linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


how kaavya viswanathan got dissed

as gawkers ethics-bound journalists continue to scrutinize kaavya viswanathan's novel for instances of so-called plagiarism, more and more keep turning up. although the harvard crimson - who "broke" the story (hook, line, and sinker) - argues that the latest revelations, including passages resembling the work of salman rushdie, "raise fresh questions about the originality of Viswanathan’s novel," i'd have to say that i'm led to the opposite conclusion. how could such a sly synthesis of so many different sources be considered anything other than original? isn't that what originality really is?

lack of attribution notwithstanding, viswanathan's novel is clearly a helluva hodgepodge. i'm not sure why the obvious conclusion to draw from that is that is it less original. there are some strange notions of "original" floating around out here. why are people so invested in such seemingly delusional notions, such imaginary ideals?

i think kaavya should give up this whole "unintentional and unconscious" bit, cry foul on her publisher and handlers, and tell the world all about her close engagement with the literature that informs her authorial voice. let her desi and non-desi teenage fans decide whether they think it still stands as a compelling work. salman rushdie need not worry about losing readers to ms.viswanathan.


Blogger i said...

no shit. i haven't followed this story, so am likely under-informed... but (perhaps goaded along by your argument to a "conclusion" of "my own") it seems to me that what she has done is (ill-advisedly) created a work of art that is an amalgamation of her influences. i don't buy her contention that it was unintentional... but how is this significantly different from the process by which a DJ creates his art? acknowledgment and attribution would have helped her cause, but does she really deserve to have her book deal dropped? it is my understanding that the "plagiarism" in question is only structural in nature (?). how often does an "artist", of whatever stripe, create a work that isn't in some way derivative of that which has come before them?

really dig your blog. you're all over the place...

how's the spray-paint grass growing?

5:23 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thanks, i. and i hope i haven't unfairly swayed your opinion. i'm being a bit polemical here, but that's precisely because, as you say, the problem seems like more of a structural one to me. and i think the DJ metaphor is an apt one. i don't mean to let her off the hook exactly: it does seem less than forthcoming at any rate (and her aspirations toward i-banking are far from reassuring).

as for the "grass," i should take another picture. they spraypaint that shit again yesterday. not much rain in april i guess. still, a few little buggers are poking through the topsoil.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous max ornstein said...

First of all, love the site. I've been reading for a while, and the way you intertwine music with life and social issues and photogrpahy and at harvard no less! is downright awesome.

That said, I don't know if I think that the DJ metaphor works the way you've outlined it. I'm assuming we're talking about Mixtape DJing here, simply because bringing the rocking-the-crowd aspect of DJing into a conversation about books will be confusing.

In a broad definition, DJ's take tracks and mix them and bend them and speed them up and slow them down and overlap them to create blends and mixes and make their audience listen to music in a new way, or to new music, or both. For example, putting The Jungle Brothers over Hollaback Girls (DJ Ayres' Mix, the first that came to mind) takes two whole pieces of work and combines them to make something new.

I had no opinion on Kaavya's "plagiarism" until I read the newer Crimson article, which shows a piece of dialogue from Kinsella that is "reinterpreted" by Kaavya from one of the articles you link to, the "Opal Similar to More Books." The reason this stood out to me was because it was not a paragraph of description, but dialogue, and her writing mimics Kinsella's pretty much completely.

The way I see what she "did" and how it relates to hip-hop is this...Timbaland was undeniably a major influence of the Neptunes, they had the same overall feel, but the Neptunes innovated on a style that Timbaland had created and made it their own. They heard the Timbaland sound, liked it, and created the Neptunes sound, which was similar, but incontravertably their own.

There's no reason why Kaavya can't like authors and admire them and mimic their voices, hell, I think...Somerset Maugham said something to the effect of (paraphrased badly and I have no idea where from, possibly the introduction to The Razor's Edge) "Every writer steals. Every writer steals from writers they grew up admiring and it's in the combining of all of these different styles that a writer creates their own." So it's like, in '97 or whenever the Neptunes were on the come up they liked Timbaland and probably Primo and who knows who else, Puffy, Dre? and in drawing from those influences created their own style. Obviously the Neptunes are a...big example simply because of the heights they've reached, but again, they were the first thing that popped into my head.

