Charlie Lowe and some members of GVSU’s Writing Department wote a position statement on plagiarism detection software which they posted to Charlie’s blog. This post caught the attention of, and Charlie asked them to post their response to, where an evolving discussion is taking place. Lanette Cadle and Rebecca Moore Howard offer some great commentary. See also Rebecca’s summary of Kathryn Valentine’s “Plagiarism as Literacy Practice: Recognizing and Rethinking Ethical Binaries.” Good stuff here and a useful link to the WPA’s best practices statement on Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism, which I’ve either missed for forgotten about. And all of this connects to Jeff Rice’s most recent post on “The Practice of Re-Reading.” Juxtopoase this passage from Rebecca’s summary:

Plagiarism is represented as an avoidance of work (95), and that, too, warrants punishment (95-96). Valentine sees this calculus as the cause of instructors’ sense of outrage when they encounter plagiarism, and she interprets patchwriting as a form of labor (96). “Students’ opportunities to practice citation and the performance of honesty are closed down when their improper citation is read as a sign of dishonesty, rather than as a sign of an authentic beginner engaged in the work of acquiring a new discourse” (97).

with this from Jeff’s post:

A few weeks ago, Paul had a nice post about reading, mostly written as advice to students. The ability to internalize and to work with internalized readings is a difficult one, and it is one that comes with time and experience. At some point, you feel the database inside you, you mentally assemble positions, you see connections and patterns without consulting texts, you put together conversations based on your own private database.

What I’ve cut from Jeff’s paragraph is the pleasure of discovering what one’s forgotten through re-reading, but I’m interested here in his discussion of the internalization of texts.

In medieval memory theory we find at least three different types of textual memory: iterata scientia, which is rote repetition; reminiscentia, which involves active gathering, combining, and, most importantly, understanding — it’s often described as an act of reasoning; and ruminatio, which is the practice of reading and rereading for memorization and meditation. Augustine emphasizes the difference between the three in De catechizandis rudibus. A preacher, he argues, must engage in reminiscentia when preaching, that verbatium memorization of the Bible is not enough. A preacher, he argues, must be able to pull from scripture that which is important and summarize it. One can’t do that unless they understand the text, unless they have internalized it and made it their own to such an extent that they can represent it in their own way even if that representation involves verbatium recetation of some or all of the text. (In the context of proverbs and other forms of gnomic wisdom, Shippey calls this proverbiousness — it’s not just knowing the proverbs but understanding when and how to use them in contexts that will be accepted by the community.)

And herein lies a problem with our modern notions of plagiarism. Proper use of a source involves at least an act of reminiscentia if not ruminatio. One has to understand that source in a way that makes it one’s own, even if the source isn’t internalized. That source is gathered, combined with other ideas and sources, and refashioned as new text. (Conversely, we see acts of iterata scientia when one uses a source without understanding its meaning or its larger context.) We ask students to simultaneously make an idea their own and to cite it as someone else’s idea. Sure, that’s just good scholarly practice. But what we need to recognize, what Valentine is asking us to recognize, is the cognitively dissonant activities we’re asking our students to engage in. It takes time to learn how to do this. It takes practice. And practice, we need to remember, involves failure.

This is all clearly connected to memoria, which is, I think, part of the reason there’s so much flailing around and anxiety tied up with our notions of plagiarism and proper use of sources: without a canon of memory we lack an important perspective from which to understand this issue. Memory won’t solve this issue, but it will help us better understand it and develop a practice for engaging it.