That Blurry Line

I have myself always been terrified of plagiarism – of being accused of it, that is. Every writer is a thief, though some of us are more clever than others at disguising our robberies. The reason writers are such slow readers is that we are ceaselessly searching for things we can steal and then pass off as our own: a natty bit of syntax, a seamless transition, a metaphor that jumps to its target like an arrow shot from an aluminum crossbow.

In my own case, I have written a few books built to a great extent on other writers’ books. Where the blurry line between a paraphrase and a lift is drawn – not always so clear when composing such books – has always been worrisome to me. True, I’ve never said directly that man is a political animal, or that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Still, I worry that I may somewhere have crossed that blurry line.

Joseph Epstein


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