Friday, February 05, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: SNARKY NAY-SAYER TURNS OUT TO BE PLAGIARIST

I've been increasingly interested in how electronic publishing is changing the possibilities for writing and publishing.  Like most people, I tend to think that it will allow whole new genres of writing, and will also give power to writers whose work might be very good quality but might not necessarily appeal to a wide enough audience to justify the intensive capital involved in mainstream publishing.

In the course of this, a friend of mine emailed me the following link where the author very cleverly shows that in fact mainstream publishing is the friend of the little guy and that e-publishing will fail to perform all the services that traditional publishing does.  My friend wanted to make the point that the article was full of specious reasoning (simply because it was).  But I was so amused by the clever writing, which in no way suffered from a smarmy, know-it-all tone to notice the many faulty assumptions.  And unlike my friend, who assumes that there are talented and discerning writers and readers outside of the ranks of the professional publishing world, I have no such illusions.

So I was delighted.

Imagine my shock when, in the course of researching the rise of the printing press to show that it was both inevitable and the end of history (the end result of this research will be a book called The Phenomenology of Random House), I came across the following satire from 1448:

Could it be?  Could my know-it-all nay-sayer be a plagiarist?  But his ideas are so original.

I've included the manuscript I uncovered below.  I invite readers to compare it to this link.

I report.  You decide.




Albertus Magnus (fresco, 1352, Treviso, Italy)...Image via Wikipedia


CHARACTERS:
HEINRICH GUTENBERG, a modern-thinking man with exciting ideas
JOHANNES PONZI, a humble writer
GRETA PONZI, the wife of a humble writer
ACT I
SCENE OPENS ON GUTENBERG and PONZI, standing.
GUTENBERG: The book-copying  world is changing! In the future, authors will no longer need those fat cat middle men known as “monasteries” to get in the way of their art! It will just be the author and his audience!
PONZI: Won’t I need an abbot? Or a copyist? Or an illuminator? Or a quill dipper? Or a church theologian to verify the orthodoxy of the work?  Or a library to copy the books from?  Or other monastic orders and highly moneyed institutions to purchase the few copies of the book I can write?
GUTENBERG (waves hand, testily): Yes, yes. But all those things you can do yourself or with a few non-monastic folks.
PONZI: And I’m supposed to write the manuscript, too?
GUTENBERG (snorts): As if writing was hard. Now go! And write your philosophical tract!
PONZI goes off to write his philosophical  tract[1]. GUTENBERG stands, alone, on stage, for several months. Eventually PONZI returns, with a book.
GUTENBERG: You again! What took you so long?
PONZI: Well, I had write the book. Then I had to have it re-written, re-copied, illuminated, act as my own scribe and pay to send notice to other monasteries  . It cost me thousands of guilders out of my own pocket and the better part of a year. But look! Here’s the manuscript!
GUTENBERG (pulls out his knife): I’m sorry, I only read bound books[2].
PONZI sighs, slinks off the stage.
GUTENBERG (yelling after PONZI): And where are the scholia? Why aren’t you writing more?!?
ACT II
It is A YEAR LATER. SCENE OPENS on GUTENBERG and PONZI, standing.
GUTENBERG: I’m still waiting for that scholia, you know.
PONZI: I spent all my money last year making that first manuscript. And no other monastic orders were interested.
GUTENBERG (sneers): Well, what did you expect? The argumentation was sloppy, the illumination was atrocious, the content was heretical and the vellum looked like it had been bought by a mendicant. Who would want to read and copy that?
PONZI (dejected): I know.
GUTENBERG: Seriously, what were you thinking.
PONZI: But that’s my point! I want to get professional illumination and scribing and vellum manufacture, but I just can’t afford it.
GUTENBERG (smiles): PONZI, you naive fool. Don’t you realize that thanks to the current economy we live in, men of letters are desperately looking for work! Surely some of them will work for almost nothing! Scratch that — they’ll work for exactly nothing!
PONZI: Is that ethical? To get work from people without paying them?
GUTENBERG: Of course it is. They’ll profit from the exposure.
PONZI: I don’t think a copyist is going to want to be paid in exposure.
GUTENBERG: Then release the book through a printing press to get past all the production costs.
PONZI: Yes! And then sell it for a reasonable price!
GUTENBERG (shrugs): Well, do what you want. I’ll be getting it from a pirate press.
PONZI: What?
GUTENBERG:  Other presses can do the type-setting for cheaper!  How much do you expect me to pay for the authorized edition?
PONZI: So, pay people nothing to help me create a book I make nothing on, for people who will refuse to pay for it.
GUTENBERG: I wouldn’t put it that way. But yes.
GUTENBERG and PONZI stand for a moment, silent.
PONZI: I’m trying to remember if you participated in the reformation
GUTENBERG (snorts): As if I’d participate in heresy.
ACT III
SEVERAL MONTHS have passed. SCENE OPENS on GUTENBERG and PONZI, standing.
GUTENBERG: Dude, where the fuck are the scholia? I’m dying over here.
PONZI: Well, I was going to write it, but when I tried to find illuminators and vellum workers to work on it for free, I kind of hit a road block. The ones who were good wouldn’t work for free, and the ones that were free weren’t good.
GUTENBERG (rolls his eyes): Well, duh. I could have told you that.
PONZI: But…
GUTENBERG: But that’s not important now. What’s important is that we get you writing again.
PONZI: But I don’t have the money to make another manuscript with monastic help, and I don’t have the time to make another manuscript on my own.
GUTENBERG: As it happens, I have a solution for you. And look, here she is.
ENTER Greta  PONZI from STAGE LEFT.
GUTENBERG: Frau. PONZI, a word, please.
GRETA: Yes?
GUTENBERG: As you may know, your husband is a writer. But he is finding it difficult to do writing recently because of issues of cost and time. I know that you are the organized, financially-minded person in your relationship, so allow me to suggest to you that you become his abbot, or abbess as the case may be. While he writes, you locate and pay for an illuminator, a copyist, a librarian, a monastic order, a theologian and a network of other abbeys. This will leave him free to focus on his craft, and the sholia I so desire.
GRETA: I see. And you propose I fund these people how?
GUTENBERG: Well, I’m sure I don’t know, Mrs. PONZI, but I have faith in your ability to do so.
GRETA: So to recap, you want me to give up my life of leisure and devote all my time to my husband’s career.
GUTENBERG: Of course not! I never said for you to give up your life of leisure.  You need the social connections.
GRETA: Ah. Could you come over here for just a second?
GUTENBERG (walks toward KRISTINE): Yes?
GRETA clocks GUTENBERG in the head, stunning him, then rips off his testicles, stuffs them into his mouth and sets him on fire while he chokes on them. GUTENBERG dies.
GRETA (to PONZI): You. Find a fucking monastery.
PONZI: Yes, dear.
CURTAIN FALLS.


