Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Praise Of Plagiarism

I've heard that one before. 
Three cheers for plagiarism! Without it there'd be no jokes, and, what's almost as bad, no culture worth the name.

Louise Peltzer, the Chancellor of the University of French Polynesia, has been accused of lifting bits from Umberto Eco. I didn't know there was a University of French Polynesia. Perhaps it used to be Polynesia Poly. So it is hard to be outraged at the secret sins, if such they be, of its chancellor amid the corkwoods and sarsaparilla trees of the Marquesa archipelago.

One line she is said to have half-inched concerns the authority over a piece of work of the king of France, who "can legitimately aspire to the title of king of the work because he descends in a direct line from Noah". Now this is a little joke. Everyone, in the traditional view, descends in a direct line from Noah.

Did Umberto Eco invent that joke? I wonder. If so, it must almost be a first, for jokes, like proverbs, pop up from nowhere, like Melchisedek in the Bible, with no genealogy. Jokes are like swine flu; they sweep across the world, mutating and infecting.
Not everything can be original, and a good recycler of cliches can go far:
So Bob Dylan stood out from his contemporaries as a song-writer because he stole more boldly and with more imagination. He had hardly heard someone sing Scarborough Fair when he cannibalised it for Girl from the North Country, apparently mistaking the word fair for an adjective. As a privateer of song, no wonder Captain Kidd the pirate was his hero. They both spotted other people's treasure and brought it home as their own.
 So this would be a good opportunity to post a Dylan video, right?


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