Eric Schliesser has recently mentioned a conference on self-plagiarism, inspired, apparently, by Bruno Frey’s republication of the same article in more than one venue. That act of self-plagiarism reminded me of the notion of “plagiat par anticipation”, which in its simplest form is the act of appropriating, without acknowledgment, the work of one’s successors. The notion was introduced by Francois Le Lionnais, one of the founders of Oulipo, in a flagrant plagiat par anticipation of Pierre Bayard’s book on the subject forty years later.
Gérard Genette somewhere (in Palimpsestes?) introduces the more elaborate notion of “auto-plagiat par anticipation”, which is to say the act of anticipating or drawing upon one’s own future works. So perhaps Bruno Frey was just making good his earlier acts of self-appropriation.
In a passage that I think Eric will appreciate, Aurélien Rouquet [pdf], who unfortunately has not managed a plagiat par anticipation of Bayard, and is therefore forced servilely to write about him, says:
La première thèse est celle d’une « histoire littéraire autonome ». Précisément, Bayard appelle « à séparer une fois pour toute l’histoire événementielle et l’histoire littéraire, et à admettre que les écrivains et les artistes relèvent en réalité d’une double chronologie » (p108). Prenant acte des similitudes que l’on ne manquera jamais de trouver entre écrivains éloignés dans le temps (du fait de l’existence du plagiat par anticipation), Bayard propose ainsi de narrer l’histoire littéraire sur la base de ces similitudes, plutôt que sur le fait que certains écrivains ont pu vivre à une même époque. Selon lui, il n’y aurait pas scandale à présenter Sophocle, qui a narré le mythe d’Œdipe en utilisant une technique tardivement utilisée au sein de la littérature policière (le meurtrier est l’enquêteur), au côté de Freud et d’écrivains du 20e siècle.
Translation: The first thesis is that of an “autonomous literary history”. Bayard calls for a “separation once and for all of event-history from literary history”, and for an “admission that literature and art are referred to a double chronology”. Taking note of the similarities one will never fail to find between authors far apart in time (on the basis of plagiarism by anticipation), Bayard proposes to narrate the history of literature on the basis of those similarities, rather than on the basis of the fact that certain writers happened to live in the same period. There would be no scandal in presenting Sophocles, who told the myth of Œdipus using a technique later employed in murder mysteries (the murderer is also the investigator), alongside Freud and other twentieth-century authors.
As Bayard knows, he has been plagiarized in advance by Borges, who wrote of a literary history in which Kafka, rather than being influenced by his precursors, creates them (“Kafka and his precursors”, in Other inquisitions).
Behind these jokes there can be discerned a serious issue for the historian. In the sixties it was discussed under the heading of “genesis and structure” (Piaget, Derrida), but I will use the more familiar terminology (for anglophone philosophers) of types and events. The historian, even in bare narrative, cannot merely order events by time; some principle of selection is needed on the basis of which some subset of “all” the events within some period (the object of an ideal, impossible, “total” history) is selected. Those events will be of a type which is itself perhaps limited in time and space (e.g. “Baroque”), but whose conditions of existence in time will differ from those of the events falling under it. Considered as instances of the type, the events stand in a timeless relation of similarity, and could be re-ordered without ceasing to stand in that relation. That is, of course, what Borges suggests: the “precursor” relation, insofar as it based upon similarity, is reversible.