A Triple Whammy

I attended a conference recently and at least two topics made me wonder. One was on plagiarism and the other one on standards of language, formal vs. informal. The presentations were both well and good, interesting and nuanced. Both had discussion extended into the hows and whys, which made things interesting. I could have done my part better and comment, as I had something in mind both times, but the ten or so minutes reserved for feedback is never enough. That’s not, by the way, in criticism of the presentations or the presenters, nor really anyone specifically. It’s rather that my comments and questions tend to extend to a level that is well beyond what can be addressed in that time. So instead of derailing the discussion into all kinds of what ifs and hypotheticals, I opted focus on the topics elsewhere. I guess this is a suitable platform for it. This time I’ll focus on the discourse of plagiarism.

So, the first topic has to do with plagiarism, which is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED, s.v. “plagiarism”, n.) as:

“The action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft.”

And alternatively as (OED, s.v. “plagiarism”, n.):

“A particular idea, piece of writing, design, etc., which has been plagiarized; an act or product of plagiary.”

The key here, I’d argue, is ownership over something, considering whatever is considered to be owned by someone can be stolen. It is worth emphasizing that, at least to my knowledge, plagiarism is not (at least typically) a legal concept unlike copyright, which tends to cover these aspects without extending to ideas or facts, i.e. knowledge, as such, but rather how they are presented. So, it’s about the way something is presented, combined by what is actually presented. In other words, it’s about the form, not the content. I’m simplifying this here quite a bit, but if the content presented is not presented in a sufficiently original form, then it doesn’t qualify for protection. So, simply put, stating that something is something, without acknowledging that it’s according to someone is generally not a copyright infringement. One could describe the difference as having to do with resolution. In the first case, you have low resolution statement and in the second case you have high(er) resolution statement, offering the reader more information, which, the reader may find more useful than if not. Lack of attribution is a copyright matter, but only inasmuch as whatever is at stake is protected by copyright. If it is not the case, then too bad. In some cases certain ideas may be linked to certain inventions and thus be protected by patents, but even then, it is not knowledge itself that is protected, but rather something … more original. I didn’t invent copyrights nor patents, so I’m not to blame for this if you consider this an omission. It is not up to me to judge.

So, summarizing the previous paragraph, plagiarism is not a legal offense. As I cannot be sure about all jurisdictions nor will I spend time figuring it out, I cannot, of course, state that it is the case everywhere. Anyway, assuming it isn’t a legal offense, not even one between two private parties, then at best it’s a contractual matter, meaning that in certain contexts you are contractually obliged to uphold a certain standard in order to be in a certain contract with another party. Simply put, for example, you sign a contract which includes provisions as to what may or will happen in case you are found to be in a breach of contract. So you have a standard or a code of some sort, a by-law if you will, that you agree to follow. Not following may then have consequences. In an academic context that might mean that you are obliged to not plagiarize or else you may be punished accordingly, whatever that may entail. The way I interpret this, the problem here, if you think there is any, is not the contract itself. You are not forced to sign a contract if the terms are not agreeable. If you do, do. If you don’t, you don’t. It’s between the parties, inasmuch as it is not in contradiction with legislation. It’s that simple.

I think the problem has to do with the standard itself, what counts as plagiarism. This is something that I shortly discussed with a fellow doctoral student over coffee during the conference. While it may seem obvious what counts as plagiarism, at least I came up with all kinds of hypothetical situations where what seems obvious no longer is obvious. At the time I could not remember how it actually was, but I pointed out that I remember reading that Jacques Derrida once published three books at once. Apparently he did that in 1967 with the publishing of ‘L’écriture et la différence’, ‘La Voix et le Phénomène’ and ‘De la grammatologie’. I’m not going to bother with the publication dates of the English translations because that’d be beside the point. I can’t be exactly sure if it is the case that they were pushed out simultaneously or one after the other with gaps in between in 1967, but at least the legend has it that he did, and even if he didn’t, if I can hypothesize that he did, then it could have happened and could happen, meaning that it counts. Having read Derrida, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did go that way and that he insisted on it. I mean it sounds like something he’d do, if only to mess with others. Just think of him and the umbrella-gate. Now, as important as Derrida is, I’m not familiar enough with the contents of the three books, but imagining that he was plain lazy and just plagiarized himself in the three, we’d be faced with quite the conundrum. Who is plagiarizing who and when? How can Derrida steal from himself if we cannot look back to see if he did or did not? Which Derrida is Derrida? Derrida, Derrida or Derrida? Is Derrida plagiarizing Derrida or Derrida, or is it Derrida who is plagiarizing Derrida or Derrida, or Derrida who is plagiarizing Derrida or Derrida? All I know is that you gotta love Derrida, for allowing me to write Derrida for about, what, 17 times in five sentences, including this one, and making you read it. For the sake of it, I’ll add it one more time: Derrida. In your face Turnitin!

