I'm getting very serious on you in today's post at http://bit.ly/PgBAJx which deals with plagiarism and the Lehrer scandal — what's your view towards mixing vs stealing? Reply here or on my blog!
Marcus, thanks for posting, and I will follow up more carefully soon re: your link. I read quickly: What is self-plagiarism? I ask, fearfully.
In April 2010, I wrote to the Buffalo Poetics Listserv (that at one time had 2,000 subscribers worldwide) and asked whether anyone subscribed could explain (to me) (to all) the origin of the idea that art is theft.
I offered $100 to the best reply in honor of a poet, Heidi Arnold, then living in Binghamton who had sent me via Paypal $100 when I was crushed without employment or cash.
I assumed that Buffalo Poetics subscribers would be able to answer my question rather instantly based on what I assumed was the argument written somewhere in theoretical texts I had not read.
Their answers were speculative and some were interesting to consider but no respondent knew the origin of art as theft as an accepted idea. It turned out it isn't an argument theorists seem to have written or at least had not by then.
Then I went to the Internet and found this blog entry by Nancy Prager, Esq., posted in May 2007, called "Good Poets Borrow, Great Poets Steal."
The comments stream is ongoing five years later. Cyrena Pondrom [my professor at U.W.-Madison in the early 80s] supplied the source of T.S. Eliot's statement in a review of playwright Philip Massinger, that I'll quote part of here:
"One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest."
Eliot, Picasso, and Pound had seemed probable sources. I found but could not relocate a statement by Pound distantly related, without emphasis on theft, set on a mountain. Eliot in his review of Massinger describes but does not theorize or historicize stealing as art.
In teaching, I discouraged plagiarism, explained what it is, traced my undergraduate research paper writers' footsteps in the library. I have a friend who teaches advanced undergraduate poetry workshop; she teaches against plagiarism but also that art is theft. Again, besides this quotation from Eliot, there doesn't seem to be critical support for it as a practice or idea.
I am "against" theft and plagiarism. What is self-plagiarism? Attribution, even within a fiction (fictional attribution) is where I sit; if I parody, I tell you whom.
Novelist Eric Miles Williamson in a tribute to Ronald Sukenick (that I read on the net and that is probably included in a volume of EMW's criticism) wrote: Puritans do not like art because they do not like theft. There it was, and I was glad to read it, written by a friend, no less, so I could ask him for more information: Puritan meaning Protestant? Protestants do not like art because they do not like theft? Protestants like adultery, but that is subject for another thread.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger by Woody Allen was the first of his films that I had seen since he had married his daughter. Glad I did. It is a non-violent movie about loves in a related group of people, related mostly by blood and marriage, that go awry and occasionally straight, and in it is a portrayal of an intellectual property thief -- fiction writer. I gave Woody Allen full credit for portraying how evil that writer is, and he did it within a context of non-violence and struggle in love.
Recycling his own content, something I have done and jotted about in a "poem" exactly, and I love it that I jotted that and further, that I designated that diary-word-list as a piece, some even said "story." Thanks, Bill Yarrow, for so carefully interviewing me about it. We discuss it in the Monday Chat at F'naut, this and other lines, "Ana is a recycling choice" and "Experimentalism is recycling." Ana refers at Ana Verse to "a collection of literary or personal bon mots & anecdotes, reminiscences & details. Poems."
Bob Dylan reportedly wrote his album Love and Theft based on the philosophical writings? poetry? of a Japanese mountain man. Bob Dylan is from Hibbing, Minnesota. Not a mere few Minnesotans liked his music less after reading an account of that in the paper.
Jonah Lehrer is in the elite, mainstream publishing venues recycling his own copy (research) and fabricating Bob Dylan mots, yet if he were in the non-mainstream (OtherStream, term of Bob Grumman), I could see his practices there as a trope. In poetry, there is a practice referred to as "Apropriative." Partly, there is disagreement on theoretical grounds (French) that originality is possible.
