Monday, May 01, 2006

What the hell is Malcolm Gladwell on about

Before I read this (via DesiPundit), I didn't even know who Malcolm Gladwell was. But Gladwell is apparently defending Kaavya Viswanathan from accusations of having copied her novel "How Opal Mehta got kissed ,got wild and got a life" from another author who is celebrated for publishing rubbish of a similar nature.

Mr Gladwell seems to be making two points in her defense. First of all, since this form of literature, if you can call it that, is drivel, why bother about plagiarism, since all drivel is fundamentally drivel anyways. For example, a hunk of feces is a hunk of feces, irrespective of whether it originated in the bowels of a cow or a horse. Secondly, in this genre of drivel, it is not possible to produce more drivel without making the newer drivel look a lot like the previous drivel, so lets not call it plagiarism but drivel of a similar nature.

But Gladwell avoids talking about the fact that both novels, the one Viswanathan claims to have written, as well as the one she is accused to have copied from, have curiously similar phraseology. And then, he ends his post with an example of plagiarism from the novel which has nothing to do with the two points he made, but illustrates the similarity of phrases in the two books, which he never even mentions.

From page 7 of McCafferty’s first novel: “Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget’s braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on, before Hope and I met in our seventh-grade honors classes.

From page 14 of Viswanathan’s novel: “Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had first bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla’s glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends got on.”

"these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend" and "when *** came off and boyfriends got on". Gladwell would like us to believe that when you write prose of this genre, it would be impossible to do that unless you incorporated these phrases into it. Are you fucking kidding me? What the hell is he on about?

Although Ms Viswanathan claims to have subconsciously used those phrases, I am pretty sure that she's lying, and here's why. Yesterday, I was reading a Wodehouse after a long hiatus. And I happened upon a phrase which tickled me to such an extent that I memorized it (obviously I didn't do such a good job of it since I can't seem to remember what it was), and resolved to use it somewhere during the course of my career as a blogger. And suddenly, I realized what I would do if I were ever to write a book. I would make a list of my favorite Wodehouses, read 'em all head to toe and jot down all the phrases and imagery I find to be immensely humorous. Then, I would write my book and incorporate all those phrases in it.

But this would be plagiarism, and there's no doubt about it, because Wodehouse's comic genius is precisely in turning those phrases and evoking that vividly hysterical imagery. And that's exactly what Ms Viswanathan did. She jotted down a list of things she liked in the crap she read and injected it into her own crap. No, it wasn't subconscious plagiarism because an inadvertant verbatim rerendering of phrases such as "these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend" and "when *** came off and boyfriends got on" is just not possible because along with mere words, these phrases involve the conjuring up of ideas and imagery that requires some amount of deep thinking, an activity the subconscious is not very well-adapted at performing. Therefore, it's clear that this is blatant plagiarism and hence, unforgivable. And I just can't imagine why Gladwell would argue otherwise. No, wait, I do.

Most of us feel strongly about this (as in, we spend more than 10 seconds mulling over it), is because we find it kind of tragic that someone who is not only devoid of talent but also dishonest enough to copy freely from another's book would be paid 500,000 bucks, a sum we could only hope to make after a lifetime of blogging while at work. Gladwell probably makes 500,000 in a year or two. Hence, he doesn't empathize with all the jealous assholes out there who are raising such a hue and cry over what he believes is frivolous overkill. Plus, there's the fact that they both share a common publisher. That might have something to do with it too.

1 comment:

RobRoy said...

FYI: Kaavya Viswanathan admitted to having put the phrases in, but claimed they were unintentional. Apparently, her fingers slipped while she was writing, and she accidentally copied the text and then couldn't get her computer to remove them.

It's sad really.