[1] It is interesting to note that the plagiarist chose to use a novel, given the fact that novels would not have existed as a genre without the development of the printing press.
[2] Kudos to the plagiarist, for figuring out how to update the joke that early printed books had to be cut open, something illuminated manuscripts didn’t need.


20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. False equivalency (typical right-wing tactic) and "I report. You decide." Well, your parody isn't particularly LESS fair and balanced than Faux News.

Doesn't it BOTHER you to be such a flaming asshole? I guess maybe you glory in it, the way the Fox Noise morons do.

Your kids must be so proud of you.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Hi Anonymous.

Thanks for taking the time to quote. I really appreciate your bravery in using your name when calling someone a flaming asshole.

I suppose I could have updated my
"parody" and made a know-it-all piece that showed the inevitability of the printing press, but I decided that wouldn't be as much fun as just letting the piece speak for itself.

You really hit the nail on the head when you called me right-wing. Like most people who are fans of progressive, online media, I'm really interested in keeping capital in the hands of the big guys.

Let me spell out the joke for you:

The point is to make a false equivalence. The argument is supposed to be fallacious.

The fallacy in the original piece was assuming that the only way to write good work was using the techniques and production methods of traditional publishing and then showing how stupid it was to think that other methods could work better. The printing press really can't make as good of illuminated manuscripts as monasteries could. There's no joke.

Oh, and yes my kids are proud of me. In part, because I don't use ad hominem tactics like calling people "flaming assholes."

Who am I kidding, they'd be proud of me even if I did!

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

P.S. For other evidence of my right-wingery please see:

http://doctorideas.blogspot.com/2008/12/ideas-man-and-mormons-act-v-scenes-i.html

http://doctorideas.blogspot.com/2008/04/ideas-man-talks-about-his-misadventures.html

http://doctorideas.blogspot.com/2008/01/apropos-of-michigan-primary.html

But I'm sure you've already done that, Anonymous. You seem like a careful reader.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm Xopher. That's my online posting name; I'm really Christopher Hatton. I had to post as anonymous because I don't have any of the other things Blogger allows.