This gets even more interesting when one thinks of translations. For example, the three books by Derrida, all published in 1967, have appeared as translated from French to English. ‘Speech and Phenomena: And Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs’ (La Voix et le Phénomène) was published in 1973. ‘Of Grammatology’ (De la grammatologie) appeared in 1976. ‘Writing and Difference’ (L’écriture et la différence) came out in 1978. If we ignore the Derrida vs Derrida and Derrida argument as spurious, which I think it isn’t, but for the sake of argument it is now, we can turn to this instead. In summary, the three different publications all originally published in 1967 are now published as translations with some years in between. They are now, by no means, published simultaneously. Moreover, the person responsible, or at least attributed as such, is no longer one person, but multiple persons. So, if we choose to or have to ignore the self-plagiarizing (which I think we could, after all, it’s a rather silly concept, as if standing outside oneself) because it is not possible in simultaneity (well done Derrida), now it may appear not to be the case. Now the publications can be placed on a time line, to point out which publication precedes and takes precedence over another. Does Derrida now plagiarize Derrida or Derrida, albeit in the words of someone else saw fitting for Derrida? As Derrida cannot be held responsible for the translations (or can he?), it’s now the translators who are to blame for plagiarizing another translator. So, if Derrida, sorry, the translator or translators, in this case Spivak and/or Bass, translated Derrida’s works are too similar, if not identical, to that of Allison and Lawler’s translation or Spivak’s translation, then surely they should be held accountable for plagiarizing. The problem with that is, assuming the three books did come out simultaneously in 1967, that there is no saying that what Allison and Lawler translated should take precedence over the others, same for what Spivak translated for the third piece. That means that even if Spivak and/or Bass had been lazy enough and/or for some reason purposely plagiarized Allison and Lawler, or Bass just Spivak, we can’t know if they did or didn’t, if Derrida set them up to end up plagiarize one another. What if Derrida intentionally self-plagiarized or skirted around the issue, managing it just so that it’s near identical but doesn’t trigger any alarms while making it an outright impossibility for the translators to accomplish the same, considering especially that they can’t know which book does this on another book. In other words, Derrida avoids anything that would be deemed as self-plagiarizing in French but only so that the translators end up crossing that line unwittingly, so that the three translations end up plagiarizing one another. Who’s to blame for this? Derrida, Derrida or Derrida? Or the translators? But they are not the authors, Derrida is! Yes, you do give a nod to the translator, if it is made known to public, but Derrida is still the author, the one doing the plagiarizing, albeit anachronistically and not even by himself on himself. Alternatively, in order to avoid this happening in translation, each translator reads the other books and goes through the painstaking (and honestly unnecessary) effort not to plagiarize a preceding translation. The problem with that is that then Derrida is forcing the translators to risk inducing more difference into his works than the originally is, thus twisting the message. Following what Brian Massumi (16) has to say in ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, using words contained in the title of Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Difference and Repetition’, it’s only apt to characterize what happens when different linguistic repertoire is utilized:

“Translation is repetition with a difference.”

You just have to appreciate that statement. It indeed is. The point here, however, is not to state the obvious, but to point out that, hypothetically, Derrida is forcing the translators induce more similarity in his works than there is. As translation itself is repetition with difference, it will lead to some differences between the original and the translation. That’s hardly controversial to state. Now, reiterating what’s at stake here, what if Derrida managed to avoid plagiarizing himself, managing it, but just barely, in order to lead the translators to induce more similarity through difference, crossing the threshold of plagiarism? As a result Derrida has never plagiarized Derrida, yet as an author he has, albeit not in his words, but in someone else words. Who’s to blame for this? Who should be condemned to oblivion for such abhorrent conduct? Such a travesty should not go unpunished! Someone must be punished! Justice! Heads must roll! People must be branded!

I’ve mentioned it now a couple of times, but plagiarism has to do with authorship. Who or rather what is an author? Who should get the credit and for what? Using the example above, the quote, found in Massumi’s book. It contains only three lexical words: translation, repetition and difference. The structure is also very simple, intentionally so. It’s very effective and that’s why I paid attention to it in the text. I have a … let’s say decent understanding of Deleuze, as well as Félix Guattari, so it hits home with me. That said, the author of the text, Massumi is the translator of ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. We could attribute this as belonging to Deleuze and/or Deleuze and Guattari, as such a statement can be inferred from their works. I don’t think that’s an unfair assessment. Then again, I think Massumi brings in the insight of being the translator, so that part can be understood as his contribution in coming up with the thought. Also, let’s be clear about this, Massumi’s book is on the two, so, despite not namedropping in that context, it is clear where that idea might have originated. You have to be in bad faith to assume otherwise. Nevertheless, just by looking at it, the statement is almost as simple as it gets and should hit home regardless of whether you are familiar with Deleuze and Guattari or not. For the sake of argument, let’s assume there is no Deleuze, Guattari or anyone else who’d fill in for them in the absence. If I wrote that, would that idea be mine, to be quoted from here to eternity?