When Kaavya mimics her "influences" word for word, to me it's like if Pharell and Chad Hugo decided to loop the drum tracks or the synth tracks from Timbaland's "Cry Me a River" and pass them off as their own, selling their own version to you know, whoever, and claiming that it's their artistic work.

The other reason that I think that the DJ example doesn't stand up is because I don't know of anywhere it's been done. Or done successfully. A mixtape isn't new, compositionally, what I mean is that on the back, the track list will always be other people's songs, but in the same breath it is new because of the way it's arranged. I don't think there's ever been a book or piece of literature that does this. One that is entirely comprised of pre-existing work, with little to no original composition beyond the "remixes" here and there, and still succeeds at being a largely digestable (readable/listenable), new, unique piece of art, the way a good mixtape or DJ set is.

To my knowledge that hasn't been done, if it has, I'd love to read it.

4:11 AM  
Anonymous max again said...

and this is bordering on "too long" now, but it just occured to me the significance of a tracklist in this argument. I wonder what the response would have been if Kaavya had said "I took from, X, Y, and Z," The same way a DJ would say "Track 1 is a Thin White Duke Remix, Track 2 is Simian Vs. Justice, Track 3 is Three 6 Mafia, Track 5 is Daft Punk, Track 6 is ...."

If she did that, I'm highly skeptical that she would've gotten a book deal in the first place--see my timberland/neptunes example in the other post, and if she did end up getting the book deal would the response be more negative or less than it is now?

I think a large part of the difference between DJ and Author in the sense that you / I put forth but more so in the public eye is the fact that the DJ doesn't profit more or less than the artists he features in his sets and on his tapes. If he makes X amount of dollars on a mixtape or X amount of dollars at a club, it's entirely possible that the artists he's playing will benefit more than he will himself. Look at what mixtapes did for MIA and Spankrock and you know, unknown indie bands (from northern europe) that become slightly more accessible when someone puts an 808 under them so you can nod your head along. If you really LOVE track nine and track 32 on whatever mixtape and track nine is an Archetecture in Helsinki song and track 32 is a song from Daft Punk's Discovery Album not entitled "One More Time" or "Harder Better Faster Stronger," there's a good chance you might look into their other work and buy an album or two.

Mixtapes work so well because they're absolutely an art for the DJ and they are excellent PR for the song selections OF that DJ. Clue and Kay Slay and other people who like to shout obnoxiously over rap have made themselves rich on this principle.

On the flip side, if Kaavya writes this book and says I took X from this book and Y from this book and Z from this book, essentially if she put a tracklist on the back cover, the authors of X/Y/Z still don't benefit at all unless she pays them directly, because if she's repackaged them well, which apparently she has, then the incentive to spend your time and money on the original works is largely diminished.

4:35 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

i hear you, max. and i think perhaps you're right to point to (sample-based, or not) producers rather than DJs as a closer metaphor. i think the main difference - if we want to take this somewhat awkward analogy further - is that the neptunes do a good job synthesizing their influences (and often give explicit props to their inspiration) whereas kaavya tried to hide it. moreover, and i haven't read the book so i can't really say, i suspect that kaavya's book is no great work of literature (thus the pejorative "chicklit" label that even the NYT has applied to her), and thus perhaps doesn't deserve what some might see here as a defense - never mind a comparison to DJs or producers who indeed craft great works out of other great (or not so great) works.

my point has more to do with how we define originality, and i don't think attribution should have anything to do with it. all artists, including the undeniably "original" ones, incorporate other art into what they do, more or less explicitly, to a lesser or greater extent (depending on the work, the medium, and the artist).

it's funny that you ask for an example of a largely sample-based work of literature. a little over a week ago i posted the first stanza of t.s. eliot's "the wasteland," which is a massive hodgepodge of direct passages from other works.
(i definitely recommend reading a version with annotations on the annotations, though)

sure, it's a very different thing than kaavya's novel, but it's just a more explicit example in some ways, too.

finally, i'm just not sure that the original works from which kaavya liberally (and perhaps unscrupulously) borrows are diminished by her borrowing. sure, she may have done a good enough job to appeal to some readers, but they're all different works and i think people will see them that way. especially in the so-called chick-lit genre, readers are happy to read the same cliches over and over again. they want every new version that gets correctly marketed to them. and i don't think any of us would disagree that kaavya's not about to cut in on the livelihood of mr.rushdie.

many thanks for your thoughtful comments, and your kind words.

