[DEBATE] : Re: (Fwd) Gumede on plagiarism accusation
hypercube at telkomsa.net
Sun Jun 4 10:56:17 BST 2006
I think it is possible to undo the damage, and even make gains, with a good
counter-attack. Robert Greig did a good job in the Sindy - see below. But we
can take his words ("Ideas and language are common air") further. To hell
with this "plagiarism" stupidity! Art and intellectual production are
nothing if not a conversation with and a subsuming of the work that has gone
before. What is the use of solecism? The elevation of "originality" to
virtue is reactionary. It is an attempt at reversion, and not the first such
attempt, to pre-Hegelian ideas of cultural and historical atomisation.
William's good manners are evident in his scrupulous attention to
attribution, and that is good. The liars who sent anonymous poison should be
exposed, along with the idiots who published them.
But let's go further. Good manners are not compulsory!
Long live the Yippie motto:
STEAL THIS BOOK!
Sunday Independent, April 02, 2006 Edition 1
Plagiarism has become an unhealthy cultural obsession
by Robert Greig
Every era has its fad diseases - consumption in the Victorian era, cancer in
the 1960s, herpes in the 1970s and Aids in the 80s and 90s.
The diseases are real but their dominance of public space changes with
time - and medical invention. And, while respecting Susan Sontag's
strictures against using them this way, diseases are also metaphors and
In intellectual life, today's fashion item is plagiarism - a term that is
being applied indiscriminately to acceptable and necessary artistic
practices and theft alike. But writers, film-makers, painters,
choreographers and artists who use the works of others to amplify their own
are the norm. (Ballet, for example, is a tissue of allusion.)
The artist with a sense of the present who did not use the works of the
past - borrow, steal if you like, hijack or hitch a ride in a way that
affronts notions of ownership - would be freaky and the work possibly
The plagiarism phobia risks criminalising standard and necessary practice.
The phobia coincides with the contemporary media and information explosion:
more is more freely and more cheaply available to more people, partly thanks
to the internet.
This has had two main effects. It has encouraged an assumption that
information should be free. This runs counter to the commodification of
culture. Since the money is with the commodifiers, respectable practices of
artistic growth risk being criminalised.
Allusion, cross-reference, inter-textuality, influence, borrowing and
sometimes magpie-ism get stigmatised as plain vanilla theft.
This area is complex. How can they be balanced - the interests of artistic
growth against the interests of those making a living?
The Financial Mail's Peter Wilhelm, a poet, novelist and probably the best
film critic around here, put his finger on one anomaly. If the poem The
Waste Land, by TS Eliot, were published today Eliot would be regarded as a
plagiarist. (His poem is written as a palimpsest of others' work, some but
not all acknowledged in notes.)
This view was expressed - recently, nuttily and at taxpayers' expense - by
an adviser to the government's arts department. Sandile Mamela claimed that
Picasso had ripped off African creators. Well, Sandy, sue the oke. Make it a
class action on behalf of all those who influenced Picasso. Try to decide
first who did not influence Picasso. Have a great millennium.
Ideas and language are common air. In the 1960s, in my grandfather's estate
was found a manuscript of a book about Byron's career, entitled From Byron
to Byronism. A book on Byron entitled From Byron to Byronism written by an
American scholar (unknown to my grandfather) appeared in the United States
months later. (Google "From Byron to Byronism" and you'll get some 10 200
Ideas and influences often float in the ether, encased in words. How, on the
one hand, can the law distinguish between the workings of simultaneity,
coincidence, common consciousness or influence, and plagiarism on the other?
Any writer will tell you that he or she has found an arrangement of words or
a theme that eerily and closely resembles something he or she had written
before. Sometime this is the result of happenstance, sometimes deliberate
borrowing, sometimes of unconscious memory: remembering a line, phrase or
even paragraph as one's own.
This is different from deliberately presenting another's work or arrangement
of words as one's own.
Then conventions are different - in journalism, a crime reporter may use
phrases from the filed copies of another's work without acknowledgment:
standard if you work on the same newspaper.
In critical arts writing, I frequently find textual evidence that the writer
has read the work of Clive James, for example. I'd rather find evidence of a
writer having read their peers and superiors, than not: the latter is
evidence of ignorance and arrogance. It is tempting to apply the phrase of a
1940s American theatre critic, "delusions of adequacy", to most performers.
The decision to do so is complex. One answer would be yes, because the
phrase was minted by someone else, and not to acknowledge the source means
passing another's brilliance as your own. The acknowledgment of brilliance
is in using it, and brilliance, not who is brilliant, is what matters.
Then, what pedantry - or erudition - would be involved in adding "as
Shakespeare said" every time we quoted him?
