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28 June 2006 @ 05:50 pm
Cryptomnesiac!  
So there was that whole thing with the Harvard student who wrote the book and it turned out whole passages were entirely too similar to another book. That whole thing. I don't know the truth or the motives of that case; that's not my point here.

At some point in the whole saga, someone -- possibly the student -- raised the possibility that the similarities were due to cryptomnesia. Perhaps she had read and internalized the other work; perhaps the copying was unconscious and accidental.

I have a lot of sympathy for this possibility, generally speaking. It's happened to George Harrison and Hellen Keller, sure; more vividly, I worry that I may fall prey to it myself.

I've had passages in The Jonathan Chronicles that sound too perfect, that came to me too easily. I have passages that feel right and familiar, but is that because I've reread them hundreds of times over the past ten years or because I first read them somewhere else?

Every now and then I'll run across something that renews these fears. I reread books or rewatch shows or movies often, in part because otherwise I soon forget how the story goes. In doing so, I recently ran across a passage that was very similar to something I was planning to use. Of course, I forgot to write myself a note or mark the page, so I've forgotten it again.

But just today I ran across this at Television Without Pity:
Patty and Graham walk into the main office, where Angela is sitting on the omnipresent bench. Seeing them, Angela groans, "Oh, no. They called you?" Patty, not particularly angrily, says, "Of course they called us!"

This exchange is almost word-for-word identical to one in JonChron ... even to the point that it occurs between a character and that character's mother! Even down to the usage of italics, people! (I mean, I never read this recap before today ... I think ... so it's more a matter that I used italics where the television show used spoken emphasis, but still!)

I frequently worry that I'll never finish JonChron. Every now and then, I'm reminded that maybe, just maybe, that wouldn't be the worst possible outcome.
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E.T. Davidoffvettecat on June 29th, 2006 06:53 am (UTC)
I don't imagine that a single phrase would be as much of an issue...
Amy- ninja extraordinaire, bad monkeyninjamonkey73 on June 29th, 2006 01:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm with you on this one.

I have a what I consider a borderline photographic memory. When I used to take tests in school, I could often picture whole passages if I had looked at them more than once. When my husband misplaces things (like his wallet), I can often go and pick it up almost without looking no matter where he set it down. When I need to recall information I've seen before, I generally know what area of a page to look on even if I don't remember which page (it was near the top right of the righthand page, for instance).

This whole benefit is relatively short-lived however, or at the very least, requires a bit of focus to be worth anything later. I am just about always reading something, but I'm often hard pressed to remember any detail once I finish it. This presents an unfortunate conundrum when I'm writing. I know I can often remember not just quotes, but where on a page they were located when the reading isn't for pleasure, but I can't consciously remember much about the pleasure reading I do. Cryptomnesia sounds both comforting and a little scary. How's a girl to know when she's borrowing from the huge stores of half-remembered fiction and non-fiction trapped (and sometimes otherwise inaccessible) in her brain?

Comforting in that, hey, great, it has a name. And Jung, no less! But the no knowledge part is rough. As far as the Harvard student goes, there are things about that situation that make me lean away from cryptomnesia (the book "packager" she worked with notwithstanding since they had other claims against them). But it brings up an important concern for the writer who is an avid reader and happens to have a bit of photographic recall. I have yet to catch anything within my own writing, but then again, I'm not one to revisit the things I've read. Too many new things catch my eye for seconds to ever get precedent. So I may never catch myself. But will someone else if that shining day ever arrives where I actually complete something and have it published?

Bah!