Friday, April 28, 2006

The Paladion Effect

Okay, I realise this is my third post in under 24 hours, but what the hell.

Chandrahas's post on Borges made me go and issue out a copy of Chronicles of Bustos Domecq from the library (it's a delightful book, though not, perhaps, Borges's best work). One of the pieces in the book struck me as particularly relevant to the current discussion on plagiarism.

In the piece, Borges (or rather Domecq), in his glorious mock-academic style, extolls the virtues of one Cesar Paladion. This extraordinary novelist, a true literary innovator of his time, takes the use of quotations in such masterworks as Eliot's Waste Land and Pound's Cantos to its logical extreme. If it's legitimate to use entire lines by other authors in one's own work in the name of inspiration, Paladion asks (and clearly, it is acceptable, even necessary, to use the same words as other writers), then why not a whole book?

Motivated by this idea, Paladion gives us such wonders as Emile, She, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Georgics (he is rumoured to have been at work on The Gospel According to St. Luke at the time of his death). Each of these masterworks consists of a single book-length quote from another author - Paladion, with the iron discipline of the true artist, does not add nor omit a single comma, nor does he commit the "all-too-easy vanity of writing a single new line". Domecq, quoting Farrel du Bosc's authoritative study, which in turn quotes the literary critic Myriam Powell-Paul Fort (don't you just love Borges!) calls this an "amplification of units", and argues that it is an act of signal genius, that the literary community has regrettably overlooked, perhaps because of the confusion occasioned in lesser minds by the apparent similarity of Paladion's work to those of the writers he quotes, though in truth, of course, aside from their entire prose content, these works could not be more different.

Kaavya, are you listening?

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ozymandiaz said...

Wow, that would make blogging a bit easier, I'll just quote other poets...

MockTurtle said...

Too much has been said about Kaavya, but moving on Borges - have you read 'The Aleph' where he comments on talentless artists through the character of Carlos Argentino, a pompous but clueless librarian/poet who believes that his meaningless blathering is radiant beyond description and proceeds at every occasion to explain to Borges why it is so?
The story goes on to show how a miraculous opportunity is wasted on one who cannot appreciate it, but overall the theme was reminiscent of
the section of 'Bustos Domecq' that you quoted.
I would guess that Borges was surrounded by pretentious writers and critics during his life and bitterly detested them all.

Cheshire Cat said...

Plagiarism is bad, but the worst kind of plagiarism is self-plagiarism. "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote", anyone? Of course, Borges being Borges, the object of plagiarism is indeed the subject of plagiarism.

Kaavya is only the latest in a noble tradition. Laurence Sterne did it, compulsively and unabashedly. Marianne Moore gave it an ironic twist, by suggesting that she owed it to her conscience... Ronald Johnson, in "Radi Os", went some way to being Paladion. Every single mark on paper's filched from Milton.

Falstaff said...

Oz: True. But what would be the point, unless you can get Dreamworks to give you a contract for it?

MT: Yes.

Cat: Come, come, you do Borges much wrong. The two ideas are completely different. Paladion is quoting text that inspires him, Menard is trying to arrive at Quixote by himself. So while Paladion can simply copy book after book and get it published, Menard manages little more than a few chapters of Quixote. Paladion's artistic contribution is in the notion of choice, of amplification, Menard's is a more complex feat of the imagination. The two are very different. Besides, Borges isn't copying exact sentences. And he has the good taste to pick himself to be inspired by.

Cheshire Cat said...

From an English translation of "Pierre Menard" : "When I was ten or twelve years old, I read it, perhaps in its entirety". Maybe you're right, maybe Borges didn't do Domecq an injustice. Maybe he was copying from real life, from the Kaavya story. Disgraceful.

Which is worse: copying an idea ("games with infinity and mirrors") or copying verbatim? The one who copies verbatim risks exposure, is held accountable. Alas, this is too fine a discrimination to be relevant to a celebrity teenage author of chick-lit (and besides, she didn't take the copying far enough).

Falstaff said...

Cat: I'd say copying words is much worse. If we seriously took on the notion of copying ideas being plaigarism it would become almost impossible to write anymore. Taking an existing idea and developing it / laying it out in your own way is a legitimate artistic endeavour, copying someone else's words verbatim is not.

As far as Kaavya goes, I don't really have a grouse against her copying (anyone who reads chick-lit for its artistic merit is hardly in a position to complain) - but that she was stupid enough to think that she wouldn't get caught and couldn't come up with a better explanation than the one she's come up with now. How dumb can you get?