On Influence and Plagiarism

I was rereading the interview with Jon Padgett from 2014 on Lovecraft ezine about True Detective. What’s sad is not that Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized Thomas Ligotti’s work (which he did!), but that he did not admit it or even openly acknowledge the deep influence Ligotti’s dark vision had had on his TV series, etc.

There’s always a fine line in a healthy influence and appropriation of another’s ideas, and the blatant and uncreative remix of another’s thought without the interjection of creativity.

Hell I’ve been influenced by so many cynics, pessimists, satirists, from Greece to Post-modernity it would be hard put to name all those I owe honor too (although I try over and over on my blog, here, and twitter to do that!). Yet, in creating as I do aphorisms and writings, I as Nietzsche one of my early influences said have “learned to forget” so that I can create. It’s this ability to forget the other in one’s self, to realize as Emerson once stated that “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” It’s this uncanny feeling that the other’s thoughts are our own, that they bring to white heat the very things we’ve thought for so long that brings us to a pitch of creative agency. And, yet, we must make those thought’s our own, not the other’s… distill from this deep influencing the drift of our own utterance, our own voice.

There must be this distinct difference of voice and utterance, a subtle change in tone and style that goes beyond the other’s informed precursory presence. As Borges once said we must make our own precursors, otherwise we are made by them. It’s in that difference that creativity spawns its power, and the plagiarist is found out to be what s/he is: a theft artist, while the creative being has acknowledged and made his/her precursor in one’s own colors. As Harold Bloom once said,

“Aesthetic value emanates from the struggle between texts: in the reader, in language, in the classroom, in arguments within a society. Aesthetic value rises out of memory, and so (as Nietzsche saw) out of pain, the pain of surrendering easier pleasures in favor of much more difficult ones … successful literary works are achieved anxieties, not releases from anxieties.” ~ Harold Bloom

The point here is that each of us has one or more precursors (texts) that awaken our ideas, our moods, our expressions; and, yet, the struggle is to achieve out of our struggle with and against our precursor(s) a stance and place or our own within the great weave of literature that has gone before: an idiosyncratic change upon that vast ocean of words. The difficult pleasure is in making another’s thought invisible within one’s own writing in such a way that it pays it forward, it allows those ‘who know’ to know this tribute of influence as an idiosyncratic play upon the web of thought and language. Otherwise we become footprints in an endless land of ghost thieves, stealing our thoughts rather than living them in our actual lives.

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