Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Not a book review!

As I read Richard A. Posner's fine The Little Book of Plagiarism, one question kept recurring: why has no one ever called me, as the Wall Street Journal's Gary Rosen calls Posner (on the book's cover), "a one-man think tank"? Sure, I've been called a "one-man drunk tank," but it's just not the same.

Oh yeah, I remember why: Posner is a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and author of lots of books on different stuff. Of course, I too am a judge, senior lecturer, and author of lots of books on different stuff. I just don't brag about it.

But you're safe, I'm not going to review the book, mainly because any review would be longer than the book itself. Just a couple of interesting facts and figures from the Jedge:

Laurence Sterne, whose great novel Tristram Shandy copies extensively and without acknowledgment from other authors, also sent letters to his mistress that he had copied years earlier from letters he'd written to his wife.

Nice guy. Thrifty, too. Discussing why plagiarists are sometimes rather too easily forgiven and "rehabilitated," Posner notes that

one reason for the ambivalence of reactions to plagiarism is that the Left, which dominates intellectual circles in the United States, is soft on plagiarism. Notions of genius, of individual creatiivity, and of authorial celebrity, which inform the condemnation of plagiarism, make the leftist uncomfortable because they seem to celebrate inequality and "possessive individualism" (that is, capitalism). Debora Halbert asserts that "for the feminist and the postmodernist, appropriation or Plagiarism are [Posner's sic] acts of sedition against an already established mode of knowing, a way of knowing indebted to male creation and property rights."
That reminds me of University of Colorado professor Tom Mayer, who in 2005 used that particular leftist argument in defending Ward Churchill (though he has since apparently abandoned it). Of one incident of Churchillian plagiarism, Mayer wrote:

Movement people did not conceive the world in terms of property rights, nor were they obsessed with using publications to chalk up status points. Thus the ethics of citation within the new left movement differed substantially from standard academic protocol.

As long as nobody was making money, of course.

Anyway, The Little Book of Plagiarism, besides being an intellectual tour de force, is an erotic roller coaster ride of thrills and suspense! You literally won't be able to put it down--Posner the one-man think tank developed a special book glue that prevents you from doing so!

Sorry, I promised. No review.

Update: Posner notes that attitudes toward plagiarism were much more relaxed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sock-puppetry, it seems, was also more easily overlooked. James Boswell pseud- or anonymously praised himself and his works many times. Nobody seems to have minded (at least, as far as I could tell from Boswell's Presumptuous Task). Even now, 225 years later, it seems almost cute--that being the last word I'd apply to Ward Churchill, Natsu Saito and Ben Whitmer's several forays into sock-puppetry.

Not cute at all.

Update: "Movement people." Yurch.

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