Contrasting this with copyright, assuming it would apply to ideas (which it doesn’t), it would set the standard quite low. While what it entails is rather crucial and enlightening (feel free to disagree though), it’s not something someone else could not have come up with. I for sure could have come up with that, having read Deleuze, including but not limited to ‘Difference and Repetition’. Just by having seen the title could lead to coming up with that and you could probably come up with that on your own without any awareness of the existence of Massumi, Deleuze, Guattari or anyone else who might have stated that. I don’t go claiming I came up with that because I didn’t, but if I did, I wouldn’t feel at all obliged to pay homage to Massumi for it. For me, what I took from that led me to think further, in connection to what I covered in an earlier essay, the question of whether languages are distinct entities or merely linguistic resources, repertoire. Therefore, in agreement with Sinfree Makoni and Alistair Pennycook in ‘Disinventing and Reconstituting Languages’, Massumi’s insight must be rephrased as:

“Paraphrasing is repetition with a difference.”

Now that I have stated that, anyone using that line ought to pay homage to me, Timo Savela, now and forever, or be found guilty of the serious infraction known as plagiarism and be branded forever for such vile, despicable, abhorrent and repulsive conduct. They must be marked for all eternity so that everyone can know that they dare to think alike, no matter whether it is unwittingly or not. No one shall be saved. Justice! Apropos, while to my knowledge it is not the case, not that I can confirm, but if someone has stated that before, in any language, sorry in language, mea culpa, bring out the branding iron as I should be punished. If you didn’t get it already, the irony is that paraphrasing (OED, s.v. “paraphrase”, v.) itself means or is understood as expressing something in different words, which according to the dictionary (OED, s.v. “paraphrasis”, n.) has its origins in ancient Greek, consisting of prefix ‘para-‘ and noun ‘phrase’. The prefix (OED, s.v. “para-”, prefix) is understood as something “’analogous or parallel to, but separate from or going beyond, what is denoted by the root word[.]’” In this case that root word is ‘phrase’ (OED, s.v. “phrase”, n.), which is understood as having to do with the manner or the style of expression, way of speaking, or the expression itself (albeit I guess that’s already in some style or manner). Browsing a dictionary we can safely say that I only came up with a tautology, paraphrasing paraphrasing. Worth a quote, eh?

Anyway, now that I’ve accomplished something, paving the road for having people branded and ostracized for expressing a tautology, which surely was always my ultimate goal in life anyway, it’s time to move on to the question of the author. It’s at the heart of this, so it’s worth having a closer look. The ever loyal dictionary tells us that author (OED, s.v. “author”, n.) stands for primarily for someone who writes, namely books, but also someone who, in general, creates, possesses something that leads to creation, or authorizes. What I find interesting is the sense of creation, which writing is a form, a crucial form at least in terms of knowledge, but also the sense of authority.

I’ve been meaning to cover this, in reference to ‘What Is an Author’, included in ‘Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology’. Foucault (205) opens up by addressing the notion of author:

“[It] constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences.”

Foucault isn’t saying much here, yet, or, well, unless you are familiar with his parlance he doesn’t. Moving on, quoting an indifferent Samuel Beckett, Foucault (205) wonders why it is important to be able to attribute something to someone. He (205) characterizes Beckett’s views as indifferent to “the fundamental ethical principles of contemporary writing” and (206) emphasizes it has little to do with the people themselves and how they speak and write. Instead, he (206) states that it has to do with expression, how writing is seen as expression, “creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears”, and how it escapes the limits of time, namely death. Importantly, he (207) summarizes that:

“As a result, the mark of the writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing.”

Indeed, the writer is no longer really there, standing outside the confines. Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ does not get mentioned here, but I take it is implied, considering that Foucault (207) adds that:

“None of this is recent; criticism and philosophy took note of the disappearance – or death – of the author some time ago.”

