The Anxiety of Influence and Appropriation

The Seventh Biennial Bryn Mawr College Graduate Group Symposium

December 4-5, 2009

Featured Respondent: Robert Nelson, Robert Lehman Professor, History of Art, Yale University

Sponsored by the Graduate Group, the Center for Visual Culture, and the Departments of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, Greek, Latin and Classical Studies, and History of Art

Graduate Group

Call for Papers

Imitation is supposed to be the highest form of flattery, but we're only told this to quell our anxieties about loss of originality, loss of ownership, and even loss of identity. But don't all forms of cultural expression exhibit some type of imitation? As Jonathan Letham observes, "appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act." Taken further, thievery is inherent to creative practice. How might thinking about theft, even blatant acts of looting or plagiarism, allow us to recognize subtler forms of thievery, such as influence or appropriation, as creative practices? If we think about appropriation as a form of theft, we can insist on the intentions that motivate appropriative acts, instead of assuming an otherwise passive chain of arbitrary influences—a distinction that might already be staged by the words "appropriation" and "influence." Doing so might also allow us to re-imagine appropriation not just as a simple one-way transmission, but as a complex process of exchanges through which new meanings can adhere to and even displace an "original intention."

This interdisciplinary symposium invites graduate students in Classics, Archaeology, History of Art, and related fields to present papers that address creative or historical acts of appropriation, theories of origin and copy, as well as the cultural reception of such acts. Topics might include: intertextuality, plagiarism/quotation/glossing, intellectual property, the question of authorship, mimicry, modern and post-modern artistic strategies such as collage, found-object, or found-footage, cultural revivals (neo-isms), historiography of style, cultural imperialism, collecting, spolia, looting, et al.

The symposium committee has extended the deadline and will be accepting and reviewing submissions throughout the summer. Please submit abstracts of less than 250 words. Electronic submission to will be preferred. Otherwise, please submit a paper copy to:

Bryn Mawr Graduate Student Symposium
c/o Johanna Gosse, Box 1646
Bryn Mawr College
101 North Merion Ave.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010