Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Discovering Past Plagiarists

Paul Collins is swiftly becoming one of my favorite modern writers for his great knack at finding provocative angles to literary topic; his latest column, in Slate, does nothing to diminish that trend. In "Dead Plagiarists Society," Collins suggests that the wonder that is Google Book Search has great potential to discover past instances of literary thievery.

Collins: "The most intriguing result of a digital dragnet would be if any deeply idiosyncratic last-person-you'd-guess authors get fingered—Emily Dickinson, anyone? Ben Franklin, perhaps? I'd bet that in the next decade at least one major literary work gets busted. Such thefts don't necessarily end a literary reputation: After all, what Melville did with ordinary maritime literature amounted to an act of lead-to-gold alchemy. But it's invigorating to think that some forgotten authors, long buried and with the dirt tamped down over them by their ruthless rivals, will now get their due. Plagiarism, it seems, will out."

Now there's a challenge if I ever heard one!

[Note: There's also a podcast interview with Collins (mp3)]