Secrecy and Authorship
Prof. Amardeep Singh (“Deep”)
Office: 221 Drown Hall
Office hours: Wednesdays, generally by appointment (email is best)
What do we make of authors who are not who they say they are? There have been anumber of recent front-page controversies about authors who misrepresentedthemselves, fooling publishers and readers alike. But such controversies arenot new; they have, in fact, been going on for as long as we have had themodern concept of authorship. The concern over the role of the author provokesdiscussions of anonymous and pseudonymous authors, racial and sexual"passing," as well as plagiarism. This course will explorecontroversies of authorship in literary works, contemporary and historical,fictional and nonfictional
Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Michael Cunningham, The Hours
In photocopies and on Blackboard
Thomas Mann, “Felix
Henry James, “The
NellaLarsen, “Passing” (novella)
On the life of Thomas
Virginia Woolf’sdiaries (photocopies)
Excerpts from Hermione Lee’s
Oscar Wilde, "Ballad ofReading Gaol"
Michel Foucault, “What is anAuthor?”
Roland Barthes,“The Death of the Author”
Wimsattand Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy”
Nuts and Bolts of the Course
Attendance.I keep attendance every day. Since this class only meets twice a week, you canonly take three unexcused absences withoutit affecting your grade. More absences will adversely affect your participationgrade; a large number will mean an incomplete grade. Excused absences require aform from the Dean's office stating sickness, family emergency, etc.
Participation: Class participationis 20% of your grade, and is measured in somewhat obvious terms: do you a)attend class, and b) participate in class discussions.
Come to class prepared to participate in the discussion.
Papers: There are four papers inthis course, mostly relatively short. Please submit them to me via Blackboard’s“Dropbox” function, as MS Word Documents in PC format(.doc). I cannot read StarOffice.
There may be additional short assignments (1-2 pages) in response to givenreadings. These will be graded on a check/check+/check- basis.
Please turn off your cell phones when you enter the classroom.
Tips for Writing and Online Research
I am ‘into’ the internet. I encourage you to be careful in how you citematerial you find online. If anything in your work derives from an outsidesource and is not common knowledge, it needs a footnote. More footnotes arebetter than fewer footnotes.
Websites that end in .edu tend to be more reliablethan .com sites (like “about.com”). Also, websites without ads tend to be morereliable than ad-driven sites.
Sites that have a named author and a date are more reliable than anonymoussites.
Sites that have a neutral point of view are much more reliable than siteswhere someone has an axe to grind. Evaluate the point of view of the personwriting the content you are looking at – how reliable is it? Also, read thewhole article before pulling quotes for inclusion in your papers. Don’t justcut and paste what look like the relevant parts. (Note: only the longer paperat the end of the term will be research-oriented. For the most part I will beinterested in your thoughts and ideas.)
Wikipedia is good – I use it all the time – butnot perfect. When you want to use material you found on Wikipedia,try confirming it with a second source just to be sure.
Learn to use internet search engines well. If you’re looking for a wholephrase, put the phrase in quotation marks. Learn to use search filters (forinstance, you can tell Google to just search “.edu”sites).
Lehigh subscribes to an impressive array of ‘closed’ databases that youcan’t access from the open internet. Lexis-Nexis is a database that keeps fulltext articles from thousands of newspapers and magazines. JSTOR is a databaseof academic journals, as is Project Muse. These databases can be accessed ifyou go to Lehigh’s library web page, and go to “Databases.”
Only use outside sources that are directly relevant toyour argument. If something is only ‘kind of’ relevant, don’t use itjust to sound smart. Don’t use filler just to make your paper the correctlength.
Papers should be double-spaced and have normal margins and 12 point fonts.Papers that are a little too long are ok. If your paper is too short, youprobably haven’t done enough work.
Avoid beginning papers with “Throughout human history...” Or “In humansociety,…” In general, avoid blanket specificationsand go for specific details. Read lots of book reviews in the New York Times ifyou want further tips on how to open an essay in an interesting way.
All papers should have a clear thesis that is contestable. By contestable, I mean a rational person couldconceivably disagree with it. What follows the thesis paragraph should alsoclearly be in support of the given thesis.
