Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Excerpt

What we call plagiarism is a subject with deep roots in our literature
and huge implications for the crafts of writing and speaking.

(Christopher Hitchens)

TWO THEORIES OF ORIGINALITY

In Grammars of Creation, George Steiner examines the play of difference between the two verbs 'to create' and 'to invent'. 'To create', he proposes, intuitively suggests a making out of nothing. By contrast, 'to invent'—from the Latin verb invenire, to encounter—implies a coming upon what is already there, and its subsequent rearrangement. The key distinction between the two ideas is that of source. Creators bring entirely new matter into being. Inventors, however, permute preexisting material into novel combinations. According to one paradigm the work of art is an addition to what exists; according to the other, it is an edition of it.

Western grammars of literary creation have tended to migrate between these two poles of making. On the one hand, so-called 'Romantic' theories of literary creation have assumed an analogy, if not an equality, with divine creation, whereby the literary work is created from beyond the material or phenomenal context. Originality is treated by such theories as an immanent or transcendent value which inheres in the text, rather than being ascribed to it—it is considered what Edward Said calls a 'privileged quality'. Writing in 1589, for instance, George Puttenham declared 'a Poet' to be 'a maker … such as … we may say

Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislators (London: Verso, 2000), 237.

GC, 13 – 53.

Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1983), 126.

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