Flarf: Where Plagiarism Meets Creativity

In a typical semester, you can find Professor Tiffany Denman teaching composition or Collegiate Seminar, enforcing the rules of grammar, encouraging good structure and preaching against plagiarism. But Jan Term is no normal semester. And this Jan Term, you’ll find her teaching "Flarf and Conceptual Writing."

What in the name of De La Salle is Flarf? Flarf is a form of conceptual writing born from the Internet. Practitioners mine the web for content, reconnecting bits of seemingly disjointed text into poems, prose and plays. One of the students in the class, for example, wrote a flarf poem completely comprised of comments left on Facebook profile pictures. Another used lines from the Google search “war Disneyland” to compose his poem. The subject matter, Denman says, is as limitless as the Internet, and the results are just as varied.

“It’s kind of fun to teach [a class] where it’s encouraged that structure is broken, that grammar is just a wreck, and where plagiarism is what they’re supposed to be doing,” says Denman. “It takes the pressure off. You don’t feel like you need to go up and sit on the hill and generate emotions. You just gather words and do something with them, and that’s fun. And it’s easy for people who’ve never delved into the creative world before."

Benjamin Rehm '16 is one such student. This is his first Jan Term course, and he enjoys the somewhat counter-intuitive nature of the course. “When I write, I really like to focus on the constrictions of writing and how grammar plays such a large role,” he says. “But this has been a way to kind of open my mind to the utter and complete opposite of that. I’ve never even entertained the idea of just taking things from the Internet and making new things out of them.”

And making new content is definitely what these students are doing. Though the words and phrases may or may not be original, Denman sees a lot of creativity in their work. “They’re actively seeking certain answers, and they’re just using the Internet as the source material,” she says. But the students still choose what text to include and which text to ignore. “That’s exactly what’s interesting about flarf and the conceptual work, choices, and the choices that each student makes becomes the creative process.”

Interested in entering the world of Flarf? Read one of Benjamin’s poems below or visit the class blog.

It's basically like riding a normal unicycle

once you get up high enough to

ride it.

Traditionally, toilet brushes are an unpleasant item to keep out in-the-open.

But I’ve never claimed my family is normal.

Late last year we were out in Arcadia with some friends who tipped us off to a strange and magical little Japanese shopping center.

We were very impressed with this place.

On the cleanliness scale, it is pristine.

I currently hand wash it with Oxy Clean and it works for a day or so then the smell returns.

All ages are welcome, and masks are highly encouraged!

Considering the physical stress created by having such a long neck, there's no clear biological advantage

Story By: Sara LaFassett