Some time ago, well, that seems about right, considering the essay by Barthes came out a year before Foucault’s lecture. We can’t know for sure, but I reckon so. This is yet another thing that has to do with plagiarism, so I’ll address before returning to what Foucault has to say on the author. So, right, here we have a case where it is likely, albeit not exactly sure, that an author is referring to another author, but not acknowledging it in any way. There is no trace of another author. Is Foucault a naughty boy, ripping off Barthes? Yes, you could say that. The death of the author tends to be attributed to Barthes so yes. I can’t argue with that, can I? Then again, this is a tricky example, one that ends up undercutting plagiarism. For the sake of argument, let’s assume this is a proper reviewed article or a book publication, chapter or the whole thing. Is it not well known that it was Barthes who stated that the author is dead? I would argue it is rather well known. The reader can be expected to know this, thus that’s on the reader, not the author. Similarly, in some other context, using the word deconstruction ought to make you think of Derrida, so there’s no need to attribute it to him because that’s on the reader to know it. Feel free to disagree, but the problem is, at least the way I see it, that it will lead each and every sentence having to be attributed to an author. If you ask me, that is sort of the case already and it tends to detract from the text itself, so that everything is backed up by someone, backed up by someone, backed up by someone in this at least seemingly infinite deferral of ideas. While I see the value in it, otherwise we’re just saying all kinds of things, pulling them out of our asses, it becomes a question of who can say and what, and who defines what can be said to begin with. I’m essentially a nobody in the eyes of others, some vulgar PhD candidate, I guess, so when I assert something, it is judged as lacking validation or justification. It simply isn’t valid, regardless of whether it is or isn’t. A nobody ought to have nothing to say, of one’s own that is. As I pointed out, on one hand I understand why that is, yet on the other hand, at the same time, I realize that it ends up me contributing next to nothing, recycling and rehashing what someone else has asserted, probably on the basis of what someone else has asserted and so on. I do see the merit in that, yes, but the way I see it, it results in authors using other authors as the authority to assert what you wish to assert rather than what they asserted in the first place, assuming they actually asserted something of their own, rather than working on what someone else asserted in support of their assertion. The problem is exacerbated by the common practice of paraphrasing. That may seem like a silly thing to assert, but if we go back a bit, I just pointed out that paraphrasing is repetition with difference. I don’t think there is anything inherently sinister about it, paraphrasing that is, but it makes room for the author to create something while making use of the authority of the other author, which in my case would likely be a somebody rather than a nobody like me. In fact, you could say that the emphasis on paraphrasing, as opposed to addressing the text as it is as a quote and reflecting upon it, supports this. In other words, paraphrasing leads to difference because it is what it is. So, it is even inevitable. It is supposed to do that. It leads to absurd situations where what has been previously said has to be reformulated into something else only not to be found plagiarizing another author, spending time that could be used on what matters, the content, and not on form, which, I think, matters only inasmuch as it doesn’t change the content. There’s quite nothing like sitting in front of a computer, staring at a well formulated sentence that hits home with you, trying to incorporate the idea of it, and doing it for a long period of time, not because you fail to understand the idea, but because expressing the idea in other words is, more or less, impossible. Okay, fair enough, quoting is allowed. Then again, when you work on a lot of gold, so well put, it suddenly isn’t a feasible approach anymore. Plus it detracts from the reading experience, far more than long sentences. Another issue is that the requirement to make use of other authors by paraphrasing them is that it allows the author to be detached from them while making use of them. When what is asserted is not considered as yours, criticism towards these statements can be deflected to the other authors, the ones you are making use of. In other words, the author can rephrase what others have stated in ways that are subtly different from the original, as necessitated, and generally in line with the original, yet different enough to assert something else in the guise of the original. The key here is subtlety. A capable writer can induce a subtle difference, on one hand granting the statement the authority of the original and on the other hand shielding it from criticism. And here I was, thinking that science existed for science. That content mattered above all. How foolish of me.

Now where was I before that detour. Oh, yes, examining what Foucault has to say on author. So, the question was whether Foucault was plagiarizing Barthes. The answer was yes, but only if certain conditions are met. What I didn’t discuss earlier on was that the text in question is a transcript of a lecture, published posthumously. It is arguable that in the lecture context no plagiarism occurs. Sure he could have mentioned Barthes, but taking the date of the lecture into account, it may well be that it is taken as common knowledge that he is talking of Barthes. Maybe a previous lecture was on Barthes. Those attending the lecture surely knew of Barthes and his work. It’s in bad faith to assume otherwise. It may also be that the transcript itself is off. Maybe it was said, but for reasons unknown didn’t end up on the transcript. Maybe Foucault is not to blame. In addition, to my knowledge, Foucault did not order his lecture transcripts be published on his behalf posthumously. Taking it all into consideration, it’s in bad faith to claim that he committed an act of plagiarism while it is evident in the text that the idea of the death of author is not attributed to Barthes.

Now that Foucault has been saved from a hypothetical academic lynch mob, it’s time to let the man speak more. He (207) starts linking the author to works rather than an individual, for example the writer. He (207) notes that the key here is what counts as a work. He (207) wonders whether it’s everything or just something and if something, what criteria are applied to judge that. I assume that in this case he (207) is exemplifying this in reference to Marquis de Sade:

“When Sade was not considered an author, what was the status of his papers? Simply rolls of paper onto which he ceaselessly uncoiled his fantasies during his imprisonment.”