Note that I didn't say you were right-wing. I was saying that your tacticss are right-wing tactics. I in fact assumed that you are NOT right-wing and would take the comparison as an insult, which insult I richly intended.

And by the way, you are guilty of the typical internet misuse of the term ad hominem. Calling you a flaming asshole for something you've said, deservedly or not, is not ad hominem. Don't be confused by the literal translation. The argumentum ad hominem is/would be dismissing your argument because of an irrelevant characteristic of yours. So if I said "Yeah, well, you Ph.D's and fathers of two think you know everything," and waved dismissively, THAT would be an ad hominem.

The original piece is talking about the economic reality of producing high-quality work in today's world. It may all change with technology, but e-book readers are not that technology. Most of the costs of producing a book are not the production of the physical object, and therefore remain the same whether the book is presented electronically or in dead-tree form.

That so far, that parody only makes you wrong (and maybe mildly jerky, to have done the whole thing). The reason I called you a flaming asshole is that you called one of the nicest writers around a plagiarist. Yes, it was clear that you were joking. No, it doesn't make a difference. There are some things only assholes joke about, and calling a professional writer a plagiarist is one of those things. Did you think, when you wrote that, of how it might be (mis)quoted? I'll wager not. It's in your damned HEADLINE. Lots of people will see that and nothing more.

A funnier joke that avoids that problem would have said "Interestingly, it's apparently a latter-day* version of this piece from 1444" and gone on from there.

My verification word is 'inceciar'. Vaguely evocative in this context.
____
*You should like that one.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm Xopher. That's my online posting name; I'm really Christopher Hatton. I had to post as anonymous because I don't have any of the other things Blogger allows.

Note that I didn't say you were right-wing. I was saying that your tacticss are right-wing tactics. I in fact assumed that you are NOT right-wing and would take the comparison as an insult, which insult I richly intended.

And by the way, you are guilty of the typical internet misuse of the term ad hominem. Calling you a flaming asshole for something you've said, deservedly or not, is not ad hominem. Don't be confused by the literal translation. The argumentum ad hominem is/would be dismissing your argument because of an irrelevant characteristic of yours. So if I said "Yeah, well, you Ph.D's and fathers of two think you know everything," and waved dismissively, THAT would be an ad hominem.

The original piece is talking about the economic reality of producing high-quality work in today's world. It may all change with technology, but e-book readers are not that technology. Most of the costs of producing a book are not the production of the physical object, and therefore remain the same whether the book is presented electronically or in dead-tree form.

So far, that parody only makes you wrong (and maybe mildly jerky, to have done the whole thing). The reason I called you a flaming asshole is that you called one of the nicest writers around a plagiarist. Yes, it was clear that you were joking. No, it doesn't make a difference. There are some things only assholes joke about, and calling a professional writer a plagiarist is one of those things. Did you think, when you wrote that, of how it might be (mis)quoted? I'll wager not. It's in your damned HEADLINE. Lots of people will see that and nothing more.

A funnier joke that avoids that problem would have said "Interestingly, it's apparently a latter-day* version of this piece from 1444" and gone on from there.

My verification word is 'inceciar'. Vaguely evocative in this context.
____
*You should like that one.

Anonymous said...

Hostile as I'm being, I did not intend a double-post. My apologies. If it matters my second version is the intended one.

-Xopher

The Jar said...

Dear Ideas Man,

I still love you.

Love,
Jared

PS - Incidentally, I am in the middle of writing a post for my not-really-a-blog today that actually is sort of relevant. Let me know if you agree once I finish writing it.

heteromeles said...

Hmmmm.

This is wonderful material to talk with your students about the differences between plagiarism and parody. I strongly suggest you do that.

In case you didn't notice on the original:

Whatever Copyright © 2010. All Rights Reserved.

It's at the bottom of every page of Scalzi's blog.

Fortunately John Scalzi's a big boy, and I'm not him nor his lawyer.

Considering how big an issue plagiarism is in schools these days, I thought this was in bad taste.

Mike D said...

I think it was pretty obviously a joke... I never knew about John Scalzi before this Amazon debacle and it appears his fans are a petty charming group of people.

Or maybe some of you guys need a lesson yourselves in the difference between parody and libel?