It was Woody Allen's job and decision to portray the intellectual property theft fiction writer in the film (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). I label my reaction to seeing the man in the story, the actor's portrayal of that writer, without recreating the portrayal.
Dear Ann, I love your many thoughts and inferences on this! In your 1st post, your diligent search for a source of that bon mot is a rather excellent example of how it's done properly by an engaged, informed art thief, who views mixing as an art form rather than a racket. I've never seen this Woody Allen film, but my daughter has recently turned into an Allen fan and I'm looking forward to tracking it down. Allen himself, of course, being a cultural pop icon not unlike David Bowie, Dylan or Allen's own hero, Ingmar Bergman, must be extremely conscious of the depth of these waters. Even on Fictionaut, I've seen at least two examples of true theft, not open, conscious experimental play. At the time I didn't say anything, and I probably wouldn't even now for the reason mentioned in my blog post: I don't think theft will succeed at last (and I'm not a Protestant).
As for self plagiarism, it's a different issue, I think. I do a lot of it myself, I think we all do, must do, but when we do it we ought to inform the reader about our intention and give some context that might help him position our work within his value set. As you know, Lehrer hasn't done that, and he's now punished for it. Within the value set of the New Yorker and subscribers/readers who expect original content for their buck, this is understandable. My context, or your context, when we write or blog, usually for free, perhaps in order to present a complex of ideas in many different venues and from many different angles, is different.
I just remembered that I wrote one piece where I explicitly mixed tweets and my own story. I did that because nobody could make those tweets up, at least I couldn't (they were that stupid). In another piece I inserted lines from Chaucer in my own story. Both of these were written at least 2 years ago and mostly have experimental value. The twitter piece never was published (and rejected a for me record 7 times), the Chaucer piece was published ("Scissors"—http://bit.ly/f7dC4j at MHR) and is part of my upcoming collection (http://bit.ly/TYFYS).
Thanks, Marcus, fine renderings, topical parsings. Ann
...or my recent MASHUP series of photo + drawing + poem (for ILK journal poets): http://marcusspeh.tumblr.com/tagged/ilk ...
Here's a piece by the always insightful Roxane Gay in today's Salon
I'm afraid the question of literary theft always begins and ends with something pithy from Eliot (some say the line is actually Picasso's), but it goes way past the 20th century. Shakespeare stole almost all his plots, and most of the details. Boccaccio stole everything, as did Malory. Cervantes makes a joke about stealing it all, by having his characters burn the books he stole from, within the text. Dante wasn't above it, and neither was Ovid. Some even say Homer lifted the battle of the mice and frogs, though that's a tough one to prove.
The Lehrer case is far more interesting. I couldn't get through the Gay piece, because of the muddy syntax, but there's an excellent piece up on the Guardian, and his old editor at the Atlantic had some choice words.
First, the question of self-plagiarizing. We all do this. If it's a sin, Nabokov should be flayed alive. Is there a difference between art and journalism? Not in my mind, no matter how much money changes hands.
But for him, it seems to have been a step down a very slippery slope. Why did he take it? Pressure to produce? There may be something to that, although if an article took a day longer, or a book a month longer, no-one would have cared and he'd still have a reputation. Was he "sucking on his own exhaust," reading and swallowing his own press releases, believing what people said about him in their introductions to all those expensive talks he gave?
That seems like the best answer. People who are highly praised, as he certainly was, seem to start believing in their own immunity bubble. The actual person feeds the persona, and the persona feeds back into the person. Everyone from Borges to Lauryn Hill has talked about this. She, like Borges, actually started to speak of herself in the third person. The whole thing seems to be incredibly destructive.
The other interesting question is this: why do some people survive it, while others go down in flames? Borges and Dylan both came out of it, or worked through it. Hill and Lehrer were hobbled in the first case, or destroyed in the second. Not knowing any of them, I can't speculate. The only thing I can guess is that both Dylan and Borges faced it head on: while wearing masks, they acknowledged and even reveled in the masks themselves. Lehrer seems to have believed he *was* the mask, and the mask was him. Part of his product, after all, was selling himself as genius. It's almost as if he forgot that it was his work, and not his 'essence,' that got him so far along the road so quickly.