5:37 AM  
Blogger erin said...

geez, as a college english instructor i have to tell you that i'm a little nervous about your comments. the similarities between texts and the excuses provided by ms. viswanathan are classic. plagiarism amongst high school and college students is at an all-time high. the internet has made it incredibly easy to do (and, thankfully, to discover). i worry about making references to dj-ing and sampling because the reality is that opal mehta is not a single performance in a club, nor is it a track where samples are cleared. her book is a packaged creation developed by a marketing company to sell to teens. check out alloy, the company that did the work involved in preparing a book like this for publishers.
her book is, more than anything else, a product. it is a product in which she, inadvertant or not, lifted from other products and did not attribute. if i were to do the same with an academic text, i could get in heaps of trouble. the reality is, the true comparison that can be made between viswanathan and producers/djs is that if you want to try and sell something made up of a whole wack of other people's stuff, you've gotta ask permission. period. girl's a plagiarist.

5:54 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

i don't exactly disagree with you, erin. and by no means am i advocating plagiarism, especially in an academic context. if she were a student of mine, and did the same thing on a paper as she did in this book, i wouldn't hesitate to get the disciplinary wheels rolling.

i do think it's important though to recognize, as you point out, that this is corporate product first and foremost. i say let the industry eat itself. and let the teens decide what they should do with their time and purchasing power. why should kaavya alone take the fall? her excuses are unconvincing, which is why i think she should take them back and come clean about the process of putting this work together.

and frankly i don't see why producers or DJs should have to get permission to do what they do (except, yes, once they enter the highest - i.e., corporate - levels of the commercial sphere). i think that's one of the major shortcomings of today's copyright regime with regard to music. that sort of system is just simply too prohibitive, too out of step with actual practice.

dj premier's a plagiarist, jay dee's a plagiarist, don corleone's a plagiarist, etc. but that's not their fault, really. they are plagiarists because the system makes it that way. would i give them a failing grade? hell naw.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous jace said...

i think there are 2 errors surrounding the Viswanathan storm.

the first can be summed up by the Crimon article title Wayne links to: "‘Opal’ Similar to More Books". All books are similar to 'more books'.

If it somehow emerged that Rushdie was a plagiarist and thousands of people decided to read his latest to find similar passages to other books they had read, of course suspect sections emerge. Same with any author. I'm not saying Viswanathan's *not* an inept thief,-- on the contrary, she's making Harvard kids look bad! ;) -- but it's a weirdly myopic approach with diminishing returns. "she stole bigtime from Book A, **and** smalltime , perhaps, froms Book B through Z"

and the other error to my eyes is in the opposite direction -- trying to establish a theoretical linkage btwn this and DJ culture / issues of copyright in music. There are too many delicious specificities at work to talk about them under similar terms.

fun stuff to talk about / think thru, for sure, and using one to segue into the other is fine, but i cant see the discussions being furthered without focusing on what makes them different rather than any broad copyleft/copyfight/bootleg buzzword resonances.

watching the Author die his slow Death,


7:27 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

good points, jace. you must be wicked smaht or something. thanks for constantly challenging in your own work the all-too-often deserved reputations hahvid kids have earned (though i think the i-banking set is most guilty on this count - how 'bout an analysis of plagiarism among i-banker wannabes vs. DJ wannabes?).

i do agree with the important distinctions you draw with regard to comparing appropriation, allusion, sampling, versioning, etc. in lit and music. definitely different media with significantly different concerns and forms. that's what i was trying to get at in my first post on this.

i suppose i shouldn't have so clearly called i's metaphor "apt," though i do like it's suggestiveness, at least insofar as it draws our attention to the ways that authors (and may they die a quick, painless death) also draw from other materials in creating their own works. but yeah, the similarities break down pretty quickly.

thanks for weighing in!

