Coming towards the end of Bernando Atxaga’s Obabakoak, and there’s a nice discussion going on about the concepts of originality and plagiarism within fiction writing. Now, we’ve always enjoyed such arguments – but firstly we better pin out colours to the mast (or something) and admit we’re firmly on the side of plagiarism . – Oh, originality is such a fashionable term, – and no greater praise in our day can be heaped upon a writer (piece that he is in this ever so inventive age which thinks so much of itself) than that he is original. (You see, I’ve just picked up a recently published book to prove my point and the very first quote on the back talks of the author’s “fierce originality” (although admittedly it’s of the sort, “fierce originality … Not since Gregor Samsa”, putting it, I guess, firmly in that expansive camp of fiercely non-original originality).) – But, you know, if a man should have read about a bit, even our most “original” writers etc. For instance, here are some opening lines:
“An extraordinarily strange thing happened in St Petersburg on 25 March. Ivan Yakovlevich, a barber who lived on Voznesensky Avenue (his surname has got lost and all that his shop-front signboard shows is a gentleman with a lathered cheek and the inscription “We also let blood”) woke up rather early one morning and smelt hot bread.”
“It was almost eight o’clock in the morning when Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a minor government official, awoke from a long sleep, yawned, stretched, and at last actually opened his eyes. For a couple of minutes he lay motionless in his bed, as though not quite certain whether he was awake or still asleep, whether the things around him were real or the continuation of his chaotic dreams.”
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
Axtaga has various rules he recommends for the practice of plagiarism:
- A plagiarist should select texts with a clear plot. (It is no good trying to plagiarise Robbe Grillet or Faulkner).
- A plagiarist should avoid rare works, and insteadsimply plagiarise the most famous works.
- All a plagiarist need do is alter the time and setting of his story: – other discrepancies from the original will then appear as a matter of course.
In case the plagiarist is found out, he puts forward three further rules:
- The plagiarist should leaves “traces” of the original work scattered throughout his text.
- The plagiaristshould learn something about metaliterature.
- The plagiarist should make a name for himself.
I’m sure we can all think of examples.