In any case, it's a sad story, and I hope he comes through it somehow. Perhaps he will: even Jayson Blair found a way to pick himself up and keep going.
Bill, obviously this scandal has struck a contemporary chord, perhaps we needed to hear this music. I'm glad that you mentioned Borges, a master of disguise and metafiction. But also a prime example of technical plagiarism as true art. This is not uncommon with South American, especially at Argentinian and Chilean Authors, I think: their affinity to mixing is partly owed to their geographical position between the Old and the New world, which translates into a sense of cultural in-between-ness.
I'm also curious what you meant with your comment “I couldn't get through the Gay piece, because of the muddy syntax”, since obviously when writing about writing the writing is essential.
It's interesting to me, how concerned you and others are regarding the future of the bright young men who have sinned. The European position seems somewhat harsher, or perhaps this is just me: when plagiarism or self plagiarism for that matter, occurs in the academic context, there's no mercy. For a student, their career is over before it began and they can just as well go sweeping corridors. Because of this, and because of the presence of the Internet, I spend a huge amount of time in my classes explaining, discussing and driving home the importance of properly attributing intellectual capital (that's the term we prefer that my business school: it makes people perk up). The following passage from Lehrer's book "Proust was a Neuroscientist" (2007) seems prophetic in the light of his own chosen path:
“We are imprisoned by no genetic or social physics for life is not at all like a machine. Each of us is free, for the most part, to live as we choose to, blessed and burdened by our own elastic nature. Although this means that human nature has no immutable laws, it also means that we can always improve ourselves, for we are works in progress. What we need now is a new view of life, one that reflects our indeterminacy. We are neither fully free nor fully determined. The world is full of constraints, but we are able to make our way.”
Great line from Gay's article - "There is a cult of bright young things, a cultural obsession with genius, a need to find beacons of greatness in an ordinary world."
There is a blend of new problems in the multiplicity of source material available on the internet where a writer can not only find obscure passages releveant to their work, but they can literally 'lift' the text, cut-and-paste it into their own... from there, the disguise could be a reworking of the syntactical, semantical aspect of the stolen text, such that a subsequent editorial search, founded on the suspicion that the passage is not the author's, would be confounded by the new structure.
What is paramount is not the ease of possibility for a new brand of plagiarism, but the lack of a moral compass. (Cliche phrase, that, moral compass... more's the pity, overworked as a phrase but not as an ideal.)
As much as the academic world irks me at times, the disciplines within academia tend to continue the standards that would combat plagiarism and faux journalism. But there it is, a structure that is only as strong as its shortcutting backsliders.
Standards and the legal strictures of laws concerning intellectual property are important, but there is no substitute in legality for that individual moral compass, the writer's conscience.
With another day to think, I've come to see the whole thing as simply sad. And I've started to ask myself questions about the possibilities of redemption, no matter how hopeless that may seem.
I'm glad you mentioned students, and taking the time to teach them. But I'm not sure Europeans are any harsher than North Americans on this subject. In fact, my experience teaching in both systems tells me the opposite.
The saddest case I ever saw was in North America, and involved a graduate student who lost her degree several years after graduation. Clearly, the attributions were not what they should have been. Members of the committee looking into the matter got on their high horses. I quietly pointed out that her advisor had signed off on the text. So had her first readers, and her second readers. Even the external expert had signed off on it. And her major professors had clearly let her think her approach was acceptable. Where were all these people in this? Was the culpability only hers? To avoid that question, they all raised their haughtiness a notch, and their dudgeon two notches.
I think of that case as I read what editors say about this one. Their fury and vindictiveness is unbounded, but has an element of defensiveness to it. Why is this? Where were those legendary fact checkers? And where are the publishers in all this? They've simply washed their hands, muttering 'We have no choice but to trust our authors.' It's very convenient.
