Plagiarism Debate 2018

CONFLICTING VIEWS ON PLAGIARISM

250px-George_Gordon_Byron,_6th_Baron_Byron_by_Richard_Westall_(2)(Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall.)

THE DEBATE over plagiarism which kicked off with the Ailey O’Toole revelations rages on. The latest: fledgling poet Claudia Cortese having aspects and wordings of her work apparently borrowed by poet Lisa Low in the journal Quarterly West.

EXPRESSED by different sides have been opposing viewpoints regarding questions of fair use, intellectual property, and the like.

At one pole, the online literary site Soft Cartel:

(Anything goes? The individual lost in the mob?)

AT the other pole might be members of the Poetry Cops, who’ve taken it upon themselves to eliminate writings and blackball other writers and journals to the fullest extent possible. A sample opinion:

Note the apologizing and “enduring punishment” part of the tweet– hallmarks of the would-be totalitarian.

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Where do we at New Pop Lit stand? I have a track record for speaking out publicly against plagiarism, dating back to 2005. I took a great deal of heat at the time from powerful literary personages for doing so. I leave it now to others to discuss the legal/philosophical aspects of the matter.

THE QUESTION I want to ask here is: Why does someone plagiarize?

The answer back in 2005, for the essayist involved, was pure laziness. The individual was writing long essays for a variety of high-profile magazines, making good money in doing so, and from lethargy, or ineptness, took as many shortcuts as possible.

What about today’s poetry borrowings?

The only excuse for doing it at all– having another poet’s work in front of you as you construct your own– is apprenticeship. Learning the craft. Even in that instance, one would expect the apprentice poet to A.) Use one of the acknowledged best at the game as model; a T.S. Eliot or Sylvia Plath.  B.) Never, never submit those practice poems to a literary journal for publication.

Which is where intent comes into consideration. The only reason to copy an unknown poet’s work, who moreover writes in the current fashion, is in an effort to be published.

These thoughts merely my own viewpoint. . . .

p.s. Lord Byron was involved in a plagiarism scandal over a novel fragment which may or may not have been plagiarized by another writer.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

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Poetic Justice?

ONE REACTION TO THE AILEY O’TOOLE PLAGIARISM ISSUE

Ailey-OToole(Photo from The Rumpus.)

THE BIG NEWS in the U.S. literary world over the weekend was the accusation of plagiarism against young poet Ailey O’Toole. The past couple years O’Toole was incessantly networking a host of interconnected literary journals, becoming known within that well-protected, well-screened community as one of the art’s rising young stars– culminating in this interview at The Rumpus. Much drama there expressed. A troubled individual, no doubt.

NOW it’s discovered, by those who published and promoted her, that O’Toole was plagiarizing not just one writer, but a lot of them.

ANOTHER discovery has been less acknowledged– that Ailey O’Toole was an enthusiastic member of the so-called Poetry Cops. She worked hard at having fellow poet Rachel Custer removed as a reader at a lit journal called Barren Magazine— and blacklisted throughout the poetry world. (In this day and age, many literary journals actively support the idea of an ongoing blacklist of journals and writers.)

IS it poetic justice then for Ms. O’Toole to end up in effect banned herself?

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Is there a lesson in this?

IT MIGHT BE that more important than a writer’s perceived political stance is the quality of character. That when a poet is spending half her time trying to get other poets fired or blackballed– dissing and diming them out; instead of focusing on the art– it might be a sign of a lack of that long-forgotten quality.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

WHO’S NEXT at New York Review of Books?

IN HINDSIGHT–

A man at a writing desk, by Rembrandt

In hindsight, the appointment of Ian Buruma as Editor of the New York Review of Books was a disaster. Buruma was daring enough to court controversy, but not strong enough to fight for the integrity and independence of his publication.

Ian Buruma (2015)

(Ian Buruma.)

A fighter would’ve done a better job of explaining why he ran the Jian Ghomeshi essay. Why recovery and redemption are important. Why editorial autonomy is necessary– especially in a climate of rush-to-judgement lynch mobs and unthinking hysteria.

A fighter would’ve gone to advertisers– one by one if need be– to make his case. Instead, Ian Buruma became one more casualty of today’s Literary McCarthyism.

WHAT KIND OF EDITOR?

What kind of editor is needed as Ian Buruma’s replacement?

Someone who could replicate the daring intellectual excitement represented by the New York Review of Books when it arrived on the media scene in February, 1963.

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NEEDED: A large personality.