7:39 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

cautious as we should be about comparisons, i do think that "plagiarism" better describes the plight of sample-based producers who can't afford to license better than, say, "theft."

of course, i wouldn't want to spoil any self-proclaimed pirate's practice.

7:43 AM  
Blogger erin said...

i guess the difference between clearing samples and citing texts is that the chicago manual of style and mla and whatever other guide you wish to work with (though i am partial to chi-town--endnotes and reference lists rule, man!) allow for a kinder "copyright regime" than that which exists in the music industry. as long as you cite, and you don't cite wicked tons of something, you're okay. it's what allows college students to experiment with ideas and come up with their own. here's to proper parenthetical documentation and it's instrumental role in the creative process of writing!
of course, this practice isn't really used in fiction (except, perhaps, in david foster wallace), but why couldn't it be?
as for the similarities between opal and other texts, i can't agree with you, jace. there is a difference between making the argument of the reality of influence and near verbatim copying.

8:41 AM  
Blogger erin said...

oh, and read this:

8:42 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

you're a real romantic, erin. new ideas? what a notion! and we can get to them by disciplining our style accding to the MLA? cool!

don't mean to be too facetitious or anything, but putting oneself in a conversation (which is what quotation, citation, and even plain borrowing/copying does) is a much broader thing, i think. not just for college students: it's for urbody!

and i'm really not persuaded by kenney's piece. anyone foolish enough to buy a book by one author under another person's name...well, i hope they enjoy the book. that's capitalism's problem, not the authors' or artists'. i don't really understand what everyone's so afraid of here, except losing money, in which case i'm far from sympathetic. color me radical. we need a better system.

8:58 AM  
Blogger erin said...

of course...i agree. keep in mind that it is the end of semester and i'm reading endless papers.

one thing that i think needs to be brought up is the idea that alloy simply repackaged various y.a./chick lit in "ethnic" clothing. the fact that many articles suggest that all these books for teenage girls are so similar anyways means that perhaps we should be asking how come the experience of young women is seen as so homogenous (i guess it makes it easier to sell lip gloss, among other things). where are the alternate voices? opal mehta certainly wasn't one.

oh, and btw: i host the mla olympics in my literature classes once a semester. numerous events, prizes, and a general appreciation of why citation is important. everyone's gotta have a hobby horse... :)

11:42 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

i think my aversion to citation is probably fairly bound up with the demanding bibliographical dimension of my dissertation at the moment. nothing wrong with a good citation. i'm more into the strunk&white type of manual when it comes down to it, though. (and yet i still rarely omit needless words [or sentences].) and i'm a bit of a punctuation geek too - despite my abuses. so it goes.

really good points about the ethnicizing of chicklit here and the assumption of sameness around - or is it the construction of? - teenage girlness.

it's a world of consumers to mold.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous max again said...

I feel extremely overmatched posting on the same blog as not one, but seemingly *numerous* Harvard professors, as though I was at a water park and meant to get on the line for the ride called "The Lazy River" but instead got in the line for the ride called "Shotgun Falls," or maybe "Cliffdiver" accidentally.

I think it's interesting to look at the differentiation between the idea of Sample "theft" or Sample "plagiarism." Or, to leave the legal words out of it, creative sampling to make art and sampling that doesn't really bring anyting new to the table, just loops four or eight or however many bars.

Creative sampling is really stamping whatever you do with your own artistic intepreatation, so that the new song is as much yours as it was theirs (A good example of this is how the The Temperees - You Make the Sunshine became Kanye West's - "The Corner."

An example of the second type as I see it, that which doesn't bring anyting new to the table, is Rich Harrison's beat for Amerie's "One Thing" that is, in reality, just a looped break from the The Meters' "Oh, Calcutta."

Both are sampling, and both are completely legal, but when you hear "One Thing" And you think "Wow, that's an awesome beat!" and then you learn weeks later that it's the work of The Meters', not Rich Harrison, and he largely assumed credit for it...

To say the least, my opinion of his body of work went down a bit. That wasn't a one off thing, either, the Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman" became Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" with little to no changing by Rich, not his own original drums (at least as far as my ear can tell).

Perhaps Rich Harrison's work on those two songs is a parrelel to what Kaavya did. The more I try to draw this analogy out, though, more holes I see and the more musical examples have to be created.

