My project is a study in word uniqueness. I took famous excerpts from ten texts in English and American literary canon and compared them to each other to find overlaps in their vocabulary. Each text has been compared to every other text, one at a time, and words that are common between the two have been blacked out, leaving only the unique words. I posted the result of my analysis to a blog: scans of physical pages I printed out, pored over, and blacked out. The texts have been compared in every combination and permutation of pairs possible, with a composite of the results included at the end of each set.

As an English major, I have many opportunities to dig into a text and make of it what I will (in the form of a critical essay). I didn’t want to tell my audience what to think of my project. I wanted to create a text for them to look at and interpret in their own way—generate a thesis, so to speak. I wanted to engage them with familiar texts in a way they hadn’t before. That being said, I do have my own thesis about what the project means.

I noticed while I was doing the work that all of the texts I had chosen dealt with freedom in some way: in his soliloquy, Hamlet’s debated the pros and cons of freeing oneself from the suffering of life; Ishmael in Moby Dick escapes to the sea when the world becomes too suffocating; Fahrenheit 451 obviously deals with the censorship of books and freedom of expression; and so on. This idea of freedom, combined with the project’s engagement with unique language, immediately brought to mind questions about the nature of language and originality. Especially looking at the last blackout text in each group, so few words in each famous text are unique to that text. When the common words are removed, we are left with nonsense.

The realization really broke down my idea of what language was. I realized that words are essentially just building blocks that can be put together in different combinations to create new pieces. This really puts pressure on the idea of intellectual property. Can literary work be original if it’s just a rearrangement of words used in an existing text? Is it necessary for a work to be completely original in order for it to be valuable? My work engages directly with this idea in that as far as the language goes, none of the words in the project are original. They’re all taken directly from other sources. However, I’ve taken the work and manipulated it, rearranged it, and created new relationships from existing material. I’ve created new art from the pieces of existing art.

Viewers of the project are of course free to draw their own conclusions.