A contentious, voluble writer akin to Norman Mailer. A person willing to be aggressive in taking on and dispersing any unthinking mob– willing to use the momentum of intellect and power of voice to restore sanity to today’s literary world.

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WHO?

WHO WILL New York Review of Books choose instead?

One of two safe alternatives.

1.) Almost certainly, a woman. Knee-jerk reaction to appease the angry mob. In this time of MeToo mania, it would be too risky for their risk-averse publishers to choose otherwise. Have to remember those advertisers!

(The result: A completely neutered intellectual journal.)

2.)  IF they were to choose a male editor, it would be someone properly screened and defanged, without a shred of volatility. Fully establishment and left-leaning, on the order of smiling Keith Gessen. Ready to appease everybody. Affable, innocuous, and bland.

gessen smiling

Someone who’s had a relationship with New York Review of Books. Whose own publication, n+1 magazine was in many ways made by them.

Or someone of that kind.

(Painting: “Scholar at His Desk” by Rembrandt.)
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

The Cult of Junot Diaz

FOURTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ-BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

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RARE INDEED is it for a writer in  this day and age to create an obsessive fan base– but by all appearances Junot Diaz has done it, as I’m discovering while covering the ongoing controversy over whether he should or should not resign as Boston Review‘s fiction editor. His defenders guard twitter night and day, obsessively noting every hashtag related to the issue and commenting instantaneously. As someone who worries about the health of literature in this country, this is good to see.

THE QUESTION I’ve raised is to what extent the Junot Diaz persona matches the actual person beneath?

It’s unquestionable that he’s an intelligent person– by all indications a fairly complex one. It’d be naive to think he’s not to some extent in his public appearances playing to the needs of his audience. Would this be unusual? Not at all– not even in the pristine land of today’s literary scene, which some want to believe is all sunshine and cotton candy.

(Does anyone truly believe that the public good-guy persona of author-publisher Dave Eggers, for instance, is the actual person? Is anyone that naive?)

THERE’S ALSO the question implied by Carmen Maria Machado in her infamous recorded exchange with Junot Diaz. Namely, to what extent does the character Yunior in his book of stories match himself? A little? A lot? Does Diaz’s actual life match in any way the incidents described in the book? Is Junior in any way an aspect of Junot Diaz’s own personality?

These are questions which his defenders believe aren’t supposed to be asked about him– even though they’ve been asked about nearly every famous author who’s ever existed. (Did Hemingway’s characters resemble himself? Scott Fitzgerald’s? Naw! No way!)

ANOTHER PROBLEM the Cult of Junot has is with anyone who thinks his revelatory memoir in The New Yorker magazine was a mistake. Significantly, most who think it wasn’t are women. But I bring to the question the perspective of a man, taking the stance of the aforementioned Hemingway in regard to a confessional memoir called “The Crack-Up” penned by the aforementioned F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway felt the publication of such material was a mistake; that it was better dealt with obliquely in a novel. Ernest Hemingway followed a stoic code forgotten or dismissed in this day and age.

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The New Yorker wants its male writers to reveal– if not revel in– their vulnerability. For example we need go only as far as one of the stories in their current fiction issue, “Fungus” by David Gilbert, which has the weepy male lead character searching at the end of the overwritten tale for a “pregnant tree.”

(We’re doing a feature on “Hamlet” at our main site in a day or two. I’m reminded of one of that character’s lines: “–wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.”)

WHAT’S HAPPENING

VULNERABILITY. That word is the secret for Junot Diaz’s fanatical defenders and opponents, not a one who’s able to view the recent accusations against him dispassionately. They’re emotionally invested in the guy– likely because he exudes a sense of vulnerability. Women are attracted to this quality in a public personality– as could be proven by a long list of movie stars and pop music idols.

Are Junot Diaz’s accusers in fact (has been charged by his fanatic defenders) themselves frustrated fans? Ex-members of the Cult of Junot Diaz? (One anyway had an affair with him.)

There’s some logic to the idea. And as I said, if people are getting worked up over a writer, pro or con, that’s good to see. (David Gilbert no doubt wistfully wishes he could create that level of hysteria. . . .)

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MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.

Who Controls Literature?

THIRD IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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WHAT MAKES the Junot Diaz controversy interesting is the way it illustrates an establishment literary scene that today has become thoroughly politicized.

YET WHO STANDS BEHIND this scene– and behind the controversy? Who controls literature and the presentation of literature, and political changes within literature?

When you examine U.S. intellectual journals you find many of them take strong anti-capitalist stances yet are financed by wealthy capitalists. A puppet show where the behind-the-scenes puppeteer controls all sides of an issue.