This is something I’ve wondered as well and I was happy to notice that Foucault had once pondered the same, because, you know, my thoughts count as about much as those rolls of paper with some writing on them like in the case Sade way back then. Foucault (207) states that once one crosses that required threshold then oddly enough anything goes, exemplifying it with the interest in Nietzsche’s works, gradually shifting from publications to drafts, sketches and notes until one starts to wonder if mundane texts such as laundry lists count and if not, why not? In ‘Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles / Éperons: Les Styles de Nietzsche’, Derrida (122/123) pokes fun at people who take it as far as possible by pointing out the absurdity of the fuss over a bit of text found isolated in some Nietzsche’s unpublished manuscript:

“I have forgotten my umbrella”

Derrida (122/123) points out that there is no way of knowing what Nietzsche meant by it. Maybe he meant something by it, maybe not, and even if he did mean something by it, it’s a bit silly, to say the least, to dedicate yourself to uncovering what he meant by it. There’s also the minor inconvenience of not even knowing for sure whether it was Nietzsche who wrote it, as pointed out by Derrida (122/123). Even if Nietzsche put his name on it, we still can’t know if he wrote that himself or not, as also noted by Derrida (122/123-124/125). What I take from this is not that what is written is irrelevant, but obsessing over it might just be. If Nietzsche had been a nobody, nobody, except perhaps some close relatives, would have been interested in what he wrote on some scroll found in some drawer after his death. It’s only interesting because Nietzsche the author wrote that, well, assuming he did write that, but that’s not the point. What matters is that it is attributed to an author known as Nietzsche, you know, just because.

Foucault (208-209) characterizes the absence of writer as absent in writing and replaced by a transcendentally anonymous author. For him (208) the work survives the death of the author, but it was never really the actual writer that mattered anyway, but rather how it is interpreted, religiously. This part reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari (116) who in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ make note of the interpreting priests who never quite get it but it hardly prevents them from trying, perhaps because otherwise they’d have to find something else to do and who in their right mind would want that? I guess there’s nothing quite like claiming the right to a correct and authorized interpretation, one that you actually never quite reach, especially when whatever you claim to be interpreting for others is your own invention. Convenient.

Foucault (209-210) turns to something that was already sort of mentioned in passing, what gets associated to the author‘s name. For example, as already mentioned, bringing up Barthes in this essay conjures ‘The Death of the Author’, but also, among other things, ‘Mythologies’, and the other way around. The way I understand this is that Foucault (209-210) wants to emphasize that once authorized, a name is no longer a name among other names. Instead, as he (209-210) points out, it works as link between the author and the works, grouping them together. He (211) characterizes what results from this:

“[I]t is a speech that must be received in a certain mode and that, in a given culture, must receive a certain status.”

It was already established that not everyone counts as an author. Some of us just have writing on scrolls, which counts for … all, well, at least until it for some reason does. It is what Foucault (211) calls the author function, as exemplified by him:

“A private letter may well have a signer – it does not have an author; a contract may well have a guarantor – it does not have an author. An anonymous text posted on a wall probably has an editor – but not an author.”

If you are a nobody, then, well, too bad, you don’t count, regardless of what you have in mind. In my case I have one article under my belt, so technically I count, but that’s a relatively new development and in the grand scheme of things, as I’ve pointed out, I’m still a nobody.

Putting things into perspective, as he is known for doing, Foucault (211-212) points out that the author function did not always exist and only emerged, among many other things, once property rights were put in place in late 18th to early 19th century. He (213) indicates that prior to this development no one fussed over attribution and anonymity was not an actual cause of concern. He (213) notes that beginning in the Middle Ages texts considered as scientific, by the standards of those times that is, were deemed as true if they had a named author. He (212-213) notes that sometime in the 17th or 18th century this changed, which meant that the name of the author, or just author as it has been established the author is a name, became associated not with truth itself but something related to it, “a theorem, proposition, particular effect, property, body, group of elements, or pathological syndrome.” Around the same time, he (213) adds, the requirement of having an author was extended to works of fiction, which meant that at around that time anonymity of the origin of something was no longer tolerated.