The big publishers are dinosaurs. John is benefiting under the current system. Many people are not. His defenses are very specific to a limited set of published authors and a lot of reasoning is poor at best and deceitful at worst. He might even benefit personally from a more collapsed system.

Indie or co-op publishing is the logical next step. As soon as some brave well-known authors make that jump we will see a slow dismantling of the current setup. Cover art, book design, and to some degree publicity are easily within the reach of many people now. I'm excited to see what devlops.

The Jar said...

Here's what I was thinking about when I was arc-melting this morning:

http://jaredallred.blogspot.com/2010/02/why-humanities-are-important.html

Do you think I am too optimistic? I figure that assholes will be assholes

By the way, is this your first flamer ever? That's a big step, and I'm really proud of you. I want to know how to tell whether someone's but is on fire even if I can't see them.

The Jar said...

I meant to say "I think that assholes will be assholes but I know that when I'm better informed I am less tempted to flame strangers"

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Lots to say, and thanks Mike and the Jar ---

One quick thing to the guy who is not John or his lawyer ---

Plagiarism is a legal term referring to taking someone's ideas as your own --- I pretty clearly don't do that.

Parody is taking someone else's idea, pointing out that they are someone else's ideas and playing with them.

And I thought I was a flaming asshole because I showed the stupidity of someone argument in a funny way.

If I'm a flaming asshole because I called the nicest guy in the world (the nicest guy in the world apparently has a lot of friends who are assholes) a plagiarist as a joke then . . . well that just seems like a pretty pathetic reason.

Finally, I'm sorry that you don't what an ad hominem is. I suggest you learn about it --- maybe I'll write an e-book to help you. Probably not though. It strikes me as a waste of time.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Oh and least thing for now Anonymous/Xopher/Chris:

Don't worry, nothing you've said has insulted me. Folks like you who engage in flaming (by your own description) behavior, need to understand the following thing: your very way of talking makes people not care what the hell you say --- you make yourselves irrelevant.

Which has been my point the whole time.

Anonymous said...

Rereading this after calming down some, I realize that I overreacted massively, and said some things that now seem not only wrong, but shameful.

I apologize for calling you a flaming asshole, and for comparing you to Faux News. Also for other flaming things, which would be as insulting to repeat as they were to say in the first place.

I think you were wrong to call John a plagiarist, even in jest; and I think that you used a false equivalency argument to unfairly deride his original post—but I had a duty to keep a civil tongue in criticizing you for that; I failed in that duty, and I have no excuse.

I don't expect that apologizing will fix the wrong I've done here, but it's all that's left to do. I'm sorry for my uncivil and uncivilized behavior.

-Xopher

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Xopher --- It's really ok --- thanks for the apology, I appreciate your point about the plagiarism --- I genuinely think that anyone who reads this will realize it's a joke but I appreciate your perspective.

Anonymous said...

I'm humbled by your graciousness. Thank you. -Xopher

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

The Jar,

Excited to see you are blogging -- get the rest of the fam blogging again and it'll be just like a family reunion, only I'll be allowed to drink..

I've been thinking a lot about the question you raise --- I'll email you some links to where I'm trying to work on this in my teaching and where people are talking about it...

Anonymous said...

This was very clever, good for you. I like that other guy -- or kind of did...I mean, his first few books were okay, but then kinda fell off in quality -- but reading that thing he wrote really left a bad taste in my mouth.

You don't look like a flaming asshole to me. :-)

angel said...

Great post… Great info on bounce rates… I’ll have to write an entry about the same topic some day soon… Bounce rates can tell you alot…
I tend to look at the bounce rate and then look at the keywords that brought people to the site. Does the page answer the keyword question? If No then there is some work to do on that or a new more focused post.


part time money making ideas

Scott said...

I'm not sure exactly how this is related, but I thought I would mention that Laurence Sterne, after being turned down by a publisher, self-published the first edition of Tristram Shandy on credit. When it became a hit, he went back to the same publisher and sold the copyright for 13 times his original asking price.

This was much easier in 18th-century England than it was in, say, mid-twentieth-century America, what with the effects of large national distribution networks. Sterne just sold his books at a major bookstore in London, where almost everyone bought their books; in 1950, a self-publishing author would have to sell books at many different stores across the nation to make money, which would have been a lot of extra work.

Even setting aside e-books, things today are already more similar to the way they were in Sterne's day; just put your book on Amazon and do some savvy self-marketing (like Sterne did) and you have a fighting chance of pulling off the same trick.