8/31 Opal Mehta excerpts (photocopy); Newspaper and internet coverageof
Plagiarism;Barthes, “What is an Author?” (
9/5 BeginOscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
9/12 Continue Wilde
9/14 Continue Wilde
9/19 Watch Wilde film;short papers on Wilde due (3-4 pages)
9/21 Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
9/26 Continue Woolf; excerpts from her diaries**
9/28 Continue Woolf; excerpts from Hermione Lee’s biography ofWoolf**
10/3 Begin Michael Cunningham, The Hours
10/5 Continue Cunningham
10/10 NO CLASS/PACING BREAK
10/12 Continue Cunningham
10/17 Papers due on Woolf/Cunningham (5 pages)
10/19 Begin Colm Toibin,The
10/24 Continue Toibin
10/26 Continue Toibin
10/31 Continue Toibin
11/2 Read Henry James, “The Aspern Papers”(photocopy, or as ordered)
11/7 Continue discussing “The AspernPapers”; Excerpts from Leon Edel’s biography
11/9 Thomas Mann, “Felix Krull”(photocopy); Papers on Toibin/James (5 pages)
11/14 Nella Larsen, “Passing”
11/16 Vladimir Nabokov, Despair
11/21 Continue Nabokov
11/23 NO CLASS/THANKSGIVING
11/28 Continue Nabokov
11/30 Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
12/5 Continue Nabokov; Short papers on
12/7 Last day of class
12/15 Finalresearch papers due (10 pages). The research paper will ask you to look up aplagiarism (or secrecy scandal) from reading outside of the course. (Moredetails to come.)
Introduction toEnglish 191
This is a course about literary authors who are not who theyclaim to be. Perhaps they have a public image that is projected to the world,that doesn't correspond to who they 'really' are.
Perhaps they have a personal secret about their life or lifestyle they wish toconceal -- perhaps something about their sexuality or sexual preferences.
Or, perhaps the writers whose names appear on our books aren't the 'real'authors of their public works at all -- in the past couple of years, theAmerican publishing world has been rocked by some very high profile plagiarismscandals. The biggest is probably Kaavya
The other big scandal is slightly different, as it involves a nonfiction book.James Frey's memoir "A Million Little Pieces" wasn't plagiarized, butit turned out to largely not be true. It's a memoir of drug addiction and thepath to recovery. But Frey has admitted that the worst, most extreme incidentsdescribed in the book never happened. In the book he says he was in jail for ayear or two after a drug bust; but in actuality the only jailed time he everdid was six hours in a holding cell after a DUI incident. Frey was neverarrested for dealing drugs, and indeed, the whole question of his being a'real' drug addict is one that is very much up in the air.
Why did James Frey lie? Isn't it interesting that two of the most hyped booksin recent years turned out to be fakes? Is there a connection between thedesire for literary fame and the tendency to fake?
And there have been others. For instance, there is awell-known gay author named J.T. Leroy who turned out not to exist. All of hisbooks were, it turns out, written by a heterosexual woman, who dressed up as aman (with thick sunglasses, a big hat, and concealing clothes) whenever it wasnecessary for Leroy to actually appear in person.
These scandals aren't new. Plagiarism charges in particular have been floatingaround as long as the modern publishing industry has existed. Before the modernera various forms of borrowing were even heavier. Even the medieval writerGeoffrey Chaucer might be accused of a kind of plagiarism. Some of his"Canterbury Tales" borrow heavily from other writers' plots; oneparticularly direct source is the Italian writer Boccaccio,whose Decameron has someepisodes that bear a striking similarity to Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde.”
Chaucer wasn't subject to a scandal, largely because he wrote before moderncopyright law -- it was even an era when most works weren't being translatedinto other languages, so few readers would have known about the
The biggest scandal just before the advent of the 'modern' era is more relevantto our class, and we'll be looking a bit more closely at it. The scandalinvolves Thomas Chatterton, who at the age of sixteeninvented a medieval monk who had discovered a medieval epic poem based in thetown where he (Chatterton) lived,
The goal isn't to simply look at authors and their secrets (and lies), butrather to think about the forces that contribute to the pattern of secrecy. I’malso interested in what that says about “us,” that is to say, ordinary peoplewho have a certain idea of what a literary author is. Where did our idea ofwriting as a “noble profession” come from? Why do we place such a high value onoriginality?
What is an 'author'?
What is a literary text and how does it work?
What is the source of creativity?
Is there such a thing as genius?
Why is the image of the author so powerful in our culture?
The basic structureof this course is books in pairs. There are three sets of pairs – VirginiaWoolf/Michael Cunningham, Henry James/Colm
Other materials also come in—NellaLarsen’s story about racial passing, or Thomas Mann’s story about a boy growingup with a kind of obsessive need to lie. These are fascinating cases, butthey’ll probably come into the course as one-day discussions toward the end ofthe term.
Starting this Thursday, we’ll be looking at some literarytheory that explores the fundamental question of what an author is. Is itpossible we don’t need authors or the idea of authorship anymore? This theorywill be difficult reading, and I want you to pay close attention to it. If youput serious effort into comprehending it, it’s possible that the way you lookat books and literature will change at a fundamental level.
