[ilds] The Lost Art of Lying

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 7 15:40:50 PST 2008


James:

I think you are throwing up literary smokescreens and dodging my concrete examples of plagiarism in Durrell's work.  First, examine how Durrell took Sophie Atkinson's An Artist in Corfu (1911; pp. 69, 72-74, 86-87, 129-33, 137) and reworked her prose into Prospero's Cell (1970; 94-97, 114, 123, 126-28).  Then compare the example of Alexandria as inverted mirage in Balthazar (AQ 1962/1968; p. 211) with its source in R. Talbot Kelly's Egypt Painted and Described (1902/1903; p. 5).  Full credit goes to Bill Godshalk for uncovering this "borrowing" back in 1967.  Finally, consider how Durrell lifted Michael Haag's very long footnote in his edition of Forster's Alexandria:  A History and a Guide (1986) and incorporated the passage into his text of CVG.  This has been discussed before, so I won't give the page references.  Here, I do not follow MacNiven's assessment of that MS.  There are other evaluations.  These examples are not exhaustive but the result of a little research, and I suspect they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

What is important is that none of these examples give credit to their true sources, and the reader is being deceived into thinking this is Durrell's own work.  (And I'm beginning to think, if my memory is correct, that Durrell himself believed that what he'd stolen was his own, as evidenced by the BBC film about his return to Alexandria, where he allows the inverted mirage passage to pass as his own prose.)

I see no evidence that these liftings are either allusive, satirical, or in anyway "literary."  They are there, as I see it, to expand or embellish his text, without attribution.  That is egregious.  More seriously, it is actionable as a copyright violation in a court of law.  That is the issue, and not whether other writers did the same thing.  If they did, on the same scale that Durrell did and with the same intent, namely, to deceive, then they too are subject to censure.

I don't believe in confusing this basic issue by bringing in extraneous examples of how other arts -- e.g., music or painting -- borrow or build upon themes within their own ranks.  For me, the key idea when dealing with borrowing in literature is one of deception, what is the intent of the person who borrows?  Why is he or she doing it?  Is there a legitimate literary purpose, which in some way acknowledges one's contemporaries or predecessors?  Or is it simply theft?  That is, taking without acknowledgment what belongs to someone else.  Intent is hard to determine, but not in the cited examples.  T. S. Eliot gave license to this practice when he said in his essay on Massinger, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."  True.  I don't think, however, that argument would hold up in a court of law, given the way Durrell stole material in some of his works.

Had Durrell's "borrowings" in Propero's Cell come to the attention of Faber, after publication, I think the book would have been recalled and his career ended with that publisher. 


Bruce


-----Original Message-----
>From: James Gifford <odos.fanourios at gmail.com>
>Sent: Mar 7, 2008 12:40 PM
>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] The Lost Art of Lying
>
>Yes, Bruce, it has been discussed, but you keep skipping that discussion 
>and pretending you needn't address it.  Please, more substance and less 
>vitriol...  Perhaps you could go back to the examples and discuss them 
>in detail.  I'd like to see your close analysis.
>
>But, for the sake of making some real progress, let's get back to that 
>sticky situation you dodged.  What about Wilde?  If you're keen on Wilde 
>(as I certainly am), how do you distinguish his work and Durrell's, or 
>should we toss Wilde, Joyce, Miller, Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Eliot out 
>without any further consideration?  If that's not an "aesthetic 
>tradition," then what would count as one?
>
>Moreover, Durrell seems to have been pretty thorough in giving credit 
>where credit was due in his critical works -- so why not the novels?  In 
>conjunction, he alludes very, very heavily to a series of writers who 
>did precisely the same when reusing past creative works.  For instance, 
>both Eliot and Wilde borrow far more heavily than Durrell, yet they 
>don't offend you -- wherein lies the distinction, and can you *detail* 
>it?  How would you respond to the likes of Kathy Acker or Burroughs?
>
>Or, we could ponder the examples in paragraph 3 of William Posner's 
>essay here (all familiar names in our past discussions -- Shax's theft 
>of phrases from a contemporary translation of Plutarch is the most 
>notable, as well as Eliot's later theft of Shax's theft):
>
>http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200204/posner
>
>How, Bruce, can you tame plagiarism as the master-mistress of those 
>desires?  And, what exactly do they seem to desire, 'cause it don't seem 
>like a shortcut, and it's not some fire in rose-red youth...  Or, 
>instead, is there a very clear tradition to which Durrell has aligned 
>himself?  After all, why even have a tradition if you can't take it up, 
>chop it up, and reuse it in new ways that serve your own purposes?  And 
>why would he allude to a tradition of authors who say exactly that if he 
>didn't see any reason for it?  It seems like far more work than a 
>plagiarist would go to!
>
>I've formally charged people with plagiarism, most often with quite 
>significant consequences.  It's a charge I take very serious, as do most 
>academics.  However, I remain largely untroubled by Durrell.  Does that 
>strike you as simply bizarre, or does it seem more rational that there 
>are compelling reasons?  If you're here for a dialogue, wouldn't it be 
>worthwhile to discuss those reasons in conjunction with your own?  As 
>Wilde already said, the truth is rarely simple and never pure.
>
>But, there's no sense in writing much on this topic -- I doubt there 
>will be more response than repetition of what's already been said.  I'd 
>welcome thoughts from others or anyone who sees more instances of 
>borrowings in LD's texts.  We know that he shamelessly stole plots from 
>psychoanalytic case studies, and that strikes me as a very engaging 
>place to discuss how these borrowings enrich a text when we recognize 
>them.  What about Groddeck's noses, Hutin's Gnostics, and Torhild 
>Leira's tears?
>
>And what of Wilde?  I've asked some direct questions here, and I'm 
>interested in responses -- dodging direct question (albeit more loudly 
>each time) doesn't interest me at all...  Borrow some of Wilde's art, 
>and I'll go along for the ride.
>
>Best,
>James
>
>ps: where's the hook and who was fishing?
>
>pps: Biographically, how do you respond to my previous (and detailed) 
>discussion of Caesar's Vast Ghost?  MacNiven is pretty clear on the 
>point on p. 683, noting that Mary Byrne typed up Durrell's mess of notes 
>and notebooks (all of which always contain transcripts & clippings from 
>things he found interesting, being both notebooks and commonplace 
>books).  Isabelle Keller can likely contribute more about the ms., 
>perhaps in discussion in Paris this summer, but the "notes-to ts." 
>transformation suggests he didn't compile it himself, and the biography 
>asserts this too, as well as the point about Haag's writing that you 
>keep going back to.  Just watch "Une Amitie Parisienne" and tell me how 
>carefully you think Old D. went through Byrne's transcriptions of his 
>scribblings?




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