Steal this Hypertext

Appropriation, despite the title of this lexia, should not be equated with theft; rather, it is the act of reading or listening to text or words followed by a critical evaluation of those words: through critical evaluation, an individual can come to understand the words and ideas of an "other" relative to his or her own particular situation. Once this understanding occurs, the individual can use those words and ideas to formulate new ideas which are conditioned by the appropriated voices. It is through such appropriations that one can begin to hear the usually submerged voice of the "other."

Bakhtin's concept of utterance defines it as always occuring within a larger discourse--it must always be an answer to a previous utterance; in this way, there can be no claim to absolute originality and the socially-constructed nature of language is given precedence over the image of the isolated author creating new texts cut from the whole cloth of his or her imagination. This emphasis on community is also echoed by Roland Barthes (oft quoted in the annals of hypertext theory), for a text "consists not of a line of words, releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God), but of a multidimensional space in which are married and contested several writings, none of which is original: the text is a fabric of quotations, resulting from a thousand sources of culture" (1986, p. 52-53).

The awareness of a socially situated self (achieved at least in part through the use of appropriation) and the ability to engage that awareness in written discourse is a necessary accomplishment which prepares the student for engagement in a dialogic discourse with others' voices and texts. It is within such a polyvocal discourse that Berlin's (1987) notion of a transactional can be seen as dialogic--the transaction is the "give and take," the acknowledgement and appropriation of disparate voices within the discourse.

I digress here into praxis for a moment in order to note that the use of hypertext (particularly via the internet) makes it easier for students to steal texts outright rather than through appropriation. While I believe that appropriation is fundamental to socially-constructed composition, it is important that writing teachers emphasize the role of acknowledgement in the process of appropriation. As Dickie Selfe points out, the practice of acknowledgement should be "a focus for new writers as well, since it involves more work, is easy to avoid on the Net, and is not necessarily their strong suit in the first place" (personal communication, May 15, 1996).

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To the path of Praxis.

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