Highly relevant to this essay, Foucault (215-216) addresses the author in sciences, using mathematics as an example. I’m not exactly sure if he is correct or not, and it might be just the date of the lecture, 1969, but the discussion of ‘I ‘as the self in scientific discourse seems out of touch. Then again, I’m not in mathematics and it may well be the case, or might have been the case at the time of the lecture. He (216) does also acknowledge that this could well change in the future. I think that while the use of ‘I’ is correct, inasmuch as it is used in certain positions and functions, as noted by Foucault (216), scientific discourse is more marked by the lack of it, operating at a distance, not really asserting anything except in the guise of another detached author, possibly providing the much needed authority from one author to another, as already discussed in this essay. I would thus characterize scientific discourse as clean, clinical and sanitized, rendered acceptable with anything remotely undesirable and improper removed from it. In my experience the use of the first person pronoun is deemed by and large as unacceptable, for whatever reason. Anyway, I think Foucault (216, 221) is spot on when he states that the ‘I’ does not refer to an actual real individual, but rather an authorial position at best, occupying a certain position in discourse.

Foucault (217) makes note of another highly relevant point for this essay by stating that the author may exceed its own works. By that he (217-218) means that the author enables others, creating discursivity that makes it possible for other authors to build on the author’s work, which in turn enables them to affirm it or diverge from it. More importantly, however, Foucault (219) emphasizes that what it enables may end up transforming the original:

“[R]eexamining Freud’s texts modifies psychoanalysis itself, just as a reexamination of Marx’s would modify Marxism.”

So, simply put, original discourse, say what Marx had to say about this and that, not only enables other authors to do the same, as well as in contradiction to it, but also to modify the original or underlying discourse. Therefore one can argue that Marxism as it is today, assuming that it is a monolith, is not the same as it was when it was initiated by Marx.

What is Foucault’s stance to the author then, beyond the examination of its role that is? Perhaps it’s the lecture nature of the text, but, oddly enough, he (221) states that:

“The author allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world where one is thrifty not only with one’s resources and riches but also with one’s discourses and their significations. The author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.”

What I mean by oddly enough is that to my knowledge Foucault rarely takes much of a position. Anyway, as discussed already, summarizing some earlier remarks, the author is not merely someone who can write something on to something. It’s rather that the writer is elevated to the status of an author, only to be immediately severed from it while rendering everything that can be associated to the name the works of the author, even posthumously. The author is DOA and never had a chance, elevated to living a life on another plane for all eternity, while the priests gather around to interpret the author indefinitely. It is worth emphasizing that in this light, contrary to popular belief, the author is not a source of all things new, but rather the opposite. I’ll let Foucault (221-222) explain:

“In fact, if we are accustomed to presenting the author as a genius, as a perpetual surging of invention, it is because, in reality, we make him function inexactly the opposite fashion. … The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.”

Indeed. Indeed. I couldn’t agree more. The author tends to be understood as a creator, typically as a writer, and having the necessary qualities, that authority that fuels the creation, as indicated in dictionary definitions. The authors are seen as those great among us who can do that. Rephrasing the earlier, Foucault (221) characterizes the true nature of the author:

“[The author] is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction.”

While this essay focuses mainly on the scientific or scholarly discourse, namely plagiarism, I believe this still applies. I pointed out earlier on already that I understand why there are limitations to what can be asserted. That hasn’t changed in the course of this essay. That said, the fear of plagiarism, clearly linked to the author, is a principle of exclusion and limitation, masquerading as serving invention, truth and justice, to name a few. It may seem that it serves a purpose, a greater good, but it is a mere assumption and it can be, and arguably is, used for the exact opposite purposes.

As I pointed out, I recognize that one may agree to a contract in which there may be repercussions for breach of contract, pending there aren’t any contradictions with the legislation, fair enough, but then by all logic the terms and conditions should be explained in detail in the contract, otherwise one risks signing a contract that may induce arbitrary liability. It’s only against your own interests to agree to such, at least not without negotiation. If it hits you, you have only yourself to blame then. I have no beef with this inasmuch as people are not tricked into signing contracts that are not in their best interest.

I think it’s now time to look at how things are with my university, the University of Turku. I still have the application form that I filled when I applied for the position of a doctoral candidate, so I’ll start from that. There is no mention of anything relevant in the segment pertaining to rights and obligations, so it’s not contractual or at least not laid out in the contract itself. The university website contains ‘Ethical Guidelines for Learning’ (Dnro 718/001/2013), in which it is stated that:

“In compliance with the strategy of our University, both in research and in other operations, the personnel and the students follow the principles of high professional ethics and good scientific practice.”

It is lifted from the University Strategy (2013-2016). There are minor differences, but nothing worth mentioning. Anyway I find this lacking. No definition is included as to what ‘high’ and ‘good’ means in this context. This is just vague and doesn’t actually tell anyone anything. I assume this is something that all universities must include in their strategies and missions statements, so I’ll give them a pass on this one. It’s not like they could replace those words with anything that would reflect badly upon the university. I like how in the strategy they emphasize the importance of being critical:

Criticality is the foundation for scientific culture. It means aiming at the truth through questioning certainties and high-quality research. Genuine criticality leads to high quality and reliability.”