The clearest comparison of what Kaavya had potential to be, is RJD2, simply because of the plethora of samples that go into each of his songs, the same way her books "sampled" at least eight books and counting.

The two things that make me want to stop before I make this analogy are that I think I'm beating the music=literature thing into the ground, but i'm ignoring that instinct because I think this is an interesting thing to try and wrap one's head around.

The second reason is that I think RJD2 is one of the creatively gifted people ever to put their hands on an MPC, responsible with a couple of other pepole for pushing the genre of electronic music into new an unexplored ground.

From what I've read of her book, Kaavya is not on that level, but I believe she could have been, regardless of her writing talent or lackthereof.

I think that it would have been revolutionary if she wrote the same book, "How Opal Mehta etc etc etc," with all of its sources and "plagiaristic" qualities, but instead of hiding the fact that she took from other sources and even going on the record as saying that nothing infuenced the writing of her book. From a Creative Writer's perspective, this is a horrible move simply because one does unconsciously channel their influences, as she claimed.

It's very unlikely that one does it WORD FOR WORD. Personally, it shows up in the way I write, informing my vice and the stylistic stuff in my writing more than anything else. Your voice is a composite of other writers, and there is a chance that you do accidentally repeat a turn of phrase you read elsewhere. Paragraphs, themes, and structure, like she did, is another thing entirely. That's the worst thing you can do--in most Genre's, every story has been told already, and what makes each writers work his own is the way it is told. She circumvented that, telling other people's stories as her own, in he way they told them to her. I'm biased as a writer, but I think that's cheating.

Sorry for the tangent. I think it would've been revolutionary had she just out and out admitted it. To have said, effectively, and in some form of citation (although a new style would like have had to be invented to fit the work) at the back of the book, "Yes, I 'sampled' X work, and Y work, and Z work, and on this page and this page and this page, too. The fact that I sampled does not change the fact that the larger work is absolutely my own, it improves it, as I am able to create a unique story (and that would like be very, very important, which I'm not convinced Kaavya did), through the creation of a collage of other people's work and my own." She could even put that at the beginning of her book, under the dedication, which would be to "Mom, Dad, Salmon Rushdie, and so on."

If she had done that--created, no, weaved(wove) a unique story through her own and other people's words, it would be comparable to RJD2.

In "Ghostwriter" he sampled Elliott Smith, Walter Carlos, Betty Wright, and William Tell. Even though the song features sampled bits of all of those other works, it is absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, RJD2's artistic work.

If she took words and phrases from other work and recontextualized them the same way RJD2 does Elliot Smith's moan on Ghostwriter, and made them her own somehow (and I'm not sure how or if it's even possible), what is now at best a Teen-Schlock-Turned-Controversial-Conversation-Point and lesson in why plagiarism is naughty and at worst a joke could have become a groundbreaking work of literature.

I think as bold an action as that would've been rejected at first, but in a manner less harsh than what she is currently facing. After that, I think the concept would have been copied (which is ironically fitting), and copied, and copied, and the concept would have snowballed until it forced people who thought there was no artistic merit in "PLAGIARISM ROWRRROWLLOWR" into acknowledging it as a literary movement the same way Electronic Music and Hip Hop and at the root of it Sampled Music FORCED itself into relevancy in...I guess it was the 80s?

I mean, there are still people who think that Daft Punk or RJD2 have no artistic worth because they don't know how to play the guitars that are featured in their music, but those people grow scarcer every single day. Especially when you take time to break it down for them so that they can see the complexity with their own eyes.

If Kaavya had done that and succeeded, then who knows, in 25 years we might have had to update all the cheesy documentaries about Hip Hop.

"The Four Pillars of Hip Hop are DJing, MCing, Breaking, and Graffiti Writing"

would have to become

"The Five Pillars of Hip Hop are DJing, MCing, Breaking, Graffiti Writing, and....Regular Writing."

Again, I A) for the long length, but this is something that I really think is worth talking about and B) the fact that when I'm tired, I use way too many adverbs and fuck with the structure of my own sentences in a way that is neither artistic nor interesting just vaguely confusing.

