away from the cult of the individual genius

Scribbling woman put the Eliot quote I found last week into context – to wit, she’s actually read the whole essay, and knows her stuff. Reading her comments, I find myself wondering (again? like others? un-originally) whether we’re moving back into a culture that doesn’t adhere to the cult of originality and individual genius. These things appeared (largely) with Romanticism, although practical concerns of originality and copyright came earlier, with the printing press and publishing. Before that, did anyone really care? Shakespeare’s plays were hardly original – he just retold those old stories so damn well.

If we’re on our way to no longer valuing or caring about or even believing in originality, then the increases in plagiarism and the unbridled downloading of music and the remixes we see everywhere are symptoms of this cultural shift, or better, they’re what we’re moving towards.

How long, then, can the rules we’ve set in place based on the Romantic cult of the individual genius last? Copyright law is now one of the biggest industries in the world, somebody said (this is hearsay, I know, but an interesting idea) and universities still outlaws students who plagiarise, if they’re caught.

25. October 2006 by Jill
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