Quotation, Citation, and the WWW (World Wilde Web)


Tupac Shakur

Oscar Wilde

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing. I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain.”

click Lord Byron‘s name for the quotation’s source

Since this is a writing course, I thought I’d begin our second unit by discussing one of those “inspirational” sayings, available at the linked site in pre-packaged form ready for consumption all over the web!

I have two purposes in linking you to this quote.

First, just a reminder:  to let you know, in the aftermath of our initial essay process, that writing is supposed to be a struggle!  That is, writing is a struggle sometimes for every writer; and Byron’s word “composition” carries with it the sense that some kinds of writing can feel forced, artificial, unnatural (the word would soon be made into a technical term, the ancestor of today’s “freshman comp.”)  Yet the other side of that artificiality is the sense of being compelled to write–Byron here puts a negative spin on that feeling; the positive version of it gets described with words like “inspiration.”

My second purpose is to begin a conversation about how writing works on the wild, wild web–a space where citations circulate constantly, appearing and reappearing in new contexts.

We are beginning with a Byron passage simply because the phenomenon of literary quotation predates Wilde.  Early in the 19th century, passages of poems would be copied into “commonplace books” by hand, books which functioned as personal anthologies; published anthologies of poetry were themselves extremely selective, often “cutting and pasting” with little care for context. (Throsby gives a hint of that culture in her article.)  And the use of quotations on the 21st century WWW follows in this line of popular reading.

What do you think the purpose of quotehd.com is?  What do we learn by the way they handle that particular quotation; by the way they handle quotation in general?  Are they misusing Byron’s writings; are they getting it right?

†The correct word here would be “quotation.”  I use “quote” because that’s how people write informally in 2017.  I will let you use “quote” in discussion forums; I will suggest revision if you deploy it in formal essays.  I say all this in a footnote because I am incorrigibly nerdy!–& because I am trying to decide if footnotes even work in this format…