New York City – The classroom is in no way as creative or inspired as the man who sat behind the podium, fiddling with his thick-rimmed glasses as students noisily filed inside. Robert Fitterman is a fifty-four year old, short and stocky man with a shaven head and a goatee. His smile brightened the hollow room that was empty besides a circle of chairs that hosted 20 students. Before making himself comfortable to begin the class, the professor swiftly stood up and tucked the door closed.
The Liberal Studies Offices at New York University house some of the world’s most renowned scholars, and Professor Robert Fitterman is one of these honorees. Fitterman, who has taught for twenty years in New York University’s undergraduate creative writing department, is one of the most aggressive writers of our generation. Fitterman has published several books, his most famous being Rob the Plagiarist, (Roof Books, 2009), Sprawl: Metropolis 30A (2009), and The Sun Also Also Rises, (2008) Aside from his four books and his heavy interest in appropriation and copyright laws, Fitterman has made a career out of pushing social boundaries in terms of how he structures, frames, and presents his creative writing projects. Fitterman has challenged himself and his students to experiment with everything from “borrowing” language and writing essays with no clear thesis. “Most of my work is appropriated and that makes a lot of people angry,” the professor remarked with amusement in a private interview before we met in his classroom. Fitterman is currently working on a poem about depression that is made up completely of language plagiarized from teenage Tumblr sites. Fitterman included conceptual poetry into his courses at NYU, introducing poets such as Kenneth Goldsmith who grew famous for his appropriated work entitled Day where he retyped an entire New York Times newspaper from September 1st 2000 and bound it in a 836 page book. Fitterman’s academic goal has become to question the basis of what is creativity and what is artwork. Needless to say, the appropriation of other people’s words has been the center of criticism by many who come across this sort of writing, including his students.
Robert Fitterman began his creative journey at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he pursued a degree in the arts, with a focus on creative writing. After taking a Japanese theatre class, Fitterman’s fascination with poetry grew. After his graduation he moved to New York City: “I hung around writers and became a waiter and did all those New York things,” said Fitterman. After that Fitterman spent some time “bouncing around the world” and he eventually made his way to Temple University in Philadelphia to receive his MA. He then travelled back to New York City, got involved with the poetry community more seriously, and finally got an adjunct course at NYU, “and here I am,” Fitterman stated, “many years later.”
From the beginning of his schooling as a child, Fitterman described his relationship with language to be “troubled and compelling” due to his dyslexia. He described his involvement with the New York community as being “part of a dialogue.” Fitterman stated proudly, “I tell my students… ‘In this room for an hour and a half or three hours, this is what you are, you are a poet, you’re a writer, you’re an artist and you’re going to think in those ways and be connected to this community in those ways’.” The professor continually challenges his students in every way he can.
Fitterman said that in all of his work, he is not focused on content. He explained that, “the idea behind actually doing it and borrowing the subjectivity is much more interesting.” In his works involved with testing the boundaries of copyright laws, Fitterman employs the use of what he calls ‘borrowed language.’
The class Fitterman was hosting was a Liberal Studies Writing II course at New York University that was working on their latest assignment: revisionist essays. The point of the assignment was to find a person or concept in society and write about how it has changed or write about the subject so that it is looked at through a completely different lens. The word revisionism is central to Robert Fitterman’s course at NYU as much as it is central to his career. Redefining the status quo is his goal, and Fitterman has certainly made great strides towards introducing the concept to young writers at New York University and beyond.
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