Michel Houellebecq, the man considered by many to be among the Francophone world’s leading literary treasures, has been accused of ripping off entries from — where else? — Wikipedia.
The French Slate, Slate.fr, found certain passages in the writer’s new novel The Map and the Territory eerily reminiscent of entries on the user-generated encyclopedia. The suspect excerpts describe three disparate entities: the French politician Frédéric Nihous, the wooded northern French town of Beauvais and the common housefly.
So, when Slate.fr tested the prose against the respective Wikipedia pages, there was indeed an uncanny similarity, one that made it clear the author has consulted the site a little too closely. In fact, the entries quote the encyclopedia almost verbatim, without any mention of the source.
When reached for comment in a story for The Telegraph, Houellebecq scoffed at the idea that this constituted something as damning as plagiarism, but failed to deny that he had taken inspiration from Wikipedia. Instead, he insisted that the appropriation was “part of my method.”
He said: “I hope it adds to the beauty of my books to use such material. I would like to be able to modify (the extracts) less than I do … It’s a type of patchwork, sewing together, dovetailing. Employing (written) material that is rare because of its ‘extraliterarity’ is a small source of pride.”
He cited Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges and France’s Georges Perec as other great writers versed in the arts of mixing “real” texts into fiction.
Is it “patchwork” or straight-up pilfering? The Telegraph has a side-by-side comparison of the offending passages and their Wikipedia counterparts, so go ahead and start the judging.