1. After reading Scott McLemee's article at Inside Higher Ed, I scooted off to Famous Plagiarists--and felt vaguely dissatisfied. The vague dissatisfaction arose from the "Literature" section, which features such luminaries as S. T. Coleridge, T. S. Eliot, and William Shakespeare. Oscar Wilde is nowhere to be seen, although the book version of The Picture of Dorian Gray includes a chapter distilled from J.-K. Huysmans' A Rebours (and, as Jerusha McCormack has pointed out more generally, "[i]t is hard to say anything original about The Picture of Dorian Gray, largely because there is so little that is original in it" ). And Shakespeare's "threat level" seems a bit low, given that King Lear appears to owe rather a lot to an earlier play.
But such quibbles aren't the source of the dissatisfaction in question. In his "War on Plagiarism," Prof. Lesko neglects to get at the literary-historical problem: what, exactly, are we to do with a long-dead major author after we find him or her guilty on all counts? Should we respond to such authors in the same way that we respond to a novelist caught in the act now? (Or, as Scott asks of Coleridge, "And the more you love his poetry, the harder it is to know what to think of his kleptomania. Should you be indignant? Or just perplexed?") When I teach Dorian Gray, for example, I always point out that Ch. XI is plagiarized. Now, strictly speaking, an au courant contemporary probably would have recognized the "poisoned book" and, by extension, Ch. XI's debt to it; after all, Huysmans was a key Decadent. Moreover, as other critics of the novel have noted, there's something oddly appropriate about the chapter's derivative nature, given how derivative Dorian is himself. Still, we're stuck with the original question. Should I derail the classroom discussion for a lecture on the evils of plagiarism? Issue a blanket amnesty? Toss the novel into Reading Gaol? What?
Given that literary history consists of authors reading, rewriting, alluding to, parodying, and saluting each other, it's impossible to yank a brick out of the wall without reducing the whole edifice to a shambles. One cannot ignore Shakespeare because he borrowed extensively from someone else's King Leir, any more than we can eject Coleridge from the Romantic canon because he had a cribbing habit to accompany his opium habit. It's much easier to dimiss a pleasant third-rater like Rhoda Broughton, who in one novel absconds with a passage from The Mill on the Floss without so much as a "please, George." After all, Broughton has had no real influence on subsequent novelists. And there's the problem, isn't it? Once a work turns out to be powerful enough to generate imitation, response, parody, critique, and so forth, its own borrowings frequently become, in practice, a purely academic question. If the writer isn't caught and halted at the time (like Brad Vice), then his or her work may either go the way of all published literature or become so culturally significant that plagiarism becomes, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Once the work has successfully gone forth and multiplied after escaping into the wild, as it were, it's perhaps a little late (not to mention futile) to denounce the author at every turn; what are we to supposed to do, dig up Coleridge's bones and burn them? (Even Norman Fruman, famed chronicler of Coleridge's plagiaristic misdeeds, enthusiastically dubs Coleridge a "great artist" .) Like it or not, the plagiarism issue is just not very helpful when it comes to assessing Coleridge's, Shakespeare's, or Wilde's historical significance. It's similarly useless when talking about low-end novelists: I can point out that both Anna Eliza Bray and Emily Sarah Holt steal from John Foxe, but once I've branded "plagiarist" on their respective foreheads, I'll still be left with the problem of what they've chosen to steal and how it affects the texts in question. That's not Lesko's evil goblin, French poststructuralism, speaking--that's old-fashioned, standard-issue literary history and interpretation. (The LP, after all, is neither Foucauldian nor Barthesian, let alone--despite her B.A.--Derridean.) Lesko urges us to be "frank in our critical assessment," but this call to frankness seems to evade the historical and critical issues at issue here, not confront them.
2. On a slightly different note, I was discussing plagiarism with the head of our committee on academic integrity. In our conversation, I pointed out that we often expect students to regurgitate information on exams (most frequently, in short identifications), whereas we just as often expect them to think original thoughts in their papers. This, it seems to me, is an unspoken contradiction in our pedagogical practice: do we make it clear why we reward students who plagiarize our lectures in an exam (that is, after all, what they're doing), but punish them for doing the same thing in a term paper? We punish several types of cheating on exams--stealing a test, copying another student's work, bringing cheat sheets--but repeating points made in lecture rarely makes it onto the radar. (This page, for example, includes several hints on deterring students from cheating during an exam, but doesn't include "appropriating the instructor's ideas" on its list of potential sins. After all, we often want the students to appropriate our ideas.) I usually make a point of warning students that I know what I think, thank-you-very-much, but even so, regurgitation isn't grounds for failure. There are ways of getting around this problem--for example, I assign a few more poems than I will actually discuss in class, precisely because I want students to approach them "unspoiled" during an exam--but it's still there, nevertheless. Have other people discussed or dealt with this issue? Or am I just inventing a problem? (After all, I'm an academic; we do that sort of thing.)
 Jerusha McCormack, "Wilde's Fiction(s)," The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde, ed. Peter Raby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 110.
 Norman Fruman, Coleridge: The Damaged Archangel (New York: George Braziller, 1971), 263.