The Dim-Post

November 25, 2009

These fragments I have shored against my ruin

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 7:59 am

The Herald has yet another op-ed up about Witi Ihimaera’s plagerism: the irony (I’m sure others have already pointed this out but it merits repeating) is that one of the Herald’s regular columnists, Garth George, was recently caught red-handed plagiarizing a climate change denial web site; 37.5% of the material in his column was written by someone else. No action was taken by the Herald.

Personally I think Ihimaera’s ‘crime’ was trivial; as Mark Twain wrote: ‘immature writers borrow, mature writers steal’. I’m surprised Ihimaera didn’t play the post-modernist card and cheerfully admit that his novel is a text with multiple authors (and none) and that he was a mere redactor, although I respect him more for not taking that option. It’s what I would have said.

From my perspective the biggest fools in the game are Auckland University who responded to Gracewood’s Listener article by insisting that they’d investigated and found that the plagiarism was minor and unintentional; Gracewood subsequently published another story revealing even more extensive plagiarism. Must’ve been a hell of an investigation. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before someone scans Ihimaera’s back catalog onto disk, OCRs it and runs a search algorithm (the DimPost endorses sed) against google books. If the university is smart they’ll do this themselves and control the way the story breaks.

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18 Comments »

  1. The whole sorry episode is a confluence of stupid.

    Comment by andy (the other one) — November 25, 2009 @ 8:10 am

  2. Any clue what sed does Danyl?

    And remember the plagiarism case with some right wing organisation years ago? (some conservative think think here in NZ) The guy had to resign. Not knowing Ihimaera, I assume he is either left or Maori, for both cases different standards apply.

    Comment by Berend de Boer — November 25, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  3. In theory sed does whatever you want it to (even the Towers of Hanoi), but it takes a truly disturbed kind of genius who sees every problem as a regular expression, and every solution as text concatenation.

    Comment by James Butler — November 25, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  4. Any clue what sed does Danyl?

    Yep. In reality I would use perl for such a task, but feel nostaligic about sed because that’s what I used to use. It’s designed to parse text files.

    Comment by danylmc — November 25, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  5. I don’t think this negates the worth of Ihimaera’s work, but it says some bad things about him as an novelist and possibly as a person. If it was all unintentional then he should really pay more attention to what he’s written (which novelists are supposed to do). If he knew what he was doing then he’s either an idiot or arrogant.

    Comment by Helen — November 25, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  6. If he knew what he was doing then he’s either an idiot or arrogant.

    I’m not an expert on the guy but given what we know about his latest book I suspect he’s been doing this for most of his career.

    Comment by danylmc — November 25, 2009 @ 9:27 am

  7. The right-wing think tank in comment #2 was the Maxim Institute; former founder and director Bruce Logan was found to have plagiarised material for his newspaper columns:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/maxim-institute/news/article.cfm?o_id=600572&objectid=10353651&pnum=1

    Who knew that the Maxim Institute had higher ethical standards than Auckland University?

    And, the superb title of the post is an apt quote from Eliot’s The Waste Land — about how to quote properly.

    Comment by eldritch — November 25, 2009 @ 10:07 am

  8. “Not knowing Ihimaera, I assume he is either left or Maori, for both cases different standards apply.”

    I think the name Witi Ihimaera might be a bit of a clue, Berend.

    Comment by bearhunter — November 25, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  9. When I think of writers creating from the compost of everything they’ve experienced, seen, read and done, I like to think the process is a bit more subtle than Ihimaera’s version of ‘inspiration’.

    There are times when openly using others’ material is a smart method of making a point, but presenting others’ work as your own isn’t one of them.

    Comment by Ataahua — November 25, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  10. I’m surprised Ihimaera didn’t play the post-modernist card and cheerfully admit that his novel is a text with multiple authors

    He did, more or less.

    Comment by progcunt — November 25, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  11. If Witi and Penguin buy up his book, will that put it in the top-sellers list?

    Comment by Adhominem — November 25, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  12. I’ve seen it on sale around town, still, but haven’t found the will to get a copy out of notoriety alone.

    (Also, first impressions on the shelf not helped by another uninspired Penguin cover design. Maybe they can work on that for next year’s edition too. Or am I judging a cover by its book?)

    Comment by Sam Finnemore — November 25, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  13. Personally I think Ihimaera’s ‘crime’ was trivial; as Mark Twain wrote: ‘immature writers borrow, mature writers steal’.

    Except when you were a ‘mature’ publisher pirating his works, and not paying the chronically cash-strapped Mr Clements a penny for the privilege. Oddly enough, he because quite a fan of intellectual property rights then.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — November 25, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  14. pish posh, dole out a few more grants to poor old Witi, it’s quite evident he is crying out for help,

    Comment by piglet — November 25, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

  15. From my perspective the biggest fools in the game are Auckland University…

    Shit, yes – picture the next time they try and discipline a student for plagiarism. Economically, it’s a sound decision as the lucrative foreign student market highly favours a relaxed attitude to plagiarism – but from an academic reputation point of view, it’s a steaming turd.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — November 25, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  16. Has anyone checked if Ihimaera’s apology was original? He might have copied it from someone else.

    Comment by kahikatea — November 26, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

  17. “If Witi and Penguin buy up his book, will that put it in the top-sellers list?”

    It’s been the best-selling New Zealand novel for three weeks in a row, even without the buy-back offer and during all the coverage about plagiarism and the $50K from the Arts Foundation. No such thing as bad publicity, right?

    Comment by anonymous — November 26, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

  18. It’s the kind of thing Twain would say, but didn’t: again, the quote is from T.S. Eliot.

    Comment by Tim Upperton — December 24, 2009 @ 4:18 pm


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