Sunday Book-Thought 138

‘Authorship’ in particular is in urgent need of theorizing. The debate here is marked by a profound incomprehension and hence hostility, which is evident in terms such as plagiarism and cutting and pasting. The accusation of plagiarism is itself now becoming an anachronistic term, harking back to a different social, semiotic and legal environment. It arises as a response to social conditions – that is, as a particular semiotic response to notions of ‘freedom of choice’. That is transferred to practices of text-making where formerly settled – quasi-moral, legal and semiotic – notions about authorship, text and property are now no longer treated as relevant; or are, more often than not, no longer recognized by those who engage in text-making now. In that context, the accusation of (‘merely’ or ‘simply’) cutting and pasting is a response that betrays a lack of theoretical work and hence incomprehension about new principles of text-making composition. It rests on a misconceived transfer of old conceptions of authorship to new conditions. Let me hasten to say – lest I be misunderstood – that I am not in favour of intellectual theft nor of deceit, laziness or exploitation. Yet mere moral outrage alone will not produce one iota of understanding.
– Gunther Kress, Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 21.

Sunday Book-Thought 134

One such structure is the machinery of publishing and reviewing by means of which an author is brought to the attention of his audience. The social and economic processes that govern the dissemination of a literary work are no more accidental to its reputation, and indeed to its very nature (as that will be perceived by an audience), than are the cultural conceptions (of the nature of poetry, of morality, of the human soul) within which the work is read. The conditions of dissemination interpret the work for its readers in exactly the same way as definitions of poetry, in that they flow from the support widely held – if unspoken – assumptions about the methods of distribution proper to a serious (or nonserious) work. The fact that an author makes his or her appearance in the context of a particular publishing practice rather than some other is a fact about the kind of claim he or she is making on an audience’s attention and is crucial to the success of the claim.
Jane Tompkins, ‘Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation’, Reception Study: From Literary Theory to Cultural Studies, ed. by James L. Machor and Philip Goldstein (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 133-154 (p. 143).