Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Joys of Plagiarism

Jonathan Lethem, who visits tomorrow, is the author of a widely circulated essay, published originally in Harper's, and subsequently in The Best American Essays 2008, edited by the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, that justifies the act of plagiarism:

"Consider this tale: a cultivated man of middle age looks back on the story of an amour fou, one beginning when, traveling abroad, he takes a room as a lodger. The moment he sees the daughter of the house, he is lost. She is a preteen, whose charms instantly enslave him. Heedless of her age, he becomes intimate with her. In the end she dies, and the narrator — marked by her forever — remains alone. The name of the girl supplies the title of the story: Lolita."

"The author of the story I’ve described, Heinz von Lichberg, published his tale of Lolita in 1916, forty years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. Lichberg later became a prominent journalist in the Nazi era, and his youthful works faded from view. Did Nabokov, who remained in Berlin until 1937, adopt Lichberg’s tale consciously? Or did the earlier tale exist for Nabokov as a hidden, unacknowledged memory?"

More:  http://harpers.org/archive/2007/02/the-ecstasy-of-influence/