[ilds] Plagiarism

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Fri Jun 1 08:49:26 PDT 2007

Hello all,

If I were to articulate my thoughts on Durrell's borrowings or plagiarisms
more thoroughly, it would take the following form, though I should hasten to
add that we do not currently have all the instances catalogued, so
everything all of us says is at least subject to some shift as patterns or
trends may emerge.

First, let me also belabour a point that I know has frustrated several list
members, and that's the tone of our interactions.  Let me point out that I
know Michael Haag, who with his lovely wife very kindly had my wife and I to
dinner less than a week ago at an absolutely delicious Turkish restaurant.
I know tone over email is often not what it is in a personal conversation --
we all take different approaches, and Michael's is fairly direct.  Fair
enough -- he takes direct responses as well, with no harm.  We have a few
people on the list who 'shoot from the hip,' and I just want to point out
that disagreement doesn't mean we fail to use each other's work (and cite
it) or continue to enjoy friendly discussions.  This may be belabouring the
obvious, but as a moderator, I've heard a few worried comments about these
exchanges, so I wanted to make sure my thoughts on it were at least clear.

So, as for plagiarism, I should respond in detail.  Michael notes:
> James' defence of Durrell's plagiarism as outlined
> below is yet another example of 'the academy's'
> willingness to think up idiotic rationalisations
> instead of arriving at a principled position.

I'd disagree with this, and the dozens of students who have been given a
permanent mark of academic misconduct, failure on a course, and academic
probation (and in a few cases permanent expulsion) from the schools I've
taught at would disagree as well.  I do not condone plagiarism, but an
author is in a different situation from that of a student writing papers.
For the record, every paper I've received over the past 4 years has been
required to pass an electronic plagiarism detector -- the result has been
(on average) a 10% rate of plagiarism (and filed cases) regardless of how I
stress this point to my students.  Fine.  We don't need those students.  And
by the way, the quality of the school and admission standards has very
little to do with it -- one of the worst schools I've taught at with the
lowest admissions standards is the only one I haven't yet had a plagiarism
case for (though I had one borderline).

> The principle may be that it is OK to steal texts,
> in which case they can start by stealing each other's
> PhD dissertations, and allow their students to steal
> their term papers from the internet.

I think I've shown this is patently false and also a different matter.
Plagiarism is *not* on the rise in the academy -- the plagiarists are just
stupid enough to steal from something that is a searchable database...
Moreover, having worked in a few different industries, I can very
confidently state that the rate of intellectual theft or theft of
non-physical materials is much, much higher outside of the academy.  I see
it in the news media *constantly*.  In construction it is an absolutely
standard practice to quote a lower price if you have someone else's quote
for a contract in hand, and then to submit the verbatim quote form the
competitor with the lower price.  Many industries would simply cease to
exist if they academy's standards were applied to intellectual property.

But, Durrell is hardly in the same boat as students, reporters, or
construction crews, and I think the authorship of _Caesar's Vast Ghost_ is
perhaps disputable as well...

> That is not the law, however, which unlike the
> academy takes a firm and straightforward view on
> what is right and wrong.  I could easily use
> James' argument below to explain that I had broken
> into his home, stolen his belongings, but that it
> was perfectly all right as he would have known, or
> at some point was likely to find out, that I had
> done so. 

Again, while I appreciate Michael's thoughts here, these are on a different
order.  Rather than breaking into my home by forced entry and stealing
unique properties that I could not replace, wouldn't this be more akin to my
inviting you in (next time you're in Edmonton!) only to find you liked my
decorating so much you copied it back in London?  Perhaps neither of our
analogies here is apt...  In the case under discussion, Durrell stole 2
pages from a book written by a man who had already published his letters and
introduction to an E.M. Forster volume.  This is not to say it's excusable,
but if I were to include 2 pages from one of Charles' articles in one of my
own, then ask him to review it...  I would think it's at least cloudy.  And,
I would hasten to add that our academic research that makes finding these
issues easier is greatly supported by a loose network that perpetuates
copyright violations by distributing materials that are not permitted
reproduction by anyone other than the copyright holder.  Is this an
anarchist listserv?

However, there are two other issues at work here as well: pastiche and the
notebook composition method (apart from whether or not Durrell even wrote
that book).  Also, Peter Christensen refers to the interview in which
Durrell calls himself a burglar, and he makes much use of it in his article
"The Hazards of Intellectual Burglary," which I've cited at the end, and
which I've disagreed with strongly in print even though I still get along
well with Peter quite well and respect his work.

Durrell's earlier texts contain a different kind of borrowing, which I would
agree with Bill is far closer to pastiche, and I think he got the habit from
none other than T.S. Eliot.  After all, how many lines of "The Waste Land"
are original?  Even the title is borrowed, but that is it's point.
Moreover, how do we read the scene in _Mountolive_ near the beginning, in
which Mountolive and Leila look at each other in love, and she recites
Ruskin's "Imperial Order"?  It's a stolen bit from Ruskin, but I think
that's actually the point...  Such things appear throughout the Quartet,
Revolt, and Quintet (as well as the Black Book and the other stand alone
volumes).  To a degree, I'm inclined to see these as instances of pastiche,
especially given the political and aesthetic dimension that develops if they
are read as akin to allusions.  How do we change as readers when we not only
recognize an instance of 'borrowing' but also recognize the source?  I read
some of these as functioning very much like Henry Miller's stolen paragraph
from Joyce in _Tropic of Cancer_.  It fits like Eliot's notion of Tradition,
which prompted so many of "The Waste Land" thefts.  That element is a viable
artistic method with established purposes and reasons, put into motion by
none other than Durrell's senior mentor.

