In MLA Thoughts 4 I wrote about Jaime Goodrich’s MLA talk and my suggestion of “appropriator-author” as the term for the nun who appropriated and changed Samuel Woodford’s text to make it appropriate for Catholic nuns to use.

I like, in fact, the idea of calling them appropriator-authors and originator-authors. It shows that both were authors, but it shows which came first. I would say that an appropriator-author is, perhaps, a derivative work, but not necessarily in the negative sense. The nuns would never have used Samuel Woodford’s text as it was. But they could make use of it through the use of the appropriator-author. By the substantive changes, the work becomes a different work and it is, in that sense, a new work.

I was reading tonight for a paper I am giving next week, trying to shape it better and into something which could be published afterward with some minor adaptations, and I found a quote that I thought particularly appropriate.

The semantic history of the term “appropriation” itself urges upon us the plasticity of sameness and alterity in our constructions of knowledge and justice. “Appropriation” dates back at least to the later Middle Ages, when it is used to signify the act of making a thing into private property, or of taking something as one’s own or to one’s own use. 36 The Middle English verb “appropre” is likewise associated with the idea of making something one’s own, taking possession of something, designating something as private property; it also means “to set apart for a special purpose” or to assign or attribute a quality as “proper to” something. 37 [End Page 216] These definitions insist that the thing appropriated has a history; something becomes the object of appropriation–becomes set apart, reserved, property–but was once not. Thus “appropriation” has embedded within it a meditation on the historicality of identity. The term seems to make the claim that the thing appropriated has been transformed only insofar as it has been set apart, or achieves its “proper” identity by being thus set apart, as with the usage that assigns qualities, and so on, as “proper to” something. But once appropriated, once “enclosed,” the thing is infused with the status of specialness itself, of distinction, of the kind of value that is based on inaccessibility, rareness, scarcity. Consequently the appropriated thing becomes something “worth” struggling over, and enters the fields of social contestation. The object is transformed through appropriation–“made,” “taken,” “designated”–particularly with regard to the kinds of relations it can enter into with other objects and desires, its “properness” dependent on a shifting relation with that which is designated as not proper to it.

Fradenburg, Louise Olga. “’So That We May Speak of Them’: Enjoying the Middle Ages.” New Literary History 28.2, 205-230. 1977. Web. 13 December 2009.

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