12:08 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

wow, max. thanks for the screed!

just for the record, there are 0 harvard professors currently posting to the comments on this post, though jace and i are both alums (and, yeah, i teach a course at the harvard extension school, which does not me a harvard prof make - at least for most people).

i see what you're saying, but i also think the line between 'creative' and 'non-creative' here is pretty blurry, at least in terms of sample-based music. if i recall correctly, rich harrison - as much as he's a loop man (and there's nothing wrong with finding the perfect loop) - also did some chopping and rearranging (if subtle) of the meters' cut on "one thing." so i'm just not sure how easy it is to draw clear lines here.

that's part of the problem, though it's not necessarily the same problem that got kaavya into trouble. i think that in her case it's a much more insidious thing having to do with the corporate publishing industry. this news only seems to confirm my hunch. if kaavya wants to take a fall for a structural symptom, that's her problem, of course.

5:22 AM  
Anonymous max said...

I agree with you about Rich Harrison, there's definitely skill required in making a great loop or I think even larger skill, or knowledge, or good taste, or intuition, required in realizing that the Chi Lites and the Meters would make great pop/RnB songs in the current musical climate.

And I agree with you that the situation and everything within it is incredibly blurry, but I think that the fact that it is not at all clear cut is what is allowing us, as interested onlookers, to discuss the nature of creativity in new and interesting ways.

And wow, that article is really disillusioning to someone who's dream of writing creatively for a living has not yet been shattered. I guess I just have to take solace in the fact that I don't think I'll ever be writing anything that has a thematic element in common with Sweet Valley High or else that is more developed than the idea that "both books contain men. both books contain women. both books contain people."

If it turns out that what that article says is true--and I don't know how it'd be proven--perhaps a teacher or a friend has a mid-to-late-revision copy of the book and it will show that there are no other influences within it, then I feel really bad for Kaavya, because she truly, and in the most pure sense of the word, like if there was some way to force language through Brita Filters, got screwed.

7:23 AM  
Blogger ripley said...

nice polemic - stirring up the pot

isn't the problem with using work that is not attributed? more like fraud? That's the problem I have with plagiarism. (that and that if it's badly done it means I don't know if my student even understands what they used)

And fair point wayne that most corporate/mass market art is that anyway. committee-made and probability-driven. She is the flashpoint of what should be understood -all that kind of stuff is made by cobbling together chunks of what sells and has sold.

But the gap in the comparison for me is that with sample-based music, attribution (or rather recognition that the sounds may originate with someone other than the sample user) is pretty much understood. I assume most beat music involves samples and am surprised when it is the reverse. so I wouldn't see it as plagiarism because to me plagiarism implied the fraud. copyright violation it is, but plagiarism, hmmm..

so the norms for books are a little different. I like the Wasteland reference, but I think there too readers would figure out the intent and not see it as passing off others' works as ones own.

what's great about this brouhahoo is that publishing practices so different from fantasies of the author are brought to light and people are still upset. Meanwhile I agree, the kids don't really care either way.

4:38 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

yes, ripley! good points. fraud is fraud, though it can only exist (or "injure") as such in a certain kind of market context, i suspect.

i like your point about samples (and t.s. eliot) even better. of course, eliot was quite explicit about his borrowings, employing footnotes and typographical cues (e.g., italics). and samples are themselves sonic footnotes, indexes of their own process/practice. when one hears a sample, even if recontextualized (unless in such a way that even its sample-ness, never mind its structural features, disappear), one hears a sample. thus one registers that the act of engagement with another('s) work is foregrounded in the (so-called derivative) work. that's quite different than a sly paraphrase.

8:49 AM  
Blogger J.Green said...

As a lurker on this site and recent university graduate, I feel the need to weigh in. After reading through the incredibly informed comments I believe that “max” got to the core of the issue in this paragraph:

“It's very unlikely that one does it WORD FOR WORD. Personally, it shows up in the way I write, informing my vice and the stylistic stuff in my writing more than anything else. Your voice is a composite of other writers, and there is a chance that you do accidentally repeat a turn of phrase you read elsewhere. Paragraphs, themes, and structure, like she did, are another thing entirely. That's the worst thing you can do--in most Genre's, every story has been told already, and what makes each writers work his own is the way it is told. She circumvented that, telling other people's stories as her own, in the way they told them to her. I'm biased as a writer, but I think that's cheating.”

