Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kaavya and Carver: Cryptonesiacs?

One of the things I love most about having this blog is the way folks drop by and leave links to stuff that's much more interesting than the post that lead to the comments in the first place! Am I humbled or what?

That certainly happened the other day when I wrote about Kaavya Viswanathan's plagiarism and if you have the time, do go and pick up some of the leads.

Dear old Anon left an intriguing note about an interesting article in IHT which highlighted that the author actually worked with a book packager to come up with the storyline. I tracked down the article to the New York Times, and intriguing reading it makes too. Like Anon, I had never heard of a book packager before and my eyes are opened. Tom Tomorrow tackles the same subject on his blog (thanks so much Swifty, for this link) and smells a rat:
Obviously I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’d be willing to bet some modest sum (my own advances falling rather short of the half million mark) that there’s more to this story than is being reported so far.
Also worth checking out is the story from the archives of that Sufian mentioned: why is Raymond Carver's most famous short-story Cathedral so similar to a D.H. Lawrence: The Blind Man? Of course, there can be no question of a great writer like Carver getting up to Kaavya-like shenanigans ... can there?

Meanwhile, copies of Kaayva's book are stacked high in Times in Bangsar Shopping complex. Since the book is apparently being recalled, you might want to whiz over there and bag one, because it's bound to have rarity value later on. (One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn't buy the locally produced Gulf War board game back in 1991. Just think how much that would be worth now!)

Just in case you aren't sure what a cryptonesiac is, check it out here.


Chet said...

Looking back, my biggest regret book-wise is I didn't buy a copy of Toni Morrison's Beloved and have her sign it when she came to UEA to do a reading as part of her book tour to launch it in 1989. Think how much that would be worth today!

My excuse was my poor student status, but then I went and paid £30-odd for Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey instead.

Chet said...

Article in Slate:

Why Plagiarists Do It

mclee said...

I happen to believe Viswanathan reproduced what she read unconsciously.

I remember reading in the 90s an old Isaac Asimov paperback which contained a funny article about how he spent the day writing up an article. He submitted the article; quite proud of his creativity and efficiency,
only to be asked by his editor why he was recycling old stuff.

It was after much digging that Asimov found an old "forgotten" article from many years ago which he claimed was word for word same as the one he just produced.

Can't find the book for my life, but i am sure some Asimov fans can.

Chet said...

But Asimov was recycling his old stuff, not someone else's?

mclee said...

I think the point is that reproducing large passages from what we read almost verbatim (as Viswanathan claimed) is quite possible, although admittedly in Asimov's case he wrote the stuff himself.

bibliobibuli said...

chet - to let the chance of a toni morrison book pass by - now that's a sin

the slate magazine is interesting - thanks

mclee - thanks for telling us the asimov story - fascinating

Chet said...

"chet - to let the chance of a toni morrison book pass by - now that's a sin"

A bibliosin?

Well, I have to live with it for the rest of my life! Altho, I did pick up a secondhand trade copy in San Diego the following year.

madcap machinist said...

re: book packager

isn't it the same as having a ghostwriter?

bibliobibuli said...

usually a ghostwriter will work with an individual on a book

as i understanding more like outsourcing the writing of a series of books to a company which will employ a pool of writers

Chet said...

Just read on CNN Online that the book has been permanently withdrawn and her two-book deal canceled, and the publisher Little, Brown and Company will not be publishing a revised edition of the book.

Full story here:
Harvard author faces further allegations of borrowing, 'Opal Mehta' has been pulled from shelves, book deal canceled

Anonymous said...

The interesting question is, can they ask for the money back ?

mclee said...

Also of interest is the NY Times story ( about Helen Keller's autobiography "The Story of My Life" in which she described how at age 12, she wrote a story — "The Frost King" —that created her own publishing scandal, when she realized after it was published that a story similar to 'The Frost King,' called 'The Frost Fairies' by Miss Margaret T. Canby, had appeared before I was born in a book called 'Birdie and His Friends.' The two stories were so much alike in thought and language that it was evident Miss Canby's story had been read to me, and that mine was — a plagiarism."

Juding from further allegations of plagiarism from other writers, I now agreed that it apears unlikely that Visawanathan just regurgitated her past reading unconcsiouly. However, I still think we are overreacting; how about all the news reporters who routinely copy from one another without sources at all?

If I remember correctly, Hofstadter said in "Godel Escher and Bach" that bits of information lies everywhere. It is by connecting up these bits of isolated information in innovative ways that new knowledge (& value) is generated.

best regards

bibliobibuli said...

mclee - thanks for this. yes, i went back and read the nyt article and have yet another case to add to the argument!

you're right about the way new knowledge is generated ... we have to pull together existing knowledge and build on it ... as an academic you are very aware of that

and fiction writers cannot write in a vacuum, are always influenced by what they have read ...

but if knowingly a writer steals without giving credit, then for sure that's wrong

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated by this story(like a lot of other people, obviously) more for the reactions than for the somewhat ordinary plagiarism. The various takes, though, are something else again.
I'm not a 19 year old any longer, but I remember enough about the mental capacities of the above average student to believe that the most obvious and simple explanation of this story is the truth: yes, Kaavya did what is to some apparently totally unthinkable: she simply pulled at least 5 books in the same genre by other authors and rewrote or in some cases copied word for word their text in places where she felt it would fit. There is AFAIK really no such thing as this kind of "amnesia" as regards writing--not the type--any tyoe--that permits some sort of bizarre Oliver Sachs-effect of believing that many dozens of passages, of chunks of text are yours, created originally out of your brain. What I also believe--and this is new twist in the speculation, as far as I know--is that she was lying when she said that Megan McCafferty's books "spoke to" her, that she'd reread them numerous times in high school--or ever read through them before she started her book at all. Balderdash. It makes much more sense if Kaavya(the overachieving future business student)was unfamiliar with the existing genre of chicklit(the high school variety), went to the bookstore, and stocked up on a few when pressured and stuck(her initial chapters were suppsoedly poor, and she was told as much). It makes sense that she'd be ignorant of just how famous and traceable those authors--McCafferty, Kinsella--really are--that they are in fact HUGELY famous and popular. I'm sure she did this as a somewhat desperate measure...I'm also fairly certain it's a technique she used all over the place, as, sadly, many students do: if you can't find their source for a paper, it's not stealing. Voila!
As for the various conspiracy theories about Alloy Entertainment being either the "real" culprit or heavily involved in a scam; no way. The idea that an anonymous freelancer at Alloy, one who is paid not so great money and I'm sure really needs the few thousands they are paid, would risk never, ever working at a publishing house or for any of those players again by doing a stupid thing and plagiarising from some of Alloy's own product. That is really unbelievable. Nor would the high mucky-mucks at Alloy do such a thing: THEY are in publishing for the long haul, not for one deal(of which they got 250,000). THEY, far more than Kaavya, would know the possible awful consequences of such a scandal for their entire business, which needs much, much more than even one big deal to pay the bills of the partners and writers they employ.
No, Kaavya, while supposedly "smart" in certasin things, is no novelist, and also no clever reader; she believed she'd get away with rampant stealing and that her publicity machine would cover for her if little things were noticed...but I also think she never really thought anyone would catch it. That's my proof she's done it before, and succeeded. Mark me--it'll come out...although by then no one will much care.

bibliobibuli said...

if you can't find their source for a paper, it's not stealing.

*sigh* i know this mentality only too well, having taught students of this age ... i think the scenario you present is a highly plausible one ...