Plagiarism, Helen Keller and Nietzsche

As I was helping some kids with reading comprehension I came across autobiography of Helen Keller. She was an exceptional lady and her story is a legend in itself. One chapter in particular draws my attention at this point. It was in the late 19th century that she tried to write her first story. First she received positive reviews but soon enough she was accused of plagiarism. Though it happened subconsciously she accepted that she had assimilated some elements from another story which she had heard a long time ago and she reproduced some of it while writing her own. Thereafter she did her best to be as original an author as possible.

Helen Keller

Something similar happened with a work by Nietzsche. I read this a long ago so I don’t clearly remember the details. Maybe it was Thus Spake Zarathustra. Sigmund Freud commented on this. The book was published posthumously by Nietzsche’s sister. He had heard the passage in his childhood and it remained latent into his subconscious. He reproduced it in full when writing the book. The commentary mentioned  that it was impossible that two authors wrote same paragraphs and it was also not possible that Nietzsche being the original thinker he was could have intentionally copied the passage.

I feel rules about plagiarism might have been more stringent in the 19th century but it’s really not possible to be totally original in the strictest sense. There is nothing original under the Sun as Goethe said-all great thoughts have already been thought and you have to just rethink them. I feel infinite universes keep repeating infinite possibilities for infinite number of times. Even in the narrowest evolution of civilization you see many copies of same useful ideas over and again. It’s better to create than to keep worrying about being original.

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29 thoughts on “Plagiarism, Helen Keller and Nietzsche

  1. Pingback: Plagiarism, Helen Keller and Nietzsche – Midnight Parrot

  2. I see this happening a lot in the music world !
    If you are brought up listening to some music , and than start creating your own there is a big chance of some of it being infused with what you assimilated even if you are not aware of it .
    And then it would be more “recreating” than plagiarism .
    Turtle Hugs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your conclusions are logical. I know sometimes when I read something I wrote from some years ago, I sometimes find something that makes me wonder if I was original with me. However, I always come to the conclusion that I did, because I can never remember deliberately using words from another without giving credit. But there are phrases, proverbs, analogies that have become so common place that I probably would think to see where they came from. I confess that I seldom footnote Bible scriptures. And I do not give web addresses for things like definitions or quotations. Should I?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should give web addresses sometimes when it is possible. But sometimes merely giving author names is enough. Shakespeare or Nietzsche are so popular for example. Actually there is something about primary and secondary annotations and references. I am not an expert on this subject. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved the post. It is important to remember that there is nothing new under the sun. We can, however, be creative because of who we are as individuals and put our “unique” spin on something. In viewing our culture of the “next biggest or best thing”, it is important to understand that all you really have to give is your best. That said, I believe that is what we really appreciate about those who have gone before us. They gave us who they were along with the common threads.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You have only to spend time on twitter to see the ease in which the same ideas are simultaneously created. Sure sometimes people are plagiarizing, but there is also the fact that people who are immersed in the same soup of ideas and inputs will often have the same ideas. And if you limit their characters it increases the chance that they will express them the same way.

    That said, if it was published posthumously, it is very possible that Nietzsche wouldn’t have kept the paragraph and was just using it as a place holder to trigger a set of ideas he wanted to explore.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I believe that there exists a infinite number of scenarios for we humans to live out a finite variety of experiences associated with being human. Often all unfolding at the same time in very different environments. No real need to copy and claim others’ creations.

    Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Everything we experience becomes a part of who we are, whether it is a book, movie or traveling. All the experiences change us ever so slightly as they meld with us. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that as we write a piece of that experience would surface.

    Liked by 2 people

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