Monday, May 29, 2006

The Opal Office

On the one hand, I've said all I have to say about Kaavya Viswanathan. But the article could have easily (if inelegantly) doubled in length—my notes draw connections to Tim O'Brien, Gay Talese, the "Bernadette Corporation" collective, The Book of Lost Books, the Oulipo, et al. Maybe these will find a place somewhere else. In the meantime, I'll restrict myself to one late-breaking item and two tangents writhing on the cutting-room floor.

1. This is an unexplored chapter in Kaavya studies (make sure to read the comments), from Jessica Smith's looktouchblog. (The link comes courtesy of Joshua Clover, who alerted me to Viswanathan's pre-Opal writing, and on his blog draws an interesting connection between the copying scandal and the Times magazine's "Scan This Book!" article.)

The looktouch link reproduces a poem ("Côtes du Nord") that K.V. apparently entered into a contest held by the University of Buffalo (and published in the Spring 2003 issue of Name magazine), as well as part of the correspondence between Smith and the writer (then 16).

Does this evince a genuine, burgeoning literary talent? The editors of Name seem to believe so, and I'd like to as well. (I was intrigued by one news report that said Kaavya had already written a novel based on Irish history well before the whole agent/Alloy/book deal affair.) But . . . well, here is the last stanza:

I feel everything beside me turn tender,

the rocks see me helpless frozen unsure
of this language I thought most my own.

2. From the Department of Irrelevant Coincidences comes this random additional "Indian" link (following "Scan This Book!"): Earlier this year, the Times (U.K.) reported that it had submitted retyped chapters of V.S. Naipaul's Booker-winning In a Free State (1971) to publishers, all of whom rejected it. (Stanley Middleton's Holiday, similarly retyped and submitted, got the tiniest of nibbles.)

One agent said of Naipaul's book: “We . . . thought it was quite original. In the end though I’m afraid we just weren’t quite enthusiastic enough to be able to offer to take things further.”

Re being "in a free state": As with Megan McCafferty's books (Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings), the titles seem to burn with significance . . .

(If GH is reading this: Won't you please append a comment about the "Postcolonialism and Plagiarism" class that you took?)

3. While reading Opal Mehta a few weekends back, I was also flipping through a pile of unrelated books, and came across this bit in Thomas Pynchon charming, self-deprecating introduction to Slow Learner:

There are no longer any excuses for small stupid mistakes, and I hope this also leads to much more inhibition about stealing data on the chance that no one will catch it.

Fascinating topic, literary theft. As in the penal code, there are degrees. These range from plagiarism to only being derivative, but all are forms of wrong procedure. If, on the other hand, you believe that nothing is original and that all writers "borrow" from "sources," there still remains the [operation?] of credit lines or acknowledgment.


Blogger HeyZeus! said...

Since you asked so kindly (this is copy/pasted from an email I wrote):

Last semester I took a class called "Parody, Plagarism, and Postcolonialism" (although we didn't do any parody as our professor managed to find enough postcolonial texts that had been accused of plagiarism). So we read the following:

Caryl Phillips, Cambridge
Yambo Ouologuem, Bound to Violence
Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Sand Child
Calixthe Beyala, Loukoum: The Little Prince of Belleville
Mario Roberto Morales, Face of the Heart, Heart of the Sky
Alice Randall, The Wind Done Gone

We did two weeks per book and focused both on the texts themselves (Week 1) and the plagiarism accusations, controversies/trials, and implications for the text (Week 2). We also had secondary readings focusing more broadly on questions of plagiarism, authorship and the "responsibility" to the reader, and copyright law.

It was a great time to take the class because we opened with the James Frey scandal and closed with the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal, so we ended up talking about those as well. As far as Kaavya goes - I think it's unf. more than anything. And this particular scandal exposes more about how books are written, marketed, etc. rather than any questions of authorship or plagiarism (often, as we discussed in class, the plagiarisms had political motivations or artistic elements - not so here, in my opinion).


11:42 PM  

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