Willful Plagiarism: Messing With Other People's Work On Purpose

No doubt, everyone has read or heard about the recent Cassie Edwards Fiasco and the Seinfeld Cookbook Scandal. Well, the ladies over at smartbitchestrashybooks.com (who broke the Cassie Edwards story) have a recommendation for readers who want to do something about plagiarism:

… I advocate a method that works, and works astoundingly well, and has for centuries–one that has become a near art-form in certain cultures. Shame. Shame and humiliation. Public humiliation. Publishers want to make money, sure, but they also want to be known for putting out a quality product. Exotic grammar, stilted dialogue and characters hewn from the heart of the mighty mahogany tree could all be passed off as subjective preference, perhaps, but allegations of unattributed usage that are as widespread as what we have going on? Not quite as easy to sweep under the rug, especially not when there are a lot of people making noise.

Shame them. Shame the everloving hell out of them. We can’t make enough of a dent in their wallets, but we sure as hell can make a dent in their professional image.

Awhile back in Cutting and Mixing: Prose-Style Wu-Tang, I wrote about the idea of slicing and dicing text and making something new. This method has been explored by many writers. The first who comes to mind is William S. Burroughs who created a “cut-up technique” of taking his own work and working in technical documents and things from other writers…

Anyway, I went into that in some modest detail in Wu-Tang, so in honor of the latest plagiarism scandal, I thought I’d take another shot at slicing and dicing. Today’s victims are Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way.


From The Decameron – Fourth Day, Second Story:

Nobody suspected for a moment that he [Friar Alberto] had been a thief, panderer, swindler and murderer before suddenly blossoming into a great preacher; nor had he abandoned any of these vices, for he was simply biding his time until an opportunity arose for him to practice them in secret. His crowning achievement was to get himself ordained as a priest, and whenever he was celebrating mass in the presence of a large congregation, he would shed copious tears for the Passion of the Saviour, being the sort of man who could weep as much as he pleased at little cost to himself.

From Swann’s Way – Combray:

How often, after that day, in the course of my walks along the Guermantes way, and with what an intensified melancholy, did I reflect on my lack of qualification for a literary career, and abandon all hope of becoming a famous author. The regrets that I felt for this, as I lingered behind to muse awhile on my own, made me suffer so acutely that, in order to banish them, my mind of its own accord, by a sort of inhibition in the face of pain, ceased entirely to think of verse-making, of fiction, of the poetic future on which my talent precluded me from counting. Then, quite independently of all these literary preoccupations and in no way connected with them, suddenly a roof, a gleam of sunlight on a stone, the smell of a path would make me stop still, to enjoy the special pleasure that each of them gave me, and also because they appeared to be concealing, beyond what my eyes could see, something which they invited me to come and take but which despite all my efforts I never managed to discover. Since I felt that this something was to be found in them, I would stand there motionless, looking, breathing, endeavoring to penetrate with my own mind beyond the thing seen or smelt. And if I then had to hasten after my grandfather, to continue my walk, I would try to recapture them by closing my eyes; I would concentrate on recalling the exact line of the roof, the color of the stone, which, without my being able to understand why, had seemed to me to be bursting, ready to open, to yield up to me the secret treasure of which they were themselves no more than the lids. It was certainly not the impressions of this kind that could restore the hope I had lost of succeeding one day in becoming an author and poet, for each of them was associated with some material object devoid of intellectual value and suggesting no abstract truth…

(and on and on… that particular paragraph is tre-long)

The Remix

Though my crowning achievement was to get myself ordained as a priest, occasionally a roof, a gleam of sunlight upon a stone, or the smell of a path would make me stop still, and I would concentrate on the practice of vice-making. When this happened, I always found my particular genius bursting, ready to yield its gleaming pleasures, but I also felt that I did not enjoy the tranquillity necessary for the successful pursuit of my researches. Of course, I had not abandoned any of my vices. They were still the lids to my secret treasure, but it was just that I did not see the sense in exhausting myself to no purpose.

Nobody suspected for a moment that I had been a thief, panderer, swindler and murderer; I simply blossomed into a great preacher quite independently of all these preoccupations. Yet, the lingering regret I felt for leaving such gifts regularly unused festered. I suffered so acutely in the intensifying melancholy that, in order to banish the pain, I would shed copious tears for the Passion of the Saviour. Though, to be honest, this only happened when celebrating mass before the largest of congregations. Again, why waste the effort even if I am the sort of man who can weep as much as he pleases at little or no cost to himself?


My little stub of a tale became a story about a priest who longs for his past vices but does not return to them because he feels he cannot give them the attention they deserve. He weeps at mass due to the loss of his loves and not in fact because it makes him a better swindler. It took about twenty minutes to mix that up. This is less time that it took to figure out how to wrap it all up in a blog post. 🙂

However, to finish the work, I’d have to go looking for more material elsewhere since Proust and Boccaccio take decidedly different turns.

In Boccaccio, Friar Alberto is a reprobate priest who is always on the hunt for a piece of ass. Proust is Proust of course, milling about looking at flowers and such and wondering if he is ever going to get a piece of ass. In the end, Friar Alberto meets a predictable and grizzly end while Proust goes on for another 1,500 pages.

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