NABOKV-L post 0018422, Thu, 2 Jul 2009 15:16:25 -0300

[nabokov-l] Google Alert - vladimir nabokov
From a devotional blog ( ) we are carried onto a rehash of the 2004 discussions, raised by Michael Maar's London Times article, "Curse of the First Lolita," "which presented startling parallels between Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel, Lolita (1955), and a 1916, 18-page German short story of the same name, penned by journalist Heinz von Eschwege (under the pen name Heinz von Lichberg)."

Apart from the curiosities concerning cryptomnesia ("a memory bias that occurs when a person mistakenly believes that they have come up with an original thought, idea, song or joke, when it was actually generated by someone else. Thus, the individual is not intentionally plagiarizing the original source; rather, they mistakenly believe their recollection is a new inspiration...first used by psychology professor Theodore Flournoy in his 1901 book, From India to the Planet Mars: A Case of Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages." and C.G.Jung's example "of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1891), which includes an incident almost directly lifted from a book published in 1835.") there is nothing new in the text. And yet, while trying to find an English translation for the proverb "si un voleur vole l'autre, le diable s'en rit," I reached the article "A thief who robs another thief" about plagiarism with a reference to Nabokov's Lolita and Lichberg, with interesting side-kicks.
Cf. "Ladrão que rouba ladrão" by ( 2006, Nov. 27)

A quick (ie faulty and incomplete) translation of Coutinho's article:
I never plagiarize but, sometimes, I steal. There's a difference. Plagiarism is an act of sloth. Stealing is an act of love [...] Even the inaugural sentence in my article doesn't belong to me: "Imature artists copy; mature artists steal", said T.S.Eliot, a specialist in this area.
Once, during a literary luncheon I said, to my table companion, that my passion for Eliot was a thief's passion for another thief. The lady blushed and indignantly asked me if I'd ever read "The Waste Land.". I asked her "Which of the two?," since there is Madison Cawein's work, the very obscure American poet, dead in 1914, Kentucky, whom no one but Eliot, has ever read. Cawein's "a breath of dust", "like the wisps of a greying dawn" became, in his pen, "a handful of dust", "under the brown fog of winter dawn". Thanks, thief! I must also add that the sentence about artists that imitate and steal is not Tom's, but Lionel Trilling's. I stray.
And what's the purpose of my chattering? To mention that I've recently read Paul Collins, in "Slate". Collins warns the living and the dead that the internet can be most unforgiving. He tells the story of Alex MacBride, a Google linguist, who'd set down by chance, in Google Book Search, a sentence that had been written by a secondary author (England Howlett). And yet, Howlett's sentence was not really Howlett's, but by Sabine Baring-Gould's, who'd written it in 1892, although Sabine [...] had copied it yet from a third author, Benjamin Thorpe, half a century before Howlett's and Sabine's copies [...] Melville copied technical language to apply it in his nautical passages of "Moby Dick", says Collins. And even the against-plagiarism diatribe by Lawrence Sterne, in "Tristram Shandy", is a shameless copy of Robert Burton's "The Anatomy of Melancholy". Scandalous? Perhaps, but even if everything said is true, it's equally true that there is, in Melville and in Sterne, a worthy autonomy that surpasses mere copying, this cheap subterfuge for those who lie by necessity. Melville and Sterne don't lie by necessity. They lie because it gives them pleasure to do so: the pleasure of employing theft to raise an entirely new work from its totally senescent predecessor's roots. Such was Eliot's work, who turned poetry into an anthological rememoration [...] spreading itself from Dante onto ignored Cawein. It also happened with Nabokov and his "Lolita" who, most probably, got its plot from a forgotten story by a forgotten minor author, Heinz von Lichberg [...] Nabokov lived in Berlin just at the right time to have read this story. A blessed encounter. Forty years later, from such a "rendez-vous," a most perfect book about death overflowed from Nabokov's hand. A correction: a book about a man who was hilariously condemned to love death, always death, only death.
And if such things happen to Eliot or Nabokov, what about Lytton Strachey who, in 1918, innaugurated a new biographical style in "Eminent Victorians"?, some of them stolen from Edward Tyas Cook, A.P. Stanley ou E.S. Purcell, used and transformed by Strachey into something entirely his own. Just like Coleridge before him, although it is even more difficult to render to Coleridge what belongs to Coleridge, or to Schiller (or Southey, or Richter, or Schelling) what is rightfully Schiller's. Does the truth about a theft destroy the literary-biography of "Biographia Literaria"? May God forgive me but I don't think it does.
It is necessary to distiguish plagiarism and theft, sloth and passion, the mere copyist from the continuator. And to repeat, like Dryden on Jonson, that many are able to imitate, but few have conquered other authors and, like victorious monarchs, reclaimed the old land to build an entirely new world.

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