Literary criticism and theory can get us to see the patternsthat exist between books, as well as to understand how the literature from oneera might be different from the literature of another. It can also help usthink about what it is we do when we read. Where does the power of a story comefrom? Is it essential that we read literature in a certain way to enjoy it?What is the difference between an “anonymous” experience of reading, andreading when we know an author’s name?
We live in a digital culture, which also happens to be anera obsessed with celebrity scandals and secrets. It’s an era when it’s easierthan ever to copy other people’s works. But it’s also easier than ever to spotand track copies – sometimes as easy as a Google search or Amazon’s “Search
More and more people read things like magazines andnewspapers online. Weblogs have taken off in a bigway – I myself keep one, and add new posts pretty frequently.
Some people even read whole books online. (Despite this,traditional booksellers are still in business, though the publishing industryis in a slump.) It’s possible that we are on the threshold of a new era ofwriting and reading, which may also mean a new era of literary authorship. Whatdoes it mean to call yourself a writer these days –when it seems like everybody writes?
Will there be web-only novelists? Will there be aShakespeare of the blogging world – a
These are questions that are definitely on my mind thesedays, and perhaps we’ll try and find a way to bring them into the discussionalong the way as well.
"Is it hard work being a poser?" One of the Haute
The ensuing formulaic story is far more poignant in light of the accusationsthat Viswanathan—a super-achieving,
Viswanathan herself has not been so lucky. Thedarker moral of her story seems to be that if you succeed by packaging, you canexpect to fail by packaging, too—and you alone, not your packagers, will paythe price. McCafferty's publisher, Steve Ross ofCrown, has rejected as "disingenuous and troubling"
Before the scandal hit, Viswanathan emphasizedthat her own route to Harvard was not as obsessively scripted as Opal's. Still,no one would mistake the fruition of her novel for a case of independentcreative genius unfolding. The project got its impetus from none other than
A story a year ago in the New York Sun said Viswanathan's"plot was hatched well before she signed up with Ms. Cohen," andreported that a manuscript went from Cohen's own literary agent at the WilliamMorris Agency to the fiction specialist there, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and fromher straight to Little, Brown. According to a Boston Globe article oftwo months ago—which, strangely, comes in the novel's media packet—there wasconsiderably more intervention than that. Several recent articles in the NewYork Times add more confusing details about a less-than-streamlinedprocess. What the Morris agent saw wasn't "commercially viable" work,the Globe reported. The fiction Cohen saw involved Irish history, a NewYork Times article noted last month;
To be sure, there were "lots of discussions about 'finding my voice,'" as Viswanathan told the Globe, nodoubt reminiscent of those conversations with Cohen about her various collegeessays—but probably even more reminiscent, to judge by the 17thStreet Productions think-tank style,of the meetings convened by Opal's parents to map out what could be learned andapplied from the latest episodes and outfits on, say, The O.C. Oncethe book's concept had been "fleshed out," the project went back toWalsh, who worked with Viswanathan further, accordingto the Globe. It doesn't sound as though the
The historian Steven Ambrose,a one-man book production company, ducked plagiarism charges in a late book, TheWild Blue, by attributing them to his overhasty entourage of assistants,his five kids. It's tempting to wonder whether Viswanathan,if she could find her own voice, might foist some of the blame for herborrowings onto her endlessly enabling elders. But that is, of course, the lastthing a much-mentored superkid, intent on success,has been reared to do. Opal dares only once to tell her parents to back off,and then she bolts to her bedroom.
NEW YORK TIMES
Link by Link
By TOM ZELLER Jr.
WRITING last Monday at SepiaMutiny.com,a Web log dedicated to the Southeast Asian diaspora,a user called RC declared that "there is no scientific way to compareworks of literature."
This observation was prompted by news, published a day earlier in TheHarvard Crimson, suggesting that the budding novelist
Just where science fits into the weeklong fracas that followed is an openquestion. The news broke the old-fashioned way: in a newspaper. And theexpanding scope of the scandal — first 12 passages were questioned, then 29,then 40 — was driven by findings from Ms. McCafferty'spublishers as much as anything else.
But certainly technology — and the relentless, sometimes merciless socialinteraction it has enabled in the digital age — played a part in forcing Ms.
"Viswanathan might have plagiarism issueswith more than McCafferty's books," wrote
To be fair, of course, rhyming road-safety signs are common along
Indeed, whatever Ms. Viswanathan's culpability(she maintained, by week's end, that all similarities to Ms.
In the age of the Internet, literary exegesis (whether driven by scandal ornot) is no longer undertaken solely by pale critics or plodding lawyersspeaking only to each other, but by a global hive, humming everywhere at once,and linked to the wiki. And if you are big enough tomatter (as any writer would hope to be), one misstep, one mistake, can incite ahorde of analysts, each with a global publishing medium in the living room and,it sometimes seems, limitless amounts of time.