As I’m, for sure, questioning certainties, often even truth itself in this blog, at least I’m not failing in this regard. Otherwise I’m not so sure. Not that I don’t try, but still. Anyway, back to the topic, next stop indicated the guidelines is the ‘Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity’ and its ‘Responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland’ of 2012. It is stated in the introduction (28) that:

“The objective is to promote the responsible conduct of research.”

As well as (28-29):

“[T]he term research ethics … is usually referred to as research integrity, a term that emphasises the honesty and integrity that all researchers are required to adopt in their research activities.”

The introduction does little to explain what is meant by ‘responsible’, ‘integrity’ and ‘honesty’. Then again, fair enough, it’s just the intro. Moving to the premises then listed under ‘The responsible conduct of research’. Relevant to plagiarism, it is indicated (30) that:

“The researcher takes due account of the work and achievements of other researchers by respecting their work, citing their publications appropriately, and by giving their achievements the credit and weight they deserve in carrying out the researcher’s own research and publishing its results.”

This is much better already as it is more specific, yet no standard is set. Moving on to ‘Violations against the responsible conduct of research’. It is stated (32) that:

“[M]isconduct refers to misappropriating other researchers’ work and to representating other researchers’ work as one’s own.”

Good, good, getting there. Misconduct is further elaborated (32-33) under four headings, including plagiarism and misappropriation. Plagiarism is defined (33) as unacknowledged borrowing:

“[It] refers to representing another person’s material as one’s own without appropriate references. This includes research plans, manuscripts, articles, other texts or parts of them, visual materials, or translations. Plagiarism includes direct copying as well as adapted copying.”

Misappropriation is defined (33) as:

“[T]he unlawful presentation of another person’s result, idea, plan, observation or data as one’s own research.”

Before delving into these definitions, the ‘unlawful’ part ought to be clarified. In the Finnish version of the text it is indicated (9) that it is to be understood as ‘unrightful’ rather than ‘unlawful’. It doesn’t have to do with Finnish legislation, so it can’t be ‘unlawful’. These definition are specific with emphasis on the attribution, but yet again no standard is set. So, if I were to state “Translation is repetition with a difference”, without referring to Massumi (16), I would not only be plagiarizing but also misappropriating his idea? Okay, I reckon it’s a maybe, maybe not case, but that’s exactly the point. This is exactly why ideas and factual content do not typically enjoy copyright protection. What is the use of guidelines if no standard is set? Classified as ‘disregard for the responsible conduct of research’, it is stated (9) that self-plagiarism is “redundant publication[.]” There is a peculiar emphasis on results on this one, but perhaps it’s just an omission, not referring to other rehashing. Anyway, ignoring that omission, following Foucault’s understanding of author, as explained in this essay, the hypothetical, yet plausible case of Derrida vs. Derrida vs. Derrida, as also explained in this essay, would result in self-plagiarism, characterized (9) broadly as behavior of disregard, “gross negligence and carelessness[.]” If the examples seem spurious, then there’s also the case of Foucault not referencing Barthes, which, based on these definitions (9), seems like plagiarism and misappropriation. In another case, in an interview titled ‘Prison Talk’, dated to 1975, Foucault (52-53) actually states that he often makes use of “concepts, texts and phrases from Marx, but without feeling obliged to add the authenticating label” and “I quote Marx without saying so[.]” This can be found in ‘Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977’. As I pointed out already in this essay, as with Barthes, Foucault (52-53) assumes the ideas of Marx, which he knowingly (mis)appropriates, are common knowledge and that his readers ought to be aware of this.

Moving on, the university guidelines mention that it conforms to the Universities Act (558/2009). “High international standard[s]” and “research integrity” are both mentioned in the act as having to do with the mission of the universities. This is hardly specific, but legislation rarely is, so that’s unsurprising. The guidelines contain little more of interest in this regard, so I’ll turn to another set of university guidelines titled ‘Guidelines for Misconduct and Fraud at the UTU’. It is stated that for doctoral studies ‘The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity’ guidelines are applicable. If I understood correctly, that applies to research, but the university guidelines apply for studies. Not exactly that interesting, but I’ll have a look anyway, in case there is something worth reflecting on. In general I give them a thumbs up for being to the point and specific.

The definition provided by the university (under section 3.2) for plagiarism offers little to the discussion here, but the definition provided on self-plagiarism or autoplagiarism is worth examining:

“Autoplagiarism means reusing author’s own previous research and referring to it as new. The act becomes fraudulent when the citation is vast and the earlier source has been deliberately left out. Concerning own previous research, original sources need to be cited similarly as when referring to others’ work.”

If it was up to me, I would replace the self-plagiarism part in the ‘The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity’ guidelines with this. Anyway, this definition fails to take into account the possibility of simultaneous publications, as in the case of Derrida.