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Is this the case with the Boston Review?

The two biggest donors at $100,000 each are:

1.) Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron.

Schrier is a former managing member of Farallon Capital. Currently he manages an investment portfolio valued at $600 million. Cameron was Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Old Navy. They keep a low profile, but made the news in 2010 for selling a home in Pacific Heights, California for $5.9 million.

2.) The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This is a foundation worth $9 billion-with-a-b, managed by Walter B. Hewlett– the tax-sheltered fortune of the Hewlett-Packard business empire.

(NOTE that for Boston Review editors Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman there are good billionaires and bad ones. Until recently Elon Musk was a “good” capitalist in progressive circles, but for some reason has fallen out of favor.)
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SIMILAR SITUATIONS exist for most of the trendy literary publications on both coasts. Here’s a recent photo of the editors and backers of Los Angeles Review of Books. Several of the individuals in the photo are big money investors. What do those in the photo represent? Wealth. For such people, self-image is vitally important.

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LET’S NOT FORGET the big book publishers themselves, the so-called “Big Five” media conglomerates with attached publicity arms and media outlets, and the sycophantic literary journals lavishly promoting Big 5 books (The Millions; Electric Lit; et.al.)– all of them with progressive postures and all of them based in and around the imperial city of New York.

QUESTIONS OF TOKENISM

One of Junot Diaz’s accusers, Alisa Valdes, wrote a blog post about him, portraying Diaz as– among other things– “a social striver who pretended to be about the ‘hood, for the street cred he’d need to become a Latino lapdog for the New Yorker.” This raises questions of tokenism– a term also used by the VIDA website in their petition against him.

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(Still from the 1957 movie “Twelve Angry Men.”)

IF the standard affluent white liberal still sees minorities as tragic victims, then have Junot Diaz’s narratives– and his recent New Yorker essay about his past– fed into that sense of virtuous power? It’s a question which has to be asked.
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The world sees only the players on the stage– and not those who control the production. It’s like the 1961 movie “The Hustler” in which Minnesota Fats, top pool player, is seen as a dynamic, powerful character– until the end, when we see he has no real power at all; is controlled by the gambler who backs him. In the same way, writers and readers alike want to see only the authors whose face is on the book jacket– they seek no knowledge of how that book is made, and the many compromises made along the way.

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THE TRUTH is that all writers are tokens, in the sense that few have any real power within the world of letters. This is a point I made in the first part of this series covering this topic. In the recent National Book Foundation awards, most of the writers nominated and awarded were women and/or persons of color. It’s the face the book world (which sustains NBF) chooses to put on its product at the moment. From the standpoint of those behind the scenes, it means little– as long as they remain the ones pulling the strings. As Junot Diaz is finding out, the power of a successful writer is tentative, qualified, and can be taken away at any time.

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EVENTUALLY: “Ownership: Are There Solutions?”

-Karl Wenclas

Our 2017 Pushcart Choices

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WE HAVE an image in our heads of a back room at Pushcart Press. In the room are envelopes– stacks of postmarked envelopes. Corridors of mountains of stacks of mailed envelopes sent by every literary press or project in America– nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. Ours is there, in the room, somewhere, among them.

We’re optimists, so we designed our mailing and its Intro letter– and chose our nominees– with a goal in mind: winning the elusive prize. The odds? What are odds!? We sneer at the odds! We have no “name” writers, and we aren’t a name ourselves to the good people at Wainscott, New York. But we’re here and we believe in ourselves and our project.

This year we published a number of excellent stories, poems, and profiles. Many could have been nominated. We used reasoning and rationalizations to make our selections– all such decisions are ultimately arbitrary, based on whim and whisper as much as logic. So it was with us.

OUR SELECTIONS and the reasons for them:

Elusive Instinct” by Ana Prundaru.

Simple, clear writing. Perfectly easy to get into, but with marked style as well. No easy trick to accomplish. A story whose tone and mood fits the stylish aesthetic to which we aspire.

“Dry Bones” by Sonia Christensen, and “The Fetus” by Clint Margrave.

Two well-written, powerful stories which begin with intriguing openings. Read the first sentences of both of them. The titles themselves are provocative and visual. More than this, the stories are works of art with depth of meaning to them.

“Operative 73 Takes a Swim”  by Wred Fright.

This one is so different from the norm in execution, ideas, and plot we believe it would catch anyone’s eye. Even in Wainscott, should any eye happen to glance at it, within the mountains and stacks. Like the others, it’s also a terrific little tale. Wred has published work with New Pop Lit on several occasions, is overdue for recognition from us. The lesson: keep sending us work!

