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“Understanding Plagiarism in a Digital Age”

From the New York Times (October 29, 2015): “Understanding Plagiarism in a Digital Age“:

“Do your students have a hard time defining — and thus, perhaps, avoiding — plagiarism? They’re not alone. In a cut-and-paste world, examples of both intentional and unintentional plagiarism are everywhere.”

[long list of examples of recent cases follows, including college application essays presented as “personal statements” and an Instagram celebrity caught stealing jokes…]

References from lecture on irony & allegory

Jamaica Kincaid reading “Girl”

The Wire: how to play chess

World Without Oil (ARG)

Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake in Context,” PMLA 119:3 (May 2004): 513-517 [I excerpted passages about speculative fiction from pp. 515-516]

Midterm paper


Due in hard copy in your TA’s mailbox by 4:00pm on Friday, November 13. No emailed papers will be accepted; if you leave town for the weekend you will need to finish early or ask a friend to print a hard copy of your paper and submit it on your behalf.


For this paper, the longest and most substantive of the term, you will build on a mode of writing you have already practiced: close reading, the focused analysis of a particular passage, word, or motif. Your close readings, or textual analyses, will then function as evidence for an discussion of a more general theme, system, type, or category. To that end, you will need to find an additional example to pair with a text from the syllabus. This additional text may be in any media and any genre. The amount of attention devoted to your second example is for you to decide; all that is required is that you sufficiently establish your classification schema so that the pairing makes sense. It will also be for you to decide whether the structure of your argument is particular–>general or general–>particular.

You should choose from the list below, but if you have an idea for a different pairing you are welcome to explore it, provided you first clear the topic with me.

  • “Plagiarism” (creative appropriation, sampling, remix) and Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence”
  • Metafiction and Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
  • Medievalism and either Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Blessed Damozel” or Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott”
  • Speculative fiction and either Manjula Padmanabhan, Harvest or Arundhati Roy, “The Briefing”
  • Organ markets (power, class, biocapital, resistance) and Manjula Padmanabhan, Harvest

Technical details

  • Length: 1500 words (no fewer)
  • You should underline or italicize your thesis statement as a way of reminding yourself that the paper needs a succinct and clearly presented frame.
  • Your paper needs a title that connects to your thesis.


Citation is required and will be assessed as part of your overall grade. You will need to prepare a “Works Cited” that includes your two texts and any additional material that you use. For in-text citation you need only the page number in parentheses. To underscore the importance of citation for this paper, we will reduce grades by one full step (A–>B) if the “Works Cited” is missing (yes, it’s true).

Online guide for MLA Works Cited: <>.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” Harper’s Magazine Feb. 2007: 59–71. Print.

In-text example: For Lethem “all ideas are secondhand” (68).

Quotes from Woolf lecture

PDF of external references used in lecture on Mrs Dalloway

Reminder: in-class writing exercise (Monday)

In lecture on Monday (November 2) there will be an in-class writing exercise on Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” This is one of the required assignments so attendance will be mandatory.

Images for Tennyson & Rossetti lectures

PDF of images used in lectures on Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” (large file)

Jen Bervin, Nets

Sonnets 18 and 130, redacted by Jen Bervin in Nets



David Tennant reading Sonnet 18

David Tennant reading Sonnet 18 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day' from Touchpress on Vimeo.

What would Barthes think of his Hermès scarf? (The New Yorker; Oct 2015)

“Hermès, the French luxury brand, has paid homage to the philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes on the centennial of his birth, this November, by crafting a limited-edition silk scarf printed with a motif inspired by his book “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments” (1977). How would Barthes read this object? He read everything, after all—not just books. He taught us to see the whole world as a helix of readable signs, and even after his premature vehicular death, in 1980, his students retained a set of instructions for deciphering the cultural cosmos. How would he have read the choice to emblazon his memory across a silk carré? What would he have made of this bourgeoisification of his thought? And what would he have had to say about the scarf’s eight-hundred-and-ninety-five-euro price tag?…”

From Christy Wampole, “What would Barthes think of his Hermès scarf?” (October 21, 2015)

BBC Radio: 21C Mythologies

Examples include the Apple icon, the e-cigarette, and the selfie

Site: BBC Radio: 21st Century Mythologies