Having just finished my honours thesis on creating an applicable methodology for post-structuralist discourse theory, I have been acquainted with the ins and outs of citations for the past month. I assure you that had I not cited certain authors for the structure of my paper, in addition to the many ideas which I built upon- rather then be graduating in a few weeks I would have been expelled from university as well as barred from ever attending University in Canada again.

While I Kaavya did not submit an academic paper, she created a work with the intent to profit from it, this is where her work straddles the line between academia and capitalism, and she is wrong on both accounts.

Academically she has a DUTY to cite explicit structures which were “borrowed” from other authors. I put borrowed in quotation marks, because having gone over the passages her “borrowing” appears to be more then a little deliberate.

If one looks at this issue from a business standpoint and specifically in this forum from the perspective of copyrights and sampling Kaavya is using structure which is not her own to profit. Regardless of whether 12 year old’s across the nation love “One thing” and Rich Harrison gets more gigs as a hip hop producer, the bottom line is that The Meters are recognized among those that know, as well as compensated for, their contribution to the track.

While I shall not venture as to what an appropriate citation/compensation scheme for chick lit authors who lift Rushdie, there is no doubt in my mind that you cannot conspicuously borrow without at least attempting to institute one. Dedicate the passages, have endnotes, I don’t know, but if you don’t in some way ATTEMPT to give credit where it is due, then you are undoubtedly guilty.

My two cents.


2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say, also, that throwing in a bunch-of-other-related-authors is just confusing the issue - passages were ripped wholesale from two specific books by one author. Really lousy prose at that. Ew.

Green is dead-on on the academic demand for citation. All things considered, Harvard should expel her straightaway; this sort of thing is fraudulent.

One thing is that in sample-based production, collage, quotation, whatever, the external work used is not passed off as one's own creation. The art is in the recontextualization - two things, slammed together, to make something new. That's not going on here; she used a chunk of someone else's text and changed out the names and nouns etc to make it somehow "hers." There is no recognition or compensation for the contribution of others; instead there's an attempt to pass another's work off as her own.

Now, quotation - that's something that can be useful in literature. Drop in a lyric, allude to another work, quote someone else. That's useful stuff, based on recontextualization and without the pretense of authorship... more like what DJs do, or what collage artists do.

7:38 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

this is beginning to get a little too circular for me. no one's saying that academics should go about appropriating others' ideas without giving proper credit. but - much as i hate to draw this comparison - artists and capitalists go about appropriating others' ideas all the time. it's a fundamental part of what they do.

"academic demand for citation" need not apply to non-academic works. (i prefer cut'n'paste to cut'n'dry.) and harvard need not be the punitive organ in this case. i think that's heading down the wrong road in both directions.


two roads diverged in a wood, and i, i decided to climb a tree.

i made that one up.

sell it to ya for a buck..

10:32 PM  
Anonymous JZ said...

I thought another question floating around was how much she actually wrote the book herself, vs having it ghost written. Kind of like New Kids on the Block.

9:34 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

another good point, JZ. (the JZ?!) and that's something as well that i mentioned above (or at least in the previous post - this discussion's getting a bit long).

this is largely a systemic failure, it seems to me. to blame an overachiever and to scrutinize one case so closely is to miss the forest for the trees.

but maybe britney spears is a better analog?

and i still think they need to give milli vanilli their grammy back.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on, Wayne! I don't think that Milli Vanilli should have had their Grammy award rescinded, but I also don't think that they should have won in the first place, as their rival nominees included Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul (what a year!).

10:17 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

indeed! i've got no retort to that, though i'm not sure who the clear winner would be between the three.

i mean, sure, maybe "buffalo stance" or "back to life" are alone worth a grammy, but you couldn't turn on the radio or go to a party that year without hearing a milli vanilli song, schlocky as they were. they tapped into the zeitgeist at least as well as their competitors, and their legacy may be the strongest of the three.

the kitsch clock seems to be turning their way, anyway. all three groups have been appearing in recent (hipster) party mixes, for example.

10:26 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

joe twist's two cents, for what they're worth, which is, i think, more than two cents.

thanks, joe!

12:22 PM  

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