Monday, August 24, 2009


I fear Cryptomnesia- the scary-but-true phenomena where you can steal somebody's work without realizing it!
After he wrote Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson discovered that he'd borrowed details (the parrot, the skeleton-as-pointer, some settings) from older works, even though, when he wrote them, "they seemed to belong to me like my right eye."
More recently, a popular novel was yanked from bookstores* when people discovered it lifted sentences from other works. The author claimed it was an accident. "Aw C'mon," critics snipped, " How do you accidentally steal an entire sentence...!?"
...but it can happen.
I think it works like this.
I see (or hear) Work X (a story, a movie, an expression etc...). Time passes. My brain remembers some details, but not the I saw this before detail. Reverse deja vu. I think it's mine. I incorporate it into my work...
...and someone notices that my masterpiece sure looks a lot like Work X.
Suddenly I'm a hack. A thief!
Am I cranking out other people's work as my own!? Too bad Blogger doesn't have a "plagiarism check" along with the spell check.

p.s. for the record, the background text in the picture isn't mine.

*the movie deal ended about this time too.


Linda said...

Great illo for this subject.

Namowal said...

Thanks, Linda.
I wonder whom I (may have) lifted it from?

Seriously, I'm always afraid I'll get an irate email from some beloved author, pointing out how I stole his/her work and how that makes me a bastard in their eyes.

Mean Jean said...

I sang a bedtime song to my grandkids that I was convinced I'd made up...until I googled it and found out I had copied the gist and more than a few words from an old song.

Namowal said...

Hi Mean Jean,
What song was it?
Isn't it weird how our minds play tricks on us like that?

Sally said...

I love it when you do illustrations with these shiver me timbers background drifts. I certainly understand the phenomenon. The novel you're talking about seemed more suspect, though, if it's the one I'm thinking of.

Namowal said...

Thanks for your comment about the background, Sally. The paper texture I used is the first page of Treasure Island, thus the disclaimer that I did not, in fact, write Treasure Island
The Opal Mehta case is more suspicious. I can see it being intentional or unintentional. I do find it odd that someone would deliberately lift so many different lines from other well known books and not expect to get caught, but who knows?

stray said...

Everything I do lately is giving me that deja vu feeling; I wonder if total exhaustion sends you into that state.

Namowal said...

Hi Stray,
I hope things have calmed down for you!