Monday, April 24, 2006

Conjuring Up the "Original" Story

I saw this article regarding a young author accused of plagiarism on Comcast’s homepage, and it unsettled me in the same way that the James Frey debacle did. I do not, and cannot, know if Kaavya Viswanathan's book was in any way plagiarized, but as a hopeful writer myself, I know that there are no more original stories. I know that sometimes in writing class two of us approach a prompt in strikingly similar ways.

I know this too: there have been times (a good number of them) when I have found passages and themes eerily similar to “mine” in published books, sometimes in good books, ones critically acclaimed or even canonized! So similar, one might wonder …But you see, the books preceded mine, or my stories preceded them sometimes separated by generations. This means I either plagiarized these authors, channeled them through my mystical powers, or that a creative idea occurred in more than one person at different times.

Something tells me I’m not alone in this experience, that writers find this sort of creative overlap quite often. You admire a writer, or a writing style or genre, and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to find your mind manifesting similar ideas—your word choices (being somewhat limited by the options in language, and ours is not one that is gifted with as many options as some) might have a similar “ring." Or maybe you startle when you read something by Julio Cortazar or Charlotte Bronte, and find a passage straight from what you thought was your own pen.

The example set forth in the AP (I’m beginning to dislike and distrust the associated press) article is not convincing to me, as the passage describes a common scenario. Accusing someone of invading your personal space is a regularly utilized phrase, and sticking to leather has, I bet, been documented in more stories than these two.

I haven’t seen further "evidence,” and maybe the author did plagiarize as Tobiass Wolf’s character did in Old School. But in a
Foucaultian sense, I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this industry of comparison and exposure. More and more there seems to be a DEMAND that we prove our authenticity as artists—that all our expression is to the core gen-you-wine. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but it’s as if the anti-art institutions out there are slashing away at the credibility and worth of artistic endeavors. As wordsmiths authors are particularly subject. One of the ways one learns how to create art is via imitation … it’s necessary to find your own groove. Why are we so rabidly seeking to undermine the author these days?

Any thoughts from out there?


At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a difficult one to judge. I read the excerpts provided in the AP article, and yes they are pretty strikingly similar - but before I make any accusations, I would have to read both works in their entirety.
People are a little quick to jump on the bandwagon with no data to back them up. I agree with you, Pamela, that everything (from music to art to literature) has already been done and we are just in the recycling stage - consciously or not.
Indeed, it does seem unfair that writers are held to a higher standard than, say, tv show creators or filmmakers (as we see with the barely adapted parodies of concepts existing already like "Wife Swap" and "Trading Spouses" for instance.) I think, to some degree, it must get down to how copyright laws are written for each industry and maybe, due to the length of time that literature and music have been a part of human civilization (centuries) compared to the relatively short shelf life of photography or film.

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Carolina Jim said...

Hi Pamela! I haven't been around for a while so I thought I'd pop in and say "Hey!".
I understand from our friend that you will be graduating soon and that she will be there to witness it firsthand.I'm sure that it will be a momentous occasion. Wish I could be there to share it with y'all. But then, I'd be intruding.
Anyway, good luck in your writing endeavors and life in general. You never know, maybe you will create your own "original story".
All the best,
Carolina Jim

PS - Have you decided where you're going for your post grad. work?


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