Imitating Authors

Colin Burrow


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Oxford University Press
30 May 2019
ISBN: 9780198838081
496 pages

From the publisher

Imitating Authors is a major study of the theory and practice of imitatio (the imitation of one author by another) from antiquity to the present day. It extends from early Greek texts right up to recent fictions about clones and artificial humans, and illuminates both the theory and practice of imitation. At its centre lie the imitating authors of the English Renaissance, including Ben Jonson and the most imitated imitator of them all, John Milton. Imitating Authors argues that imitation was not simply a matter of borrowing words, or of alluding to an earlier author. Imitators learnt practices from earlier writers. They imitated the structures and forms of earlier writing in ways that enabled them to create a new style which itself could be imitated. That made imitation an engine of literary change. Imitating Authors also shows how the metaphors used by theorists to explain this complex practice fed into works which were themselves imitations, and how those metaphors have come to influence present-day anxieties about imitation human beings and artificial forms of intelligence. It explores relationships between imitation and authorial style, its fraught connections with plagiarism, and how emerging ideas of genius and intellectual property changed how imitation was practised. In refreshing and jargon-free prose Burrow explains not just what imitation was in the past, but how it influences the present, and what it could be in the future. Imitating Authors includes detailed discussion of Plato, Roman rhetorical theory, Virgil, Lucretius, Petrarch, Cervantes, Ben Jonson, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and Kazuo Ishiguro.