One wouldn’t necessarily think that essayist and thinker Susan Sontag could generate fresh news – what with her having died recently – but as the Observer’s Michael Calderone reports, a 2004 speech just published in a posthumous collection by FSG has sparked some controversy for the discovery that a section on hyperfiction owes a great debt (almost word for word) to a New York Times Book Review piece by Laura Miller in 1998. The similarities were discovered by John Lavagnino, a senior lecturer in humanities and computing at King’s College London, who wrote a short letter to the editor published in the Times Literary Supplement:
“Shortly after personal computers and word-processing programs became commonplace tools for writers, a brave new future for fiction was trumpeted,” Miller had written in the lead of her New York Times Book Review piece.
“Ever since word-processing programs became commonplace tools for most writers-including me-there have been those who assert that there is now a brave new future for fiction,” were the words Sontag delivered in the 2004 lecture.
Miller also wrote: “Hypertext is sometimes said to mimic real life, with its myriad opportunities and surprising outcomes…”
Sontag wrote: “Hyperfiction is sometimes said to mimic real life, with its myriad opportunities and surprising outcomes…”
FSG publisher Jonathan Galassi said that Sontag “didn’t prepare the speech for publication” but that if the allegations prove true, a correction will be added in future printings. Meanwhile, Miller said to Calderone that she initially thought that Sontag “lifted my research” – committing what might amount to a literary misdemeanor. “When I actually sat down and read it,” she said, “it was more than that. The kind of irony is that it was in a lecture on morality and literature.”