I think I’ve covered the discourse of plagiarism enough for one essay. It’s time to wrap things up. During the conference I pointed out to a fellow doctoral candidate that condensing what I felt would be needed on the discourse of plagiarism is a genealogy of it, which, in fact, is not my idea at all, but of Foucault’s, who, in fact got it from Nietzsche, as mentioned by Foucault (53) in the 1975 interview. That’s a bit of (mis)appropriation of ideas in one sentence. Of course, I assumed that my interlocutor is well aware of this. Foucault’s lecture turned to a text, ‘ What Is an Author’ offers something along the lines of that, but not exactly. I knew of it, having read it some time ago, but I didn’t feel like dedicating an essay on it, but then this came up. This is far from a genealogy, but at least it’s something. I hope someone would do that properly. I reckon this essay won’t make me any friends. What’s for sure is that it upsets the priests and no I don’t mean actual clergymen, but the people who are in positions of power relevant to this topic. That’s another point I agreed on with the fellow doctoral candidate. You might be wondering why I don’t refer to the fellow doctoral candidate by name. Well, I don’t think it will do them any good. I’m fine if the nameless and faceless interpreters of right and wrong target me and point me to the desert, but I see no reason why it should affect anyone else. I don’t do that with anyone else for that matter either, unless they explicitly want to be named. If I understood correctly, my university wants me to be critical, so I don’t shy from tough topics, even if it is not necessarily in my own best immediate interest. That’s actually something I might want to cover in the future, fearless speech or parrhesia, as examined by Foucault in the posthumous 2001 publication titled ‘Fearless Speech’. Much of writing this has been a pleasure (is that unwittingly in reference to Foucault?), a romp if you will, and the examples are intentionally hyperbolic, taken to the extreme. It’s worth emphasizing that I’m not claiming that any author mentioned in this essay has ever plagiarized anyone and to my knowledge none of them have been found guilty of such. I’ve been disciplined (another unwitting Foucault reference?) to honor the rights of others and I think it is reflected in my writing, here and elsewhere. Of course I typo this and that at times, but that happens to everyone. And sure, there’s always some wiggle room when it comes to interpretation. That can’t be elimiated, no matter how hard we try, as not only the world changes, but so does language, so that our interpretations change as time passes, even when the originals do not change. Subsequent works, or, rather, their influence, change how we view other, previous works, as mentioned by Foucault. I can’t be sure if my thought are infested by the specter of Marx though. All I know is that Deleuze and Guattari haunt me every now and then, if you didn’t notice it.


  • Barthes, R. ([1957] 1972). Mythologies (A. Lavers, Trans.). New York, NY: The Noonday Press.
  • Barthes, R. ([1967] 1977). The Death of the Author. In R. Barthes, Image Music Text (S. Heath, Trans.) (pp. 142–148). London, United Kingdom: Fontana Press.
  • Deleuze, G. ([1968] 1994). Difference and Repetition (P. Patton, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Derrida, J. (1967). L’écriture et la différence. Paris, France: Éditions du Seuil.
  • Derrida, J. (1967). La Voix et le Phénomène. Paris, France: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Derrida, J. (1967). De la grammatologie. Paris, France: Les Éditions de Minuit.
  • Derrida, J. ([1967] 1973). Speech and Phenomena: And Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs (D. B. Allison and L. Lawlor, Trans.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  • Derrida, J. ([1967] 1976). Of Grammatology (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press.
  • Derrida, J. ([1967] 1978). Writing and Difference (A. Bass, Trans.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Derrida, J. ([1978] 1979). Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles / Éperons: Les Styles de Nietzsche (B. Harlow, Trans.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (2012). Responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland. Helsinki, Finland.
  • Foucault, M. ([1975/1977] 1980). Prison Talk. In M. Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972–1977 (C. Gordon, Ed., C. Gordon, L. Marshall, J. Mepham, and K. Soper, Trans.) (pp. 3854). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  • Foucault ([1969/1970/1994] 1998). What Is an Author? (J. Harari, Trans.). In M. Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (J. D. Faubion, R. Hurley, Trans.) (pp. 205–222). New York, NY: The New Press.
  • Foucault, M. (2001). Fearless Speech (J. Pearson, Ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).
  • Makoni. S., and Pennycook A. (Eds.) (2007). Disinventing and Reconstituting Languages. Clevedon, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.
  • Massumi, B. (1992). A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online (n. d.). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
  • University of Turku (2012). Guidelines for Misconduct and Fraud at UTU.
  • University of Turku (2012). Strategy 2013 – 2016. Turku, Finland.
  • University of Turku (Dnro 718/001/2013). Ethical Guidelines for Learning. Turku, Finland.

References (legislation / preparatory documents / reports)

Yliopistolaki (Universities Act) (558/2009).