Monday, February 19, 2007

Plagiarism? Part I

Over the weekend, I had some time to finish The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I've written about it already a couple of times, but a passage/idea I came across has started a new line of thinking related to student blogging, use of wikis, and plagiarism. The context of the passage is that two of the main characters were best friends in Poland during the Nazi invasions. Both were writers. One friend escaped thinking the other friend did not escape. Starting a new life, the escaped friend gave in to the temptation to plagiarize his friend's unpublished novel to impress a woman. By the end of the story, we find out the left-in-Poland friend had actually outlived everybody else, and in this passage, he finds out that not only has he been plagiarized by his friend but his newest story has been accredited to his estranged son, also a writer:

I read a sentence. And that was all I needed to read to know it could be no one other than me. I knew this because I was the one who'd written the sentence. In my book, the novel of my life. The one I'd started to write after my heart attack and sent, the morning after the art class, to Isaac. Whose name, I saw now, was printed in block letters across the top of the magazine's page. WORDS FOR EVERYTHING, it said, the title I'd finally chosen, and underneath: ISAAC MORITZ.
I looked up at the ceiling...
...At most a person has two, three good ideas in a lifetime. And on those magazine pages was one of mine. I read it over again. Here and there, I chuckled aloud and marveled at my own brilliance. And yet. More often, I winced.

Okay, so he's been plagiarized, but the thing is, he still sees the words as his life. You might think that he'd find some sort of authorial redemption. But he doesn't. Instead, he finds himself at a point in his life when only the ideas in the story matter. Do we find ourselves at that point with web 2.0?
A few of my classes have been trying out a wikispace. It's pretty experimental at this point, not a lot of focus or structure. After discussing the difference between weblog (individual space) and wiki (collective space), it was interesting to see that students still had issues with not signing their name to their contributions. What we've ended up with so far is essentially a list of individual comments, a message board. Then I gave another class some computer lab time to start their own writer's workshop page on our wiki. They started by having some fun with html and figuring out how to edit the pages. What surprised them most was their ability to edit and delete each other's work. So I'm going to think more about idea sharing and authorship this week. I'm also going to revisit "Something Borrowed" by Malcolm Gladwell.

1 comment:

Doug Noon said...

I've had similar problems introducing the wiki to people. There seems to be a conceptual leap necessary in understanding the difference between the individual and the community nature of blogs and wiki authorship.

I don't know if you're familiar with Meatball Wiki. It's a site devoted to wiki community building. I enjoy poking around in there sometimes. Just had a look and found a page on the wiki life cycle. I'm not sure it's relevant to your needs, but I'm interested in where you go with your inquiry here. It's a question I've occasionally asked myself.