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‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Political Economy of Plagiarism’ (Goldsmiths University, London)
March 3, 2016 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Goldsmiths Literature Seminar: Guest Speaker
Seminar Room A, Warmington Tower, 3 Mar 2016 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Since Meredith McGill’s American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting (2003), much work on nineteenth-century American literature has emphasized the philosophical logic and cultural practices of literary dependence. Amongst numerous studies of derivative and plagiaristic writing, literary impersonation, and various forms of copyright infringement in the period, one presumption remains strong—that Ralph Waldo Emerson was the dominant advocate and spokesperson for an ideology of originality and autogenesis which such studies contend was not reflected by the facts on the ground.
This paper demonstrates on the contrary that not only was Emerson a uniquely cultured plagiarist, but that he was also an acute theorist of how both culture and capitalism depend on the persistence of undisclosed plagiarism for their development. In an era of intense literary nationalism, any ethical quandaries associated with plagiarism’s exploitative logic became significantly more complicated, and this paper will reveal the complex contrivances Emerson employed in Essays: Second Series (1844) to accommodate the necessity of culture’s cannibalistic practices.