Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kaavyat Lector!

Dizzyheads! Am back from my busman's holiday. First I want to thank the mysterious Arlo Ogg for posting in my absence. Arlo'll be joining the Dizzies crew—posting regularly about Buffalo sports teams (including her exclusive pensées on last night's Sabres' triumph), as well as contributing photographs of turtles, signs, and public art.

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Everyone and their great-aunt has been chiming in on the Kaavya Visnawathan plagiarism controversy. (The Times today has a not terribly funny op-ed on the matter, but the business section at last connects Opalgate to Raytheon CEO William H. Swanson's cribbed advice book, Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management—I was occasionally reading the papers last week, and I believe the stories broke on the same day.)

Friend Mike Gerber has a completely hilarious post up at his site (which has lately been functioning as an ingenious tie-in to his new novel, Freshman, set on the fictional but very Yale-like Stutts University). Here's a late-breaking sample:

UPDATE (5-2-06): After the kind of media scrutiny once reserved for heads of state, natural disasters, and other things that actually matter, it has been discovered that Ms. Sulabha's book contains verbatim passages from at least 58 more books. The list, which was still growing at press time, includes "The Good Earth," "The Origin of Species," "I'm OK, You're OK," "Bleak House," and—perhaps most worrisome of all—the 1973 Chilton Guide to Small Engine Repair.

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In all seriousness, I decided to reenter the blogosphere because the ongoing plagiarism debate reminded me of something that happened a couple of years ago (and which I recently mentioned to a friend). Back in 2003, my Voice colleague Dennis Lim wrote a (typically incisive and virtuousic) piece on In My Skin, a film directed by and starring Marina de Van. (I edited the piece.) Nearly a year later, The Guardian's Stuart Jeffries covered the same movie (entitled Dans Ma Peau in the U.K.), interviewing de Van.

You'd think that a feature with the director/star (of a very provocative film, no less) would have sparked some new insights from the writer. But strangely, much of the material in Jeffries' article that isn't a direct quote from de Van seems to derive from Lim's piece. (At one point, late in the game, he does cite Lim, but that doesn't stop him from lifting things wholesale and sans attribution.)

Here are a few examples. (Warning: Not for those with weak stomachs!)

LIM: [T]his fearless movie . . . illuminates Esther's pathology as an extreme response to the mind-body split. Her destructive dislocation arises from perceiving her body as an external object that she also happens to inhabit. (To adapt the Cartesian dictum: She isn't, therefore she cuts.)

JEFFRIES: "Are you sure this is your leg?" he asks, a question that stresses Esther's dislocation from a body she regards as an object she only happens to inhabit. She says she was a strangely Cartesian adolescent convinced that her self and her body were not one, but that her body had a life of its own.

LIM: De Van, who co-wrote a few of François Ozon's films and played the sinister backpacker in his See the Sea, has an arresting screen presence, to say the least—pale, flared-nostriled, and gap-toothed, at once feral and regal, she suggests a gene-splice of P.J. Harvey and Audrey Hepburn. (Indeed, Harvey's Rid of Me album is the soundtrack In My Skin deserves.)

JEFFRIES (I): [de Van speaking:] "I have had experience of acting before of course [she played a satisfyingly sinister backpacker in Francois Ozon's 1997 movie Regarder La Mer (See the Sea)], but never of acting scenes like this."

JEFFRIES (II): In the flesh, Marina De Van is as blankly feral as her character in the film. . . . De Van has been seen as both scary and regal—the genetic splicing of PJ Harvey and Audrey Hepburn, but this impeccably middle class film-maker (mother a lawyer, father a musicologist), who co-wrote two irredeemably pleasant Francois Ozon films, Under the Sand and Eight Women, is hardly regal. You can imagine her snarling along to PJ Harvey's Rid of Me in self-absorbed splendour, but hardly playing twee call girl Holly Golightly.

LIM: . . . a sequence that has Esther rushing off to a hotel room, ripping open her pant leg, biting into her lacerations, and reclining in agonized bliss as a spray of blood drenches her face.

JEFFRIES: Esther hurriedly checks into a hotel across the street, as if with a lover, and proceeds to gorge herself on her arm in a darkened corner. Blood spurts from her lacerations as she bites, spraying her agonised face.

LIM: In My Skin is all the more horrifying for being largely grounded in a placid, sterile naturalism. The one exception is a small masterpiece of surrealist fantasy that brilliantly literalizes the film's theme of corporeal estrangement—a nearly 10-minute business-dinner scene in which Esther's pompously tedious clients discuss the cosmopolitanism of various European cities while she struggles to contain a simmering anxiety attack. As she downs glass after glass of wine, her forearm takes on a life of its own, straying onto her plate repeatedly, and then becomes detached from her body. Poker-faced as ever, Esther calmly screws it back on, and under the table, punishes the delinquent limb with a steak knife.

JEFFRIES: Although most of Dans Ma Peau is filmed in a cool, naturalistic style, there is a bravura surreal scene in which she goes to a business meeting at a restaurant. As her tedious clients exchange banal thoughts on European capitals they have visited, Esther drinks glass after glass of wine and anxiously notices that her forearm has become a prosthetic limb which she cannot control. It creeps across her plate and then becomes detached from her body. Esther screws it back on and then, under the table, stabs the limb repeatedly with a steak knife.

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Are Jeffries' borrowings excusable—or Kaavyatic? I think the answer's clear. Indeed, the end of the final Jeffries example reads like a coded attack on the author of the original piece. Call it a case of Phantom Lim(b) Syndrome.


Blogger Arlo Ogg said...

Ah, don't fret. Arlo will not be posting regularly. There really isn't very much news here in Buffalo, unless it's tracing the wherabouts of Kuni, the former owner of the best sushi restuarant in town, who inexplicably closed shop at the height of popularity (word is that he'll be rolling over at the Lexington Co-op. Yow!). However, perhaps I will occasionally comment on the Buffalo Sabres—never on the Bills, certainly not on the Bisons.

10:52 AM  

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