Thursday, June 16, 2016

"There are no second acts" but there can be re-invention

Brian O'Neill of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette makes some interesting comments on the Hamlet plagiarism matter in his post
titled How plagiarism brings about job openings .

Mr. O'Neill's interesting article (which discusses, in part, the alleged plagiarism of Phil Musick in 1987) ends with

It should be mentioned that Mr. Musick, a gifted writer, bounced back to become a terrific talk show host. Contrary to what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, there are second acts in American lives. But you have to write your own

As one point, one recalls the confirmed plagiarism of Joe Biden in Syracuse Law School, which did not impede Mr. Biden from a very successful later career. SO, if we are looking for poster children for "plagiarist makes good," Biden beats Musick.

BUT, as a second point, the simplistic interpretation by Mr. O'Neill of a line in "The Last Tycoon" may be questioned.

From a post at readthespirit:

In a 2010 column in The Atlantic, writer Hampton Stevens pointed out that Fitzgerald wrote for the theater at Princeton and later Broadway (and Hollywood). “With ‘no second acts,’ he was almost certainly referring to a traditional, three-act drama, in which Act I establishes the major conflict, Act II introduces complications, and Act III is for the climax and resolution.”

Of course, Fitzgerald left us with a puzzle when he died prematurely at age 44 in late 1940. He was only about half finished with his final novel, The Last Tycoon. His friend Edmund Wilson assembled enough of the book so that an edition could be published in 1941. To accomplish this, Wilson searched through hundreds of pages of notes and, in the final published pages, simply listed some one-liners from those notes. That’s where the famous line appears: “There are no second acts in American lives.” Then, right after that, Wilson placed this line from Fitzgerald’s notes: “Tragedy of these men was that nothing in their lives had really bitten deep at all.”

Maybe Fitzgerald was saying we’d be better off if we took a little time for character development, for figuring out who we are, before we race to the finish line. That explanation seems to make a lot more sense than the more common interpretation of the line.


See also 2003 post:

AND, from the LAReviewOfBooks:

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, in his notes on The Last Tycoon, that “there are no second acts in American lives,” which in common usage has come to mean something like, “There are no second chances.” If anything, both Fitzgerald’s writing and his life show us that there are infinite chances, endless do-overs, that the American mind has no choice but to forge ahead, trying, trying again. There’s probably scholarship to contradict me, but I think Fitzgerald was getting at something more like the idea that there are no true endings — but rather, that what’s wrapped up with a bow is only waiting to come undone; our stories are constantly unfolding, scene after scene.


And from a comment at NPR (which includes the text "invent"):

Fitzgerald was a pretty smart guy; he knew that people everywhere reinvent themselves. As a veteran screenwriter, he also knew that a good story has a time between the first and third acts when things get really complicated and messy. That's what he found lacking in the lives of Americans, who prefer to bring the problems introduced in Act I to a happy resolution in Act III, skipping the messy second act


LBE (whose father knew Fitzgerald) believes this more nuanced version of the words "second acts" is the correct take.

As a separate issue, when one attributes to Fitzgerald a line taken out of context, from a novel Fitzgerald never completed, is one committing a form of inverse plagiarism, incorrectly attributing to someone a meaning not intended BECAUSE it is taken out of context?

**Returning to the Hamlet matter [ ],
LBE talked to an NJ school superintendent, who opined that there was no excuse to represent
incorrectly on a resume an actual enhancement from C to B, as one being from F to B, which effectively embellished the accomplishment on the resume. This sort of thing also goes back to Biden, who may or may not have plagiarized a story from Neil Kinnock but who incorrectly adopted the facts of the Kinnock story as his own.

As background to Kinnock matter, see

In such cases, obfuscation about plagiarism can "cover up" a deeper problem.


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