I have a friend who is deeply musical, and his thought is that musicians “discover” music. Chances are the words, notes, chords, rhythms have been appropriated before. The chances of something truly original are slim. So, a good musician will approach the artistry and the craft with humility, with a desire to learn, knowing that the music is, ultimately, a gift of time and the ages.
Similarly, I’d like to think that thought and writing are much the same thing.
I’ve seen charges of plagiarism being brought recently, and rightly so. There are people who brazenly appropriate other peoples’ thoughts and writing without so much as a passing credit, let alone a formal citation.
That is not good behavior.
I know that 99.99 percent of what I put up in this blog is not my own. I’d like to think that I contribute one one-hundredth, but probably not. And, if I were truly honest, my thoughts would be peppered with footnotes, citing people who have passed their wisdom along to me.
I know that the chances of some “new” thought or writing being truly original are slim. And, what someone is offering as new thought may be new to that person. What I need to do is remind that person that it has been said and written before and supply the citation. A (hopefully) humble approach to thought and writing has to be passed along.
But, as critics, when we figure out that other people are willfully copying without crediting, we need to be forceful in pointing it out. We need to give credit to thinkers and writers who have thought it and said it before, folks who know that their thoughts and writings are not particularly original and will have acknowledged that as well.
Lord knows, we have the communicative technology to assist.
The descriptors “new” and “discovery” belong on the leading edge of science, and, even there, discoveries are built on the foundation of the work and thought of predecessors.
It’s humbling, in my way of thinking, but it’s also a high calling, to preserve music, thought, writing and all expressions of human existence. It’s hard work to acknowledge what has come before, but it’s the most solid approach upon which to build a civilization. It’s the solid center, not the outliers, that will preserve.
One of the visuals that have helped cue up these thoughts is a chart that was posted by an instructor at our local college. Click here for the link, and let me know if I didn’t cite this properly.