Frontier justice? Mob rule?Perhaps.
But last week, not just petty gadflies fueled by schadenfreudeand bloodlust (though there was that), but also armchair defense attorneys andthe merely curious were discussing the books — as well as whether Ms.
Many online commentators detected an underlying racism, for instance, ineven good-natured rants — perhaps typified by Gawker'scheeky (and occasionally misinterpreted) comment on Tuesday: "Isn't itkind of awesome to see an overachieving Indian kid finally do somethingwrong?"
But others pointed to the fact that Ms. Viswanathanhad only one week earlier told The Newark Star-Ledger that "nothing I readgave me the inspiration" for the novel, but now, under scrutiny, suddenlyrecalled adoring Ms. McCafferty's books and claimedto have unconsciously channeled them. Given that, her critics charged, she wasbeing treated better than other fabulists of late.
"If Viswanathan weren't young, attractive anda student at the best brand name in higher education, wouldn't she be JamesFrey II?" Jane Genova, a marketing consultant in
But what if she had been deaf and blind?
That was a question raised in a discussion at Metafilter,where Andrew Shalit, in a defense of Ms.
There, in her autobiography "The Story of My Life," Ms. Kellerdescribes how, at age 12, she wrote a story — "The Frost King" — thatcreated her own publishing scandal.
"Mr. Anagnos was delighted with 'The FrostKing,' and published it in one of the Perkins Institution reports," Ms.Keller wrote (Chapter 14 at
It was surmised that Ms. Keller must have heard Ms. Canby's story read toher as a child and unconsciously retold the story years later as her own, anevent that left her in dread of trying to write anything original again.
Back at Metafilter, Keith M. Ellis wondered if Ms.Keller would have received a fair shake in the rush to judgment that is now derigueur in the Internet age.
"It seems to me we give zero consideration to the possibility that itmight be plagiarism, but unintentional," Mr. Ellis wrote, adding: "Ifwe changed the name and obscured the disability-indicating details, would westill be willing to consider innocence?"
A piercing question, that — though so, too, iswhether Ms. Viswanathan's case warrants a comparisonto Ms. Keller's. And as mercenaries stampeded to
Purveyors of "The MehtaMorphasis Award"(snipurl.com/Mehtaward)were offering $75 for the most eloquently crafted moral to a week of chargeddebate surrounding the frothy, ephemeral novel.
Among the submissions:
"The controversy may deservedly be far more interesting than the storyitself."
The Link by Link column in Business Day on Monday, aboutthe plagiarism allegations involving the novel "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed,Got Wild and Got a Life," by Kaavya
Kaavya Viswanathan hasan excuse. In this morning's
This seems like as good an opportunity as any to clear up the greatestenduring myth about human memory. Lots of people claim to have a photographicmemory, but nobody actually does. Nobody.
Well, maybe one person.
In 1970, a Harvard vision scientist named Charles StromeyerIII published a landmark paper in Nature about a Harvard student named
In 1979, a researcher named John Merritt published theresults of a photographic memory test he had placed in magazines and newspapersaround the country. Merritt hoped someone might come forward with abilitiessimilar to
There are so many unlikely circumstances surrounding the
That's not to say there aren't people withextraordinarily good memories—there are. They just can't take mental snapshotsand recall them with perfect fidelity.
Photographic memory is often confused with another bizarre—butreal—perceptual phenomenon called eidetic memory, which occurs in between 2 and15 percent of children and very rarely in adults. An eidetic image isessentially a vivid afterimage that lingers in the mind's eye for up to a fewminutes before fading away. Children with eidetic memory never have anythingclose to perfect recall, and they typically aren't able to visualize anythingas detailed as a body of text.
In every case except
Truman Capote famously claimed to have nearly absolute recall of dialogueand used his prodigious memory as an excuse never to take notes or use a taperecorder, but I suspect his memory claims were just a useful cover to inventdialogue whole cloth. Not even S, the Russian journalist and professional
Viswanathan is hardly the first plagiarist toclaim unconscious influence from memory's depths. George Harrison said he neverintended to rip off the melody of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" whenhe wrote "My Sweet Lord." He had just forgotten he'd ever heard it.And when a young Helen Keller cribbed from Margaret Canby's "The FrostFairies" in her story "The Frost King," Canby herself said,"Under the circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as tocall it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory." Keller claimedshe was forever after terrified. "I have ever since been tortured by thefear that what I write is not my own. For a long time, when I wrote a letter,even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell thesentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book,"she wrote. "It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughtsfrom those I read, because what I read become the very substance and texture ofmy mind."
Psychologists label this kind of inadvertent appropriation
Then again, who knows, maybe Viswanathan reallydoes have a photographic memory. She could be the first (or second). Earlierthis year, a group of memory researchers at the