Several readers have been kind enough to email me this New York Press story concerning Brad Vice. Vice, as Return of the Reluctant readers will recall from a few weeks ago, was the subject of plagiarism charges. What was particularly interesting was the number of people who came to Vice’s defense, even as it was demonstrated that Vice had clearly lifted his work from Carl Carmer.
In his lengthy New York Press article, Robert Clark Young reveals that not only has Vice succeeded in charming the pants off of numerous Southern writers and litbloggers, but that the Carmer incident was only scratching the surface. Young has discovered that Vice’s stories “Tuscaloosa Knights” and “Report from Junction” appear in Vice’s dissertation and that “Report from Junction,” in turn, contains similar passages to Jim Dent’s nonfiction book, The Junction Boys.
So with repeat examples unfurled by Young, is Vice committing plagiarism or homage? You make the call.
When Vice’s story has “And that’s how it began. Three distant notes, high blasts on a bugle, then a drop of a minor third on a long wailing note”, I took “it” to be a clever homage to Carmer’s original story. A pun, really, and a damn clever one, that only reflected credit on Vice. Here was gamesmanship along the lines of TS Eliot. There’s a thing they do with, for instance, comics, these days. Old comics are given new word-balloons. The author of the word balloon comes across as clever on three counts: 1) he’s clever enough to appreciate the old comic-strips 2) he’s clever enough to come up with different contexts for the same images 3) he was clever enough to find the damn images in the first place. Additionally, the reauthor doesn’t need to explicitly declare source-material – everyone can see he’s using something else. That’s part of the game. All open, all above board. But Vice needs to clean up his act. Intentional or not, he’s committed plagiarism. Older stories, older texts, none (that I know of) named as ingluenced by Carmer. Vice should have been specific. He should have had something along the lines of “This book could not have been written if Carmer had not written his books first. My lines are his lines, my pages, his.” Umberto Eco, in his brilliant postcript to The Name Of The Rose, deals eefectively with this when he says that he named his librarian/villain Jorge because he, Eco, owed such a debt to the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. Anyone who comes along, now, and says, “Well, Eco copied this right out of Borges” now has to deal with Eco’s postcript – which , admittedly, was first published in the second edition (I think). Vice should have taken this umbrella precaution. I’m willing to believe he only meant homage, but unless he has a miraculous explanation, he’s a plagiarist, on the same level as a student who submits someone else’s paper. We need that “Works Cited” page.
I think it’s very obvious that Vice should have known better. He had numerous chances to disclose his sources, including Dent’s, which has just been discovered in Mr. Young’s fine article. I don’t buy his defense that he’s playing around with “intertextuality issues” for a minute. The guy has a PhD. He didn’t know that he shoul’ve used proper citation?