Saturday, August 6, 2011

Susan Sontag's Plagiarism?: A Few Observations

A few years before Susan Sontag died in 2004, the story broke that some passages in her novel In America were plagiarized from other books.  Well, I just happened to notice that Sontag's well-known essay on Jean-Luc Godard, first published in the Partisan Review in 1968 and subsequently reprinted in Styles of Radical Will, contains a few sentences that seem rather similar to passages in Richard Roud's book on Godard, which was released the previous year.  Sontag mentions Roud's book in a footnote (p. 151 of the paperback edition) and clearly her piece draws heavily on Roud for factual information, repeating some of the same quotes from the filmmaker.  But there's also this:

Roud, p. 41 (2010 BFI Silver reprint edition):
the reproach most often slung at Godard is that he can't tell a story; that there is never enough plot and that what there is, is dramatically incoherent at best, arbitrary at worst.
Sontag, p. 156:
 the standard criticism leveled against Godard is that his plots are undramatic, arbitrary, often simply incoherent...
and this...

Roud, p. 41:
Godard does not 'tell stories.'  Even his detractors, however, have to admit that he could if he wanted to, since most of them except A bout de souffle from their strictures.  What they fail to recognize is that he doesn't want to.
Sontag, p. 156:
What his detractors don't grasp, of course, is that Godard doesn't want to do what they reproach him for not doing.
and this, too...

Roud, p. 59:
it is interesting that when one looks at A bout de souffle now, the famous jump-cuts seem to have disappeared; one hardly notices them, so permanent and ubiquitous a feature of contemporary film style have they become.  The same holds true, by the way, for the hand-held camera shots which caused such a furore at the time: they, too, are almost invisible.
Sontag, p. 157:
(If one sees Breathless today, however, the once obtrusive cutting and the oddities of the hand-held camera are almost invisible, so widely imitated are these techniques now.) 
Hmmm....  I guess maybe this sort of thing doesn't happen only in In America....

...also, here's an interview with Jean-Paul Belmondo (the star of Breathless) from last spring.  The interview starts at 2:40 (Belmondo had a stroke a few years ago that slightly affected his speech):

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