The other element is his notebook composition style.  He jotted just about
anything and everything into the notebooks.  For instance, the famous
Gnostic suicide cult in the Quintet derives very simply from excerpts from
Serge Hutin's _Les Gnostiques_ combined with a momentarily famous teen
suicide club in Slovenia (not really, just a sudden spike in the suicide
rate that made people suspect some kind of club).  Durrell just merged the
newspaper article with his jottings from Hutin's book to come up with a
brand new plot.  It worked, and it worked well.  In using his notebooks as
'quarry books' (which Richard Pine has explored more thoroughly than anyone
else), Durrell often both repeated himself (internal allusion) and repeated
materials he'd copied into his notebooks that he'd transcribed rather than
actually written.  That entails some risks, but it's a method that makes his
works what they are...  It's certainly not the same as a student or scholar
copying pages and "forgetting" to cite.

However, there's yet another problem to put into this puzzle, and that's the
temporal sequence.  This is both a saving grace and damning evidence.
Durrell's first novel, _Pied Piper of Lovers_ contains materials taken from
a family member, and while reworked, I don't think it qualifies as pastiche.
Plagiarism is likely closer to the mark, though the materials take on a very
specific context in their new framework.  That problem doesn't strike me as
being the case at all in the remaining materials until the very end of his
career.  From _Panic Spring_ to _Quinx_, I am inclined to read borrowings as
pastiche, allusion, and a way of playing with Eliot's Tradition (as well as
a risk of his notebook method, which I'm inclined to see as a failing in
_Revolt_ and some points in the _Quartet_ but also as the greatest
innovation and strength in the _Quintet_ and _Clea_).  Did Durrell violate
Freud's intellectual property rights?  What about Groddeck, whom he
frequently took from in order to create plots?  Is "Clueless" or "Bridget
Jones" in violation of Jane Austen's rights?

That leaves the very end of the temporal stretch: _Caesar's Vast Ghost_.
Someone who has worked more closely on that volume and the notebooks for it
(Isabelle Keller, where are you??) can say more about this; however, I
suspect that Durrell continued his lifelong habit of scribbling in the
notebooks, but he had some very, very substantial help in cobbling those
jottings together into the final volume.  My understanding is that the draft
he sent to Faber was a mess of loose papers, and I heard a rumour he had
help patching it together.  Given his last few years of hard drinking, ill
health, and very likely a stroke (Ian is vague on this issue, but he does
describe the impact it had on Durrell, and the late interview in "Une Amitie
Parisienne" shows his slurring much to one side of his face -- Michael??), I
find this neither surprising nor significant.  _Caesar's Vast Ghost_ is not
Durrell's finest work, and I suspect the stitches holding it together may
not even be his own, though there are some absolutely lovely passages that
strike me as typical of something I'd find in his later notebooks.  That
some of those sections were transcriptions from things he liked surprises me
not at all -- I actually wonder if he was the one who consciously chose to
include them, especially something so long as 2 pages.  If he had used it,
he must have known Michael would spot it immediately, perhaps even before it
went to press.

As for passing judgement, I try to avoid that.  Percy Shelley enjoyed
shooting song birds, Malcolm Lowry was a drunk, Elizabeth Smart would
consume anything that might give her a buzz, Byron (ahem), and so forth...
I still like their works, and use their biographies when appropriate, but I
don't like to judge the author, per se.  I'll judge a student for plagiarism
in the classroom, but for an author who wrote a text I'm working on, it's
not part of what I'm reading to do -- I'd like to know when it's happening,
and it may change how I read, but to suggest I should stop reading an author
based on his or her ethics really isn't a matter I can be bothered with.  As
I said, this notion is a 20th century invention -- as any musician can tell
you, borrowing was the norm until the past 150 years, ranging from theme &
variations to lifting entire movements.  It was a trade, not a matter of
private ownership.  Thank gawd someone violated Shakespeare's intellectual
property rights in the Quartos!  I'm neither fully in favour of that nor
fully against it, though out of courtesy I do think Michael should have his
1/100th of the royalties, even though those royalties likely exist due to
Durrell's name and previous works rather than those 2 pages.

And with regard to current court cases, things like _The Da Vinci Code_ (for
which Michael is our resident expert), we have a very different matter.
That book could not exist were it not for _Holy Blood Holy Grail_, and its
plot is a loosely assembled wrapper for 'history' lessons almost exactly
drawn from Baigent's book and its spawn (reminds me of children's cartoons
where the protagonists need to stop every 2 minutes to solve a puzzle in
order to continue...).

