I loved John, which remains true
January 31, 2023 3:59 AM   Subscribe

Last year, Australian novelist John Hughes was found to have plagiarised several writers, including Leo Tolstoy and F Scott Fitzgerald. He also plagiarised his former student Joseph Earp, whose reaction was complicated: "It hurt, and I was angry for what had happened to me and other writers – the way our labour had been co-opted, and not appropriately cited. Lots of people can imagine that hurt, I assume. But I can’t imagine that many other people understand the way it felt good, too."
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for posting it. It does a good job of expressing a lot of feelings, some of them contradictory, in a very understandable way.
posted by PussKillian at 6:02 AM on January 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

Amazing piece. I do understand how he feels, I think - because he explains it so well and with such feeling. What an extraordinary position to be put in.
posted by Phanx at 6:35 AM on January 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

From the article: For me, as for most writers, there are people I write for. They live in my head always – little fictionalised versions of themselves, who I’m constantly in the process of showing things to, and testing things against.

This resonates, but I've always wondered whether it is in fact true for "most writers". I rarely hear it discussed by writers in conversation. Perhaps because there can be some complicated psychological reasons for keeping quiet about who you're writing for?

There are a handful of people living in my head when I write. In one case, the real life relationship fell apart traumatically, and I was surprised how little difference that made to my work; I continued writing, but not for her, because I realised just how "fictionalised" my internal version of her had been. But I've also experienced being completely blocked when a relationship with an important influence changed (and a relatively quiet change at that).

I wonder whether Earp will find his attitude towards his writing, as well as his mentor, gets more complicated now.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 6:48 AM on January 31, 2023 [4 favorites]

Anxiety of influence
posted by chavenet at 7:16 AM on January 31, 2023

Anxiety of influence

Although Earp groups them together, and the line gets murky when people are born into literary families, I think there's a difference between writing for, say, Plath, in the anxiety of influence sense, and writing for the teacher who directly encouraged you. Dead writers can't plagiarise, for one thing.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 7:30 AM on January 31, 2023

Now that you mention it, his novels The Really Good Gatbsy and War and Nor War did seem a little familiar.
posted by star gentle uterus at 8:06 AM on January 31, 2023 [16 favorites]

I've genuinely never understood the desire/compulsion to plagiarize; it just seems like so much work for something that, when discovered (not if, when), offers nothing but the destruction, partial or complete, of one's professional reputation. It's easier to write your own words, you know?

From time to time I'll write something that's directly inspired by something someone else wrote or did; in the upcoming book, for example, there's a scene that is directly inspired by a scene in the videogame Deathloop. When I do something like that, I call it out directly in the acknowledgements section of the book, because it's easier to do that and let people who caught the reference feel smug, then to not do it and make the people who caught think you were trying to get away with stealing something.
posted by jscalzi at 11:05 AM on January 31, 2023 [4 favorites]

> It's easier to write your own words, you know?

Sometimes writer's block makes this impossible. When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
posted by Phssthpok at 11:36 AM on January 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

I know a person that loves to write different lyrics for songs they already know (not a parody, just changing things like 'life' to 'love'). They feel like they are working collaboratively with the original artist, and not taking anything away from the original. They are frustrated that when they have sent the changes to the original artist for approval, they get a no. I have tried to talk to them in the past about how important it can be that the original intent of an artist is preserved and how if all of it breaks down then the original might not mean anything to a a lot of people.

I haven't had any luck talking to them, and I've just given up. For all I know, they are still rewriting other people's lyrics.

I just wish that I could convince them to give up all of this nonsense and write things completely on their own, no matter how bad it turns out to be. At least it's their own.
posted by Quonab at 4:29 PM on January 31, 2023 [2 favorites]

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