So his career is over, he's outcast and exiled, his face a mask of shame, etc. He has demissioned, and done his auto-critique. Is that the end of it? Is the panel of judges sated? Have they avoided having to take their own seat in the show-trial stand?
And where is the path of redemption? I suppose few ever find it. We can all name the famous cases, most of which led to obscurity. And yet there is one example of coming back from such things: Doris Kearns Goodwin. Three years after the scandal, she came out with Team of Rivals, and seems to now be working on another book. Yes, she did penance, and is rumored to have paid substantial compensation. But she clearly had more to contribute, and it's good to see she's found a way to make those contributions. I wonder if it's possible in other cases. I wonder if it's possible in this one.
Academics come in all stripes, just like other people. Doris Kearns Goodwin might currently be our best known academic plagiarizer, but there are others.
Then there are academics like Lawrence Lessig who advocate the remix
(title in reference to David Post's The Search for Jefferson's Moose: Notes on the State of Cyperspace--a book I use in a class I teach).
And if you want to get real radical, there's David Parry
who gave a great keynote at a conference I attended in May called "Ending Knowledge Cartels" (the speech not the conference).
UC Berkeley's new and extraordinarily anal academic honesty policy opens the doors for faculty to charge students who share class notes (because the profs own that knowledge, doncha know--don't get me started) with academic dishonesty (a large umbrella term for plagiarism-related things). On my syllabus, I am supposed to put in writing whether or not students are allowed to share it. Fuck that. In the face of such a policy, I say rip it, remix it, and don't look back.
I know a lot of people would agree with, you, Jim, but God help us if academia is the standard bearer!
Jane, thanks for the links. The world is changing, though I try to ignore the culture as best I can. David Parry is the radical with the 'open source knowledge' business.
I am troubled by the possibility expressed by his statement, "Particularly I am interested in how traditional institutions-libraries, higher education, even democracy itself-will be altered in a post print society."
'Post print society' seems a bit premature, since the bulk of knowledge is still transferred and stored within the media of language... and language is still portrayed, even in the electronic media as vowels and consonants, so how much of a change is that, really? Even audio books originate from a reader translating the printed words into speech.
Is the fact that I'm troubled by the idea a reactionary sentiment? I'll think about that.
I can remember the revolution of the 'relevance police' in the '60's who protested anything in the college catalogue they deemed no longer relevant to the times and the culture, ready in a flash to discard all 'classic' teaching and the subject matter along with it. Nothing wrong with periodic cultural revolution if it replaces discarded objects with something better. Unfortunately, the '60's upheaval attempted to discard much more than it could ever replace. And people still walk back into classic literature. The list of favorite books and authors in individual Fictionaut bios reveals that well enough.
I don't think I will see the dawn of a post print society, but I'm watching nonetheless.
I agree, Jim. I don't think we'll be post-print for a long time, maybe never. And I love my print. But as a teacher, I think it is in the best interest of my students (and me, too) to think about that statement that troubles you. Some people worried about how the GI Bill democratized the universities (all the great unwashed suddenly washing up on the ivory tower shores). I think Parry means that more people will have access to all kinds of things they may now not have (if you do not have a student id, you can not enter the UC library--Berkeley is a state university, and this did not used to be true, that you had to have university id to walk through the doors). This will change us. It always has. As I have said to some of my colleagues, I'd rather be out in front of the change than dragged along behind it. Many of my students find Parry too radical; and others are kind of gobsmacked by him and it changes their notion of who they are as students and what they want to do with the knowledge they are acquiring. So, I don't think you are reactionary, at all. You are right in step with about half the 19-25-year olds I teach at Berkeley, man. It's a divisive subject, no way around that. But, honestly, I love thinking about it (can you tell ;-)
Strangely, in the past few weeks I've been writing an essay about plagiarism. It's been on my mind because I came across it as an editor and didn't know what to do. I received two stories that were practically identical in many respects. The first story (much longer) came in about a year ago. Because I loved it, the piece stuck with me. But I didn't publish it at because it was too far over our word count. Then about six months later, I read another story, shorter, and the hair literally stood up on my neck. So I went into our archives and you could practically put the two stories together, word for word. It was a huge dilemma. Which was the plagiarized story? We felt it had to be the shorter version, which seemed incomplete. It appeared to have been lifted out of the longer, more fleshed out story. It is a sticky thing. You don't want to make accusations that you cannot prove. What made it 'stickier' was that the writer of the shorter story was 'known' to us. We didn't publish either story. But it has naturally troubled me a great deal. One of them plagiarized, and is out there submitting.
