October 06, 2013

[Writing and art] is Theft, Ctd The Sins of Literature

In the Radio 4 series The Sins of Literature Robert McCrum casts an eye over the literary codes of our time. In the third episode, Thou Shalt Not Steal Robert McCrum was joined by Malcolm Gladwell, Will Self, Sarah Waters and Howard Jacobson who helped him to consider the history of literary theft.

Here's how Radio 4 summarised the show on the website:
"Plagiarism is perhaps the gravest of literary sins and yet writers steal all the time and sweat away their lives under the anxiety of influence. This program looks at the shifting sands of plagiarism, theft, influence and borrowing. The Romantics may have worshipped the original genius of Shakespeare but he merrily lifted whole sections of Anthony and Cleopatra from Holinshed's chronicles." 
I felt Radio 4 put things beautifully here:
"In the internet age true creativity appears to reside not in what you write yourself but in the ways you can remix, mash up, parody and generally mess around with the work of others." 
Every young writer has models. You don't invent yourself. You become a writer because you've read books. And some of those books make a very deep impression on you, and they in some way launch you into the whole project of becoming a lawyer. But then you really have to get away from those influences; it's paralysing and ultimately very destructive. 
I just read somewhere and it's unclear who said this, it was either John Cage or Wallace Stephens or Phillip Gustand the painter. They said: 
"When you go into your studio, whether you're a writer or a painter, the entire past is with you. Al your influences are there and then as time goes on, one by one they start leaving and then in the end you're there alone."
And then I think John Cage said, ideally then you too disappear as well."
Will Self said he had it, full blowm "kleptomania". He asked, "How would that be possible to avoid? That would be impossible." Adding that, "The thing is, you've got to be pretty sharp to spot it."

As Einstein said: "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."

Will Self responded to the question of why Ernest Hemingway is so prevalent in people's writing style and said:
"Hemingway has crept into the entire American creative writing programme, disseminating through it like some kind of monstrous virus."
Paul Auster said that "voice is a curious thing. No one really knows where it comes from. Somehow it's inside you." He continued:
"The most important discovery I made was that I was not going to find that voice by thinking about it, sitting in an armchair thinking where is my voice or by walking along the street. You find it in the act of writing. Only by sitting there and writing do you recognise what's authentic, what's not authentic, what feels good, what feels like you. For me, it truly was a discovery. You don't go out and find your voice. It finds you and it happens by you just doing it and doing it."
Here's a few more quotes from the show:

One: "All writers are pickpockets with an eye for a shining phrase or sparkling smile."

Two: Malcolm Gladwell said that "words belong to the world once they're published."

Three: Modernism made writers feel OK for writers to "ransack the museum of the past."

Elsewhere Noel Gallagher put it rather bluntly when confronted about his musical influences:
"There's twelve notes in a scale and 36 chords and that's the end of it. All the configurations have been done before."

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