Oh, and here's what Christopher Hitchens has to say about Eliot's "The Waste
Land" and plagiarism:

"Madison Cawein's poem 'Waste Land.' Cawein was as distant from Eliot, in
poetic terms, as it was possible to be. He was a Kentucky blues man and a
barroom versifier. However, like Eliot, he was fascinated by the Celtic
twilight and the search for the Grail. And his verses, with their haunting
title, did appear in the January 1913 edition of Poetry magazine. Since that
very issue also contained an essay by Ezra Pound on the new poets writing in
London, it seems more rather than less likely that Eliot would have read

Also, someone named "Delphi" posted to a discussion board: "Bevis Hillier
compared Cawein's lines '...come and go/Around its ancient portico' with
Eliot's 'Šcome and go/talking of Michelangelo'."  That's actually in
"Prufrock" though...

But, back to the issue at hand, Michael also notes:

> Durrell has done this quite a lot.  I had not known
> about the Prospero's Cell plagiarism until Richard Pine
> brought it to our attention.  I will be looking into
> that thoroughly now.

I'd often thought I'd use this tidbit of information, but anyone who cares
to give me a footnote is welcome to it -- Durrell sent a letter to the
Gennadius Library in Athens asking for books to borrow (he knew it wasn't a
lending library) in order to finish _Prospero's Cell_.  He included the
list.  They never catalogued the letter...  I found it glued inside the
front board for the Gennadius' copy of _Prospero's Cell_.  Have fun...
> I have spotted quite a bit of close lifting if not
> outright plagiarism in Justine and other volumes of
> the Quartet

This is not a surprise to me, and I wonder if it may be closer to pastiche?
Given the close ties to Eliot, the notebook method, and the duration of the
composition, isn't this more likely than "plagiarism" per se?  Moreover, as
with Eliot, does this material take on a very different appearance in its
new context and position?  But, there's more...

> In fact it is pretty funny, because Manzaloui in his
> 'Curate's Egg: An Alexandrian Opinion of Durrell's
> Quartet' attacked Durrell for his supposedly faulty
> understanding of this and that, and it turns out that
> the fault lies largely in the material Durrell lifted
> from supposedly reputable sources -- this is what Bill
> demonstrated 

Manzalaoui (frequently mis-spelled in publications without the "a") is a
fine scholar, and he's taken up Durrell elsewhere in different ways, but
that is a funny article in general.  One almost wonders if there would be a
'right' way to write for Manzalaoui's perspective there...  It does,
however, very notably precede Edward Said by a goodly stretch of time.
> It is astounding how little 'the academy' troubles
> to examine source material in the case of Durrell,
> how its theorising is based almost entirely on
> principles of careless free association, self
> indulgence, or ideological mongering, unrestrained
> by reference to evidence, context, biography or the
> other usual constraints.  There is plenty of work to
> be done.

I both agree and disagree with several of these points.  I might point out
first that tracking down source materials has actually been a large part of
my own contribution...  As for the middle part, there's been an equal share
across the entire couple thousand critic works on Durrell -- some have been
exceptionally good and some have been exceptionally bad.  I could say the
same for freelance authors, reviewers, or virtually anyone in any
profession.  The problem does not lay in the academy and who is in (or not
in) it, but rather in the individuals doing the work.

The "ideological mongering" has been remarkably mild in studies of Durrell,
and I'd like to see more political studies, albeit better ones and more
theoretically engaged with critical materials current in academic discourse.
I would hardly call that self indulgence for most, and I think virtually all
of it (well, perhaps 75%) has had at least a healthy dose of "reference to
evidence, context, biography or the other usual constraints."  Simply put,
many of us just disagree, and that's fine with me.  It's also very true that
the biographical materials have been very shoddy until the past decade, and
that has caused serious problems that continue even now.  Each biography
corrects the one that came before, and that's how scholarship accrues --
it's hardly fair to expect someone of 30 years ago to have done the work we
do now... We just keep building, correctly, developing, and so on.  I'm glad
to contribute what I can to those who are making corrections and turning us
in new directions.  There are errors in my previous work, and I don't
apologize for them -- I just correct them as I go along or hope the next
person will show where I've been mistaken (or where we simply disagree), and
I don't begrudge anyone for doing that.
I hope that more carefully articulates a fast & rough idea of what I mean by
the allusive function of some materials, the context it comes from, the
importance of "when" in Durrell's writing career, and the host of other
issues that surround 'plagiarism' in Durrell, not the least of which being
the predominance of such things in 20th century writing.  The pursuit of
source materials is extremely important, as Richard Pine's _Mindscape_ has
shown for Durrell (try to imagine Shakespeare or Classics without it!!), but
apart from a few incidents, I don't find it bothersome.  I'll wait for the
evidence to prove me wrong...

Michael, the next time we meet up, I owe you a pint!



Christensen, Peter G. "The Hazards of Intellectual Burglary in Lawrence
Durrell's The Revolt of Aphrodite." _Studies in the Literary Imagination_
24.1 (1991): 41-56.

Scott, Robert Ian. "T. S. Eliot and the Original Waste Land." _University of
Windsor Review_ 19.2 (1986): 61-64. 

More information about the ILDS mailing list