I ran into the same sort of thing, Susan. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to "know" someone so desperate that cheating by lifting words from other places is an option. I "see" this person being published here and there, and I always wonder if the work is original or another rip-off. Why would anyone do this with creative work especially? Is the ego so delicate that ANY recognition, even if unearned, is necessary?
Folks, don't forget about Brad Vice and his "Tuscaloosa Nights" scandal. Poor bastard, to escape the furor and condemnation, he's now teaching at the University of West Bohemia, in Plzen, Czech Republic. Such a promising writer.
If the above whets your interest:
Sad about Brad Vice. Sounds like a perfect example of a mindless institutionalized knee-jerk zero-tolerance policy designed solely to protect the institution.
@ Joani, yes, very uncomfortable situation. I can't imagine being 'that desperate' either, unthinkable! The one in question with us is building a substantial career. That is very troubling.
Susan, I wonder if there is any way to call this out privately (by email?) to the two writers involved. It's troubling to think that work we place on the internet could be so easily harvested by someone in that way.
It's uncomfortable to imagine doing so, but if they are that close...
Is it possible someone was using a pen name the second time?
JLD, no pen name, different states, emails, etc.
There is nothing to 'call it out privately' because we have no 'proof'. The 'alleged plagiarizer' would undoubtedly deny, and with great vehemence, as those types of people are apt to do. I would be labeled as 'accuser'..
No. I'm unwilling to take that on. If Joani ran across a similar situation, then I'm sure other editors have as well. It happens. It will continue to happen. Students are rampantly plagiarizing. Hemingway wrote about his own friends stealing several of his stories!!!
Is unauthorized use of a piece of creative writing, even if correctly attributed to the author, an aspect of this (plagiarism)? Brief, correctly attributed quotation falls outside (plagiarism). And what is a writer's recourse when her text is falsified by unauthorized recreation (appropriation) on the Internet? Is talent in appropriation (level in achievement in it as art) the deciding line? For example, erasures in poetry: where do they fit? And what is her recourse when privately intended letters or parts of letters she wrote to one person circulate? Is that plagiarism? And if she recycles her own writing in letters and applies it in a new context, is that self-plagiarizing if self-attribution is given? And is misattribution (fabricating lines as Bob Dylan's, as in this example, of Jonah Lehrer) to plagiarize? Or is that identity theft? And in historically based fiction, when a real person is characterized, as subject or persona-based narrator, that seems to be all right in ethics and legally. Plagiarism to me seems academic or scientific, and copyright seems legal (by law). Influence? If a workshop writer sees something to rip from another workshop writer's unpub'd ms., is that legally or ethically defined as unprotected?
Ann, I think plagiarism as an activity is certainly better documented and therefore more easily detectable in the realm of academia, though, as Jane has pointed out, not less common at all than in other areas of intellectual pursuit.
No doubt that in the arts plagiarism will always be a gray area. Perhaps we should rather compare it with a different form of spell, expelled belonging to the dark arts, but not necessarily less effective. I shall have to hand over further analysis of this fact to the seasoned Harry Potter fans.
A couple of thoughts to throw into this very interesting discussion.
First the notion of "Self-plagiarizing," seems contradictory to the point of nonsense, plagiarizing being defined as the unauthorized use of another person's words or ideas. So maybe we should subsitute the terms "recycling," or simply " re-use," for the act of using again your own work in another context from the original. Further, while a pain in the ass for editors, it hardly seems an actionable offense.
