevent use of the THX signature of envelope and timbre of the well-known glissando of their logo as the intro for a Hip-Hop song.

Perhaps the real question is to ask “what is the harm?” to determine if any creative artist has been wronged. Where is the line drawn between Homage and Plagiarism? We often either knowingly or unknowingly quote the Bible, Shakespeare, or any number of thousands of previously published works by the choice of a particular turn of a phrase or word.

Sometimes a cliché is all you need to set up a rhythm, an easy shorthand to quickly conjure up an image, or make the hairs on your neck stand on end…(or anything else for that matter) like jumping from second to fourth gear, saving your own (well as their) best energies for the real verities.

The movie Zeitgeist would suggest that even the fundamentals of Christianity are in fact the result of a form of religious plagiarism, but even unique applications of clichés or shop-worn phrases to effect an original presentation of ideas and images that lend a recognizable universality to any artistic work may still be subject to scrutiny.

As to where one point ends and another begins…well, to paraphrase: “The proof is in the (eating of) the pudding.” BTW: Just to illustrate, it was George Carlin (in Brain Droppings) that added the parenthetical, although he was referring to an entirely different set of circumstances.

I frequently use song titles or movie titles to describe something in a certain way that may or may not be recognizable to the reader. I usually Capitalize and italicize the title, so as to draw attention to how it was woven into the fabric of the text, as a sort of “Nod and a Wink” (to the readers who probably also like puns), but with the exception of the use of the first few lines line of Volunteers (of America) by the Jefferson Airplane as the title of a chapter I once wrote, I do not generally quote or footnote.

If anything, I try to avoid using enough of their words in sequence to be considered liable, and whenever possible, it is usually used in such a different context that only the veneer of resemblance is exposed.

Interestingly enough, The Jefferson Airplane was forced to drop the “of America” from the title of both the song and the Album because of copyright infringement, thereby markedly increasing the value of any first-edition releases that were not pulled from the racks.

There is no end to the irony of the fact that the opening proclaims: “We are all outlaws in the eyes of America…in order to survive we steal, lie, cheat , forge, fuck, hide and deal…we are obscene, lawless, dangerous, dirty, violent…and young.”

It was an anthem of the awakening of myself and an entire generation of outlaws, brigands, and perverts. Although I quoted and recognized them at the beginning of the title of the chapter, I should only be so fortunate as to have that work become popular enough that I should be allowed the privilege to pay them tribute in money, if deemed appropriate, regardless of the irony.

For instance, I know very well that it was Hemingway who first used the term “Moveable Feast” when he described Paris. It is my sincerest hope that most of the literate (reading) public does as well. I used the phrase in a completely different context at some point in the past. I remember doing it, but for the life of me I don’t recall when or how, or in what frame of reference.

At nearly the same point in time, both Jackson Pollock and Charlie Parker began doing the same thing in different media by allowing a sort of “stream of consciousness” in music and a “reflex arc” or “muscle memory” in Art to produce their most memorable works in a new style largely invented by each of them, according to their respective disciplines.

Red Skelton, in the midst of controversy of his use of a few sly innuendoes that were deemed “dirty” by some television viewers simply remarked that if you already knew the context, then he was only reminding you of something that you had already heard or thought that was already in your own brain.

In Senate hearings over obscenity in rock music, Paula Hawkins accused Frank Zappa of causing people to “…think dirty…” whereupon he replied that he would be flattered if he was accused of having caused people to think at all.

About a year ago, however, when a reader remarked about how much he liked a particular idea that I had presented, I did mention that it was partially inspired by one of my all-time favorite writers, and in the process turned the reader on to an author of a unique genre of literature in which he stands head and shoulders above almost all others, with few equals anywhere, and that has given me pause to reconsider….

In this spirit of full disclosure, I would like to list some of the artists, musicians, philosophers, comedians, perverts, poets, writers, teachers, lovers, free spirits and bon vivants who have in many subtle and unsubtle ways influenced or inspired many entries I have written in one way or another, and at the very  least given me hope and strength to carry on. I have frequently quoted (and just as likely mis-quoted), and in one way or another at the very least leaned heavily upon each of you in my many hours of need. (These are neither alphabetical nor in order of importance; they are simply presented as they randomly occurred to me. Some are famous, some deserve to be…):

Tom Robbins

Dr. Hunter Stockton Thompson

Artur Rimbaud

Walt Whitman

Allen Ginsburg

Charles Bukowski

Frank Zappa

Jeff Beck

Eric Clapton

Mark-Almond

Douglas Adams

Lawrence M. Krauss, Ph. D.

Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, Graham Keith Gouldman and

Laurence Neil “Lol” Creme (of 10cc)

Spirit

The Jefferson Airplane

The Grateful Dead

Randy Bays and Francis (aka: Francois Hermes) “Frenchy” Massinon

Eddie Bischoff

Abraham Maslow

Robert Hilton

Claude Debussy

Eric Satie

Ernest Hemingway

John Cage

Ingmar Bergman

George Orwell

Aldus Huxley

B.F. Skinner

Timothy Leary

Richard Alpert (aka: Baba Ram Dass)

Lenny Bruce

Linda Goodman

Alfred E. Newman

Louie C. K.

Henry David Thoreau

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Amy Rogers-Edgin-Onasis-Bono-Allman-???

Karan Barnes

Joseph F. Pulitzotto

George Carlin

Robin Williams

Suki Vincent

Anastasia, the eternal “Astral Travler”; aka “the Ex-Stacy”

John Steinbeck

Jack Nietzsche

Andrew L. Oldham

Friedrich Nietzsche

Carlos Castaneda

Ron Jeremy

Robert M. Pirsig

The Rolling Stones

Eric Burdon

Van Morrison

Steven Trask

Hedwig

William S. Burroughs

Charlie Kaufman

Oliver Stone

Quentin Tarantino

LeeAnn Macguire Reyes Cauble

“Captain Mike” Schrader

Jessie (the other outlaw) James

SIG Sauer

Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov

Gene Vincent

George Brown, his brother Cliff, and legendary Vincent (Black Shadow) designer, Phil Irving

Michael (“Eschew obfuscation”) Barnes

Pink Floyd

 Lana and Andrew Wachowski

Tom Tykwer

 David Mitchell

John Cameron Mitchell

E.E. Cummings

Dylan Thomas

Bob Dylan

Ralph Waldo Emerson

James Marshall Hendrix

Eddy Van Halen

Stanley Jordan

Buzzy Feiten

The Whore of Armageddon

Each of these people, and many, many more have struck resonances within me, sometimes after the fact of my own realization or self-discovery, thereby validating and reinforcing something that was already there.

The above listing is only my “short list”, and I apologize for so many not listed there that may have momentarily escaped my deteriorating memory banks.

I believe all inspiration, and epiphanies come from the heavens, trapped in the ionosphere, bouncing, skipping, and returning like radio waves. How we interpret or assimilate those energies is what makes each of us unique.

Without sounding presumptuous, and to misquote and badly paraphrase Emerson…we all stand hand in hand, the whole world round…. They too, have their own set of influences, mentors, and even unconscious influences. I don’t know how much any of them struggled with deciding to quote or footnote all their sources….

I consider myself a casualty of my generation and our culture, as well as my own predisposition for excess, self-indulgence, self-abuse. and wanton disregard for laws or most conventions of polite society.

If my remarks, thoughts, ideas or choices of words should offend you, consider me like one would a madman, running naked through the streets, babbling an echolalia of rants inspired by ionic discharges of the atmosphere while my brain writhes in a series of capacitance as if it were attached to a lightning rod…and to quote Douglas Adams: “…mostly harmless….”. …And that’s on my good days, when I feel inspired enough to assert my will to live. It would appear that I am in little danger of sufficient notoriety to provoke much criticism on any global scale…so what’s the harm? I am but a messenger, a conduit through which I try to present that which inspires and flows through me as I attempt to Divine the Divine.

Namaste.

4 Responses to “Eclecticism vs. Plagiarism”

  1. Heartafire Says:

    fabulous writing.

  2. You keep on Divining the Divine. I believe in the collective unconscious and we will think things in similar ways at similar times because of some metaphysical serendipity of our natures. I’m sorry to hear of your state and I do hope you are through it soon. I hate that side of life sometimes. xo, J……………Namaste

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