The week in plagiarism and inspiration.

First came news of the discovery of a diary –

The climactic moment in William Faulkner’s 1942 novel “Go Down, Moses” comes when Isaac McCaslin finally decides to open his grandfather’s leather farm ledgers with their “scarred and cracked backs” and “yellowed pages scrawled in fading ink” — proof of his family’s slave-owning past. Now, what appears to be the document on which Faulkner modeled that ledger as well as the source for myriad names, incidents and details that populate his fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County has been discovered.

The original manuscript, a diary from the mid-1800s, was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi whose great-grandson Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, now 79, recalls the writer’s frequent visits to the family homestead in Holly Springs, Miss., throughout the 1930s, saying Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s several volumes. Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulker’s hands and remembers that he “was always taking copious notes.”

Specialists have been stunned and intrigued not only by this peephole into Faulkner’s working process, but also by material that may have inspired this Nobel-prize-winning author, considered by many to be one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century…

Especially surprising is that the diary wasn’t technically discovered this week – E. Wiggin has had the diary in his possession for many years, and it seems unlikely that he didn’t at any point put one and one together. Then again,

The original documents have been used by Southern economists and social historians for their insights into Mississippi’s plantation life, but no one has previously been aware that Faulkner, who died in 1962, had any connection to them.

So much for the value of a liberal education.

Meanwhile, some ridiculous tool gets linked to Faulkner (my bad) for lazy cut & paste “mixing” –

Author, 17, Says It’s ‘Mixing,’ Not Plagiarism
BERLIN — It usually takes an author decades to win fawning reviews, march up the best-seller list and become a finalist for a major book prize. Helene Hegemann, just 17, did it with her first book, all in the space of a few weeks, and despite a savaging from critics over plagiarism.
The publication last month of her novel about a 16-year-old exploring Berlin’s drug and club scene after the death of her mother… was heralded far and wide in German newspapers and magazines as a tremendous debut, particularly for such a young author. The book shot to No. 5 this week on the magazine Spiegel’s hardcover best-seller list.
For the obviously gifted Ms. Hegemann, who already had a play (written and staged) and a movie (written, directed and released in theaters) to her credit, it was an early ascension to the ranks of artistic stardom. That is, until a blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

Here’s her “apology” – it’s in German, but here’s a little Google Translation magic.  Here’s a little Condalmo Translation magic: “Mixing is cool, it’s what the young people do, which I don’t expect you to understand, but I’m sorry you’re so upset, which is my way of apologizing and simultaneously making it clear that you’re the one with the issue here, not me.”

If she wanted to use big chunks of this other writer’s work, why didn’t she just get permission? Why didn’t she be up front about it with the publisher, with her readers? Is it okay to misrepresent oneself and one’s work, and when caught make arty excuses and get a free pass? If she wins the prize, what percentage will go to the writer from whom she stole borrowed remixed?


DFW biography, of sorts.

Thanks to the fine folks at Longfellow Books, I got a copy of the forthcoming Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, by David Lipsky. Lipsky’s a writer with Rolling Stone magazine, and the two of them spent four days together during DFW’s book tour supporting Infinite Jest. I started it yesterday; mixed opinion so far. I’m not sure how much of that ambivalence comes from the odd presentation – it’s looking like a 300+ page interview transcript.  Lipsky’s contributions are a sometimes confusing mix of question, comment, observation, and aside. DFW’s portions are interesting – but I think I’ll save writing about that for another time, after I’ve gotten further in.

WELL NOW. Here’s the cover for the forthcoming David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, mofos) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. That little fellow on the bridge is me, contemplating jumping, but wait here comes my good friend with a review copy of the new David Mitchell novel! Life continues.

The Unfortunate.

Now that it’s January and the book is out there, I want to comment on Joshua Ferris’s The Unnamed. Mainly because, unlike most of the reviews I’ve read (even the tepid dismissal from The New York Times faulted mainly his overreaching & writing himself into a narrative corner), I found it hugely disappointing. Which is a nice way of saying that I think it’s a terrible, lazy work. I like Ferris and I liked his first novel, but this one takes a premise with great big gobs of potential and goes nowhere all that creative with it. Ye olde premise: a man finds himself afflicted with an uncontrollable urge to walk – guy gets up and walks, any old random time of day, any old place, icy winter, whatever, and he can’t stop himself. Chin-stroking-Hmmm, right?

Nope. The situations created by “the unnamed” affliction (doctors can’t figure it out, and Obama hasn’t fixed health care yet) are pedestrian, uninspired, 2-D. You’d think there’d be some allegory goin’ on, but no. It plays out like a bad Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino movie. There’s a brief scene featuring a detective so embarrassingly cliched that I felt sure Ferris was having some fun with his readers – there was certainly some nudge-wink going on, maybe the whole thing was a bad dream and walker-guy would wake up in a shower stall with a treadmill, or he’d go out walking and when he was found he’d look just like Balthazar Getty. No such fun to be found; it’s not even relentlessly gloomy and tragic. (They call each other “Banana”. If there’s a good reason, it’s either not revealed, or I’ve blocked it from my memory in a fit of PTSD.) Given all the hype around it, though, combined with the color-by-numbers plotting, we can expect a film version to surface, probably around awards season 2011. Hopefully the screen treatment will find something more provocative to do with the material.