“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
― Jim Jarmusch
Recently, I’ve read a few stories that seemed to have familiar plot lines or themes and noticed with considerable reservation that people instantly jump on this kind of familiarity with accusations of plagiarism without any sort of investigation whatsoever. The most recent examples are to be found on The Sawaleh Blog
as well as several entries in The Writer
competition. I have even accused someone of this recently and I am quite ashamed of it because I did not investigate fully first before judging and quite frankly I had forgotten the words of independent film auteur Jim Jarmusch which are the opening lines of this post.
I had also forgotten that everything we write comes from somewhere else. Many of the stories I have written were inspired by stories I read or movies I watched or games I played or conversations I had with people. In fact, when I first started writing short stories, I would leave subtle references in the story as to where the inspiration came from or the influences that spurred me to write. A line from a conversation or a song, a reference to a character in movie or book or videogame, a quote, and my favourite reference device – the title. (In fact, almost every story I have ever written – from childhood till present day and even those written anonymously or under a different name – has a title based on a movie or song. The most obvious examples would be ‘True Romance’
, ‘Requiem for a Dream’
Anyway, the point is, that was my own way of adopting Jarmusch’s ‘celebrate your thievery’ philosophy and I still do it up to this day. Can anyone accuse me of plagiarism? No, because the final work is usually such a hodgepodge of several influences, my own imagination and style as well as other smaller imperceptible things that only a few studied people would be able to see where it came from and I do reference my inspirations (albeit subtly) on the off chance that someone does notice similarities.
I think that is the least we should all do. Give a small acknowledgement of your inspiration and if you lift heavily from it – in terms of theme of style, then mention it openly as I did with ‘Enemy’
. I realize that this is sometimes impossible because you may not even know that you have been influenced by a thing until you create something else and someone else points it out to you. The subconscious works in mysterious ways.
Still, in all this it is important to remember that it is not rare for two people to have the same idea (possibly at the same time) independent of each other. It happens all the time in scientific and mathematical research as with Newton and Leibniz – but that is a story for another day.
So the key in all this is to remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Now as a case in point…
Sometimes, Art gives birth to more art. The lead singer of the symphonic metal band ‘Nightwish’ – one of my favourite bands, is a huge fan of the poet Walt Whitman and the 12th song on their Album ‘Imaginaerum’ – the brilliance of which I mentioned here, is inspired by one of the poet’s poems. The song is called ‘Song of Myself’ – a name it shares with the original poem. The entire ‘Song of myself’ poem is terribly long and I doubt any one of you would have the patience to read it. However, at the end of Nightwish’s song, they perform a poem of their own – also inspired by the original poem. It is painfully beautiful. If you like symphonic metal and poetry, you can listen to the song and the poem at its end here. I have taken my favourite section of the poem and transcribed it because I wanted to see these beautiful words on a page. I share this with you now.
(For a truly blissful experience, read this on a PC while playing the video embedded below from the 7:10 time marker.)
I see a slow, simple youngster by a busy street, A begging bowl in his shaking hand. Trying to smile but hurting infinitely. Nobody notices. I do, but walk by.
An old man gets naked and kisses a model-doll in his attic It’s half-light and he’s in tears. When he finally comes his eyes are cascading.
I see a beaten dog in a pungent alley. He tries to bite me. All pride has left his wild, drooling eyes. I wish I had my leg to spare.
A mother visits her son, smiles to him through the bars. She’s never loved him more.
An Arabesque girl enters an elevator with me. All dressed up fancy, a green butterfly on her neck. Terribly sweet perfume deafens me. She’s going to dinner, alone. That makes her even more beautiful.
I see a model’s face on a brick wall. A statue of porcelain perfection beside a violent city kill. A city that worships flesh.
The first thing I ever heard, was a wandering man telling his story. It was you, the grass under my bare feet. The campfire in the dead of night. The heavenly black of sky and sea
It was us, Roaming the rainy roads, combing the gilded beaches. Waking up to a new gallery of wonders every morn. Bathing in places no one’s seen before. Shipwrecked on some matt-painted island, Clad in nothing but the surf – beauty’s finest robe
Beyond all mortality we are, swinging in the breath of nature. In early air of the dawn of life. A sight to silence the heavens
I want to travel where life travels, following its permanent lead. Where the air tastes like snow music. Where grass smells like fresh-born Eden. I would pass no man, no stranger, no tragedy or rapture I would bathe in a world of sensation Love, goodness and simplicity (While violated and imprisoned by technology)
The thought of my family’s graves was the only moment I used to experience true love. That love remains infinite, as I’ll never be the man my father is.
How can you “just be yourself” when you don’t know who you are? Stop saying “I know how you feel” How could anyone know how another feels?
Who am I to judge a priest, beggar, whore, politician, wrongdoer? I am, you are, all of them already
Dear child, stop working, go play Forget every rule. There’s no fear in a dream.
“Is there a village inside this snowflake?” – a child asked me “What’s the colour of our lullaby?”
I’ve never been so close to truth as then. I touched its silver lining
Death is the winner in any war. Nothing noble in dying for your religion. For your country. For ideology, for faith. For another man, Yes
Paper is dead without words. Ink idle without a poem. All the world dead without stories. Without love and disarming beauty
Careless realism costs souls
Ever seen the Lord smile? All the care for the world made Beautiful a sad man? Why do we still carry a device of torture around our necks? Oh, how rotten your pre-apocalypse is. All you bible-black fools living over nightmare ground.
I see all those empty cradles and wonder If man will ever change.
I, too, wish to be a decent man-boy but all I am Is smoke and mirrors Still given everything, may I be deserving
And there forever remains the change from G to E-Minor