We talk to Christopher Nosnibor about his book The Plagiarist, which is reviewed here.
How would you define an anti-novel?
An anti-novel really defies definition. The established form of the novel has certain characteristics: plot, characters, an identifiable narrator, sequentiality. Even when the plot unfolds through flashbacks, etc., there’s still sequentiality and events are located in time and space. The anti-novel dispenses with all aspects of this conventional model, which is pure artifice anyway. It’s like a choose your own adventure, only it’s choose your own narrative instead.
Appropriately, the term anti-novel isn’t my own: Stewart Home called his non-linear books ‘anti-novels.’ However, ‘THE PLAGIARIST’ is much more extreme in its non-linearity than Home’s work, in that it even dispenses with narrative in large sections.
What inspired you to write The Plagiarist?
‘THE PLAGIARIST’ is designed as an absorption of everything, in its totality, so it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to say that ‘everything’ inspired it. But I’d been playing with cut-ups and incorporating song lyrics and things in my work for some time, and when I read ‘Bacteria=Syndrome’ by Kenji Siratori I just thought ‘genius,’ and got to work. So that was the catalyst, if not the inspiration. Of course, arguably, I didn’t write ‘THE PLAGIARIST’….
The writing style and construction of The Plagiarist is extremely fragmented and chaotic. How do you think or hope that readers might react to this?
A lot probably won’t cope with it. I’d anticipate and hope for disorientation, a derangement of the senses. But ultimately, I’d like to think that those who persevere will be rewarded. Creative reading will produce an understanding, it will make sense – in a subjective sort of a way – and new textual possibilities will be revealed.
Also, while indeed fragmented, the construction’s not as chaotic as it may first appear: the phrases recur and evolve in a certain, albeit organic, manner, and there’s a definite rhythm present throughout.
How much of the content of The Plagiarist is copied or paraphrased from other sources? How did you choose what to include?
‘Other sources’ is hard to define. I cut up a lot of my own writing, some published, some not, some fiction, some essays, and in that sense 99% of it’s from ‘other sources,’ leaving very little specifically written for the text. Excluding my own works, probably about 60% is actually plagiarised and then manipulated in various ways.
Some of the selections were entirely arbitrary, whatever came to hand or was in the news while I was working on it. Obviously I can’t reveal all of the sources, but the second half features extensive sections of ‘Hamlet’ – because it’s so well-known it makes sense to rewrite it, and also because Bloom, the author of ‘The Anxiety of Influence’ (I’m obsessed with ‘influence’) contends that ‘Shakespeare is the canon.’ If this is to be taken at face value, to cut up Shakespeare is thus to cut up the canon. Some may see that as sacrilege, and there’s certainly a degree of nihilism involved. But the avant-garde maxim has always been that to create anew, one must first destroy. So from the ashes or shards of the canon rises…. THE PLAGIARIST, I suppose.
Within fiction in particular do you think it is possible to “own” or “steal” ideas? Is there a difference between copying something and being inspired by it?
I don’t think it’s possible to ‘own’ ideas, and besides, property is theft. I’d include intellectual property in that. Anyone who thinks they’ve created something wholly original is either deluded or hasn’t read enough. If you think you’ve come up with something that’s amazingly brilliant and has never been done before, you can pretty much guarantee that it has, and better.
I think there is a difference between copying and being inspired, although I think it can sometimes be a fine line. As William Burroughs who put the cut-up technique on the literary map observed, ‘imitation is supposed to be the highest form of flattery. Imitation or outright theft.’ The benefits of plagiarising directly is that no-one can accuse you of being a pale imitator. They can of course go after you for copyright infringement, but if the stolen words are placed in a different order, is it really the same anyway? Words are words: there are infinite permutations, and I don’t see how anyone can lay legitimate claim to a given sequence of words. In the postmodern / Internet age, it’s pointless being precious about these things.
Christopher Nosnibor is the author of The Plagiarist.