Finally, we nominated two short-but-striking Appreciations of American writers, which we published as part of the ongoing All-Time American Writers Tournament.

One, about Philip K. Dick, is by D.C. Miller. The other, about Gene Wolfe, is by Robin Wyatt Dunn. Two able wordsmiths who can do much with a limited amount of words.
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We love and respect all the writers we’ve published, and all who’ve submitted work. Without the writer we’re nowhere– just a blank screen awaiting the magic of art.

Literature and Foreign Policy

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THAT key Anglo-American literary figures during the Cold War used literature as a tool of foreign policy, through journals like Paris Review and Encounter, raises a host of questions.

-Has literature been used as a tool of U.S. foreign policy at other times during the past sixty years?

-During this year’s renewed Cold War, the West versus Russia, are segments of the establishment literary world being used as instruments of foreign policy NOW?

-To what extent do U.S. intelligence agencies support current journals or institutions of literature?

 

The Wise Men

American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Who steered the direction of American literature after World War II?

Editors like George Plimpton, Robie Macauley, Reed Whittemore, Robert Silvers, and William Phillips. Men on a mission who, as much as they professed no artistic ideology, very much pushed an artistic ideology. They’d been formed by various factors, whether by privilege, or the war, or by disillusion with Communism. By 1950 all were Wilsonians out to save the world by making it “Safe for Democracy”– their own special internationalist version of democracy.

Literature was their tool– they fully believed in the importance of the art. Paris Review (like Encounter magazine in the UK) was founded as a cultural ambassador for Anglo-American liberal ideals– presenting an intellectual alternative to the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and Communism. Liberal Cold Warriors, these editors disdained– or had rejected– the populism of the American past. John Steinbeck and his kind were out. Henry James as the ideal cosmopolitan author was in.

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For our cultural aristocrats, literature, to be safe, must never engage too strongly in ideas. As an editor at New York Review of Books told me in a note in the late 1990’s, characters must never serve as mouthpieces for ideas. George Plimpton told me essentially the same thing on the one occasion I met him, at a literary debate held at CBGB’s in 2001. To these people, burdened– as they saw it– with the task of preserving literature, a broad view of the world was considered dangerous. An Ayn Rand or Frank Norris wrote beyond their well-regulated lines.

Focus moved instead to the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois self. American literature became gnostic: insular and solipsistic. Cleansed, nuanced, refined; denuded of its loud voice but also much of its energy. For prose: John Updike. For poetry: John Ashbery.  Aesthetics was not the only weapon. No longer could a writer appear off the street like Thomas Wolfe or Jack London and be taken seriously. Writing programs and markers of breeding ensured all who entered the Halls of Approval were thoroughly screened.

Did these men and their journals have influence? Tremendous influence. They understood the concept of leverage; that a publication with a readership of 10,000 could determine who did or did not receive a large book contract– chiefly because that small readership was powerful and elite.

The change in aesthetic direction made the wise men– as well as their sources of money– very happy. Literature came under the control not of the unpredictable American people, but of themselves. The Elect.
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American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

The thing to know about these men and their journals is that the faces they showed the world were misleading. George Plimpton was a smiling bon-vivant but also much more than that. The notion that he didn’t know the source of Paris Review‘s original funding is an absurdity.

Likewise, New York Review of Books, founded by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, postured for a long while as a radical Leftist publication– yet it was started with Random House money during a New York newspaper strike as a way for the giant book companies to advertise their new releases. It’s always been an extension of New York-based Big Corporate Publishing. Sophisticated PR for them, one might say.

In the New York literary world, nothing is ever as it seems.

The Week in Pop Lit

TO GET THIS NEWS BLOG going again, we’re going to try to provide weekly updates– for now, mostly about ourselves.

And a lot has been happening!

First, twitter wars. At his own twitter account, our chief editor took on anonymous ghosts of the internet– demi-puppets (see Shakespeare’s definition) who were trying to close down another literary site. Apparently there’s a new literary movement afoot– literary journals whose purpose is to shut down other literary journals. A kind of New Censorship Movement. Yes, things have come to that. We’ll have more about what that’s about here at this blog.

At the @NewPopLit twitter handle we engaged in a quick debate with a confused Brown University prof who believes America is about the worst thing that ever happened. We’re obviously more positive about this country than he is.

Second, we posted a lot of new material this week– a new story, a new chapbook review, new photos, and more analysis at the All-Time American Writers Tournament. Get on our home page and check it all out!