The counter to this is that Shakespeare, a well-known litigant, is long dead
and his writing is common property - the imaginative air that we breathe, a
medium of our own existence.
If we uncritically apply legal criteria to the arts, when will ideas or
images that inhabit words free themselves from a tree, and float down like
leaves to become part of the humus, nourishing future trees? Five years?
Fifty? Five hundred?
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From: debate-bounces at lists.kabissa.org
[mailto:debate-bounces at lists.kabissa.org]On Behalf Of Patrick Bond
Sent: 03 June 2006 05:37 PM
To: debate: SA discussion list
Subject: [DEBATE] : (Fwd) Gumede on plagiarism accusation
William Gumede wrote:
> hi Patrick,
> The M&G finally used my response yesterday!
> I've attached it. Perhaps you circulate it on debate site.
> best wishes
> __By William M. Gumede
> Two weeks ago your correspondent wrote an article based on information
> supplied anonymously to newspapers and journalists in an envelope
> containing a list of six instances of 'striking similarities' between
> my book and other sources. The resultant article insinuated I had
> paraphrased certain material or simply used different sources without
> attribution. This is absurd.
> My book is 322 pages long, with more than 700 references, 90 listed
> interviews and twice as many interviews with people who asked not be
> listed. The book brings together a vast compendium of views, articles
> and research, some of which has been documented before.
> For starters, you compared an extract from a Mark Gevisser article to
> one in my book and said it was not attributed. For the passage about
> Mbeki's family, I used many sources, including my own, as well as
> Gevisser, all which factually describe Mbeki's upbringing in more less
> the same words or terms. For example, one of the alternative sources I
> quoted states: "The Mbeki family was among the first mission-educated
> Africans, the beginnings of a rural middle class in the Eastern Cape ...
> His mother Epainette, is from the Moerane family, which has ties with
> the Bafokeng royal family". [Richard Calland and Sean Jacobs. 2002.
> Thabo Mbeki's World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African
> President (I was a contributor to the book)] Another source puts it
> thus: "Govan Mbeki's family were Mfengu ... educated ... His mother
> Epainette, was a Moerane, from the elite Bafokeng." [Transcript of
> Heidi Holland's account, BBC World Service (Radio), London, 4 April
> 2004.] These and other sources, including Gevisser, are listed among
> the references.
> For another, your article suggested I gleaned a term from journalist
> Charlene Smith to compare Mandela and Mbeki's leadership styles. In my
> interview with ANC general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe on 6 July 2001,
> which is listed at the end of the book, he used similar terms to
> explain Mandela's style.
> "One cannot just argue that whites have done enough. To be South
> African, or call this country home, means there are some duties ....
> some obligations. As president (Mbeki) his emphasis must be on
> transformation ... (Why) do you want to contrast his (Mbeki's) style as
> different (to Mandela)? They are obviously fundamentally different
> people. At times (Mandela) would sometimes couch tough criticisms with
> hugs, kisses or even with a joke ... Chief, this is more a difference in
> emphasis". [Interview Kgalema Motlanthe. 6 July 2001]
> In addition to other sources and interviews, I also point to the
> Charlene Smith article in my research paper, Contrasting the Policy
> Styles of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki and the Consolidation of
> South Africa's Democracy (Leeds University, 2004), which is listed in
> the references. Granted, an indirect reference, even if explained in
> the text or preface, is not always ideal.
> Importantly, my sources are listed and acknowledged, and can be easily
> tracked. Any omission is regrettable, but neither knowing nor
> deliberate; nor is it a valid example of 'striking similarities' as
> stated by your report. Furthermore, all the passages in question are
> of a very factual nature. When discussing matters such as Mbeki's
> family or leadership style, it is inevitable that different writers
> will use similar terms, and this is not plagiarism.
> As Max Du Preez rightly asked, if one describes PW Botha as 'Die Groot
> Krokodil' without acknowledging that historian Hermann Giliomee first
> coined the phrase, can one be guilty of plagiarism? When I prepared
> the book, I was fully aware, as Patrick Lawrence would later write in
> his Financial Mail review, that 'after this book, Gumede will have few
> friends and many powerful enemies'. Sadly, most of the accusations so
> far have centred on discrediting the book or me, rather than dealing
> with the substance of the contents. Knowing the hostile responses I
> was bound to evoke, I took special care to get the referencing right
> as far as humanly possible. More than 40 people - Mbeki allies,
> critics and neutral observers, including top legal minds - combed
> through the manuscript before publication. Sadly, the damage to the
> victim of an anonymous smear campaign of this nature can never really
> be undone.
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