Nor in Jonah Lerhrer's book was plagiarism at work but rather the fabrication of material in the form of quotes from Dylan that he never said.
Finally, the matter of remixing materials is different again, since in most instances e.g. in David Shields's book "REality Hunger," the remixing is acknowledged--even if there was reluctance to attribute it, on his if not his publisher's part. I had to deal with authentic plagiarism a number of times while I was teaching. It was usually pretty easy to spot and clearcut. In one of the articles about Lehrer, I note, there was even mention of a new software program( for a price) that claims to spot plagiarism.
In another instance, the author of the "Fifty Shades of...whatever stuff has been busted for allegedly taking 89% or so of her prose, characters et al from the perhaps equally meretricious " Twilight," series. Maybe we should be grateful that the writers of trash seem inclined to steal mainly from each other. Have at it, I say.
Thanks, David, your comment is enlightening for me and helps my understanding of Jonah Lehrer's situation in view of my own creative queries. Bill Lantry reminds us of Jayson Blair. I felt mortified at Blair's treatment by staffers on page one of The New York Times. It seemed he had invented details about persons, in particular a woman living in Harlem, in a human interest story printed in The New York Times. What is the gravity of that by comparison to the gravity of the staffers' public denouncing him on page one? I was frightened by it. It occurred to me that Jayson Blair was in part a misplaced creative writer. Certainly, no one like him was at my schools. Recruitment might have been better. We might have had 30 African American creative writing students at Houston, for example, to represent 18% of the matriculated graduate poets and writers, instead of 1.5 graduate students in poetry and writing as were there.
“The dead must be killed once again”: Plagiotropia as Critical Literary Practice
by Rui Torres
"Rui Torres tracks the practice of intertextual borrowing or 'plagiotropia' between the works of Portuguese experimental poets. Plagiotropia is a tangible and fecund practice in digital poetry, where poetic texts migrate and grow across media. Torres' arguments culminate in an examination of his own online combinatory cyber-poetry, which creatively re-writes earlier pre-digital experimental works."
Announced today in the electronic book review (ebr) newsletter in the August Hesitate edition.
… or photo siphoned — attribution not known — procured by sucking — off the Internet or your composure's Brownie. Siphon is a U-shaped Tube, as we know. Esteemed print publications have defined "self-plagiarism," based on the travails of Jonah Lehrer. Those journalists perceived that Jonah Lehrer had been credited twice for his own research or writing, following exact phrasing or depending … ?, paid twice for a self-requoted or rephrased part under exclusive contract? That raises questions: such as, is student plagiarism paid? Frank Kermode described translation of words such as "cathexis" twice, differently in his first-published and collected writings of 1986, 1989, and 1991 (2001). (The first appearance of "The Plain Sense of Things" in 1986, Midrash and Literature, Yale University Press, follows the first appearance of "Freud is Better in German" in the New York Times in 1983.)
Self-requite may work for love without retaliation.
Damn, Ann, you dug up this old thread I started, on the questions which are discussed all over again after Frankie's post...
I recently found a talk by Jonah Lehrer which was quite sickening because he was grovelling so, bloody tears came out from under the screen of my iPad I swear...apparently he wants to go back but he can't because the muse won't forget or forgive his transgressions.
The entire plagiarism reality and spread in our time (it is not new of course) is such a slap in the face of the people. But of course, those who plagiarize, slap themselves, too, and Lehrer is only the most recent example...in Germany we have had four prominent politicians who plagiarized in their PhD theses over the past 2years alone...
As for "Freud is better in German". But of course. The translations can never be too bad though because he is the best German non fiction prose writer of his generation. Nietzsche before him, after him...perhaps Benjamin.
It seems to me that we confuse plagiarism with copyright, and the problem with Lehrer is not that he reused his own material, but that he was reselling the same material to different venues which, I assume, were under the impression it was theirs exclusively.
(And that he just made shit up, of course.)