It seems an appropriate response to a new condition in writing: With an unprecedented amount of available text, our problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists. How I make my way through this thicket of information—how I manage it, parse it, organize and distribute it—is what distinguishes my writing from yours.
The prominent literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term “unoriginal genius” to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of the genius—a romantic, isolated figure—is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined another term, “moving information,” to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.
Also of importance is the paragraph on “patchwriting,” or plagiarism most students do all the time:
His essay is an example of “patchwriting,” a way of weaving together various shards of other people’s words into a tonally cohesive whole. It’s a trick that students use all the time, rephrasing, say, a Wikipedia entry into their own words. And if they’re caught, it’s trouble: In academia, patchwriting is considered an offense equal to that of plagiarism. If Lethem had submitted this as a senior thesis or dissertation chapter, he’d be shown the door.
It’s not amazing that kind of thing happens, but rather the extent to which most students seem totally unaware that their work is plagiarism. I’m sure some of them are claiming stupidity when they in fact realize it’s plagiarism, but many seem to truly believe the work may not be the best they’ve ever written, but it’s assuredly not plagiarism.