Friday, June 16, 2017

More on copying by Dylan and McCann

Cory Franklin discusses the Bob Dylan/Nobel Prize matter in a post in the Chicago Tribune, with text including:

Critics have been divided on whether Dylan was guilty of plagiarism. In the past his defense has been that borrowing from others is how songwriting, and especially folk music, evolved. Fair enough. But a Nobel Prize lecture is a different animal.

IPBiz notes that this event was more copying an idea, rather than an exact transcription of words from SparkNotes to the Nobel Lecture. But there are two issues here. First, the "quote" from "Moby Dick" is false; the text does not exist in "Moby Dick." Second, the "quote" seems quite related to text that IS in SparkNotes.

--> The initial discussion of the "fake quote" appears on blogspot (!) on OCCASIONAL THINGS by Ben Greenman, which June 6 post includes the text:

Dylan then includes a quote from the novel, an aphoristic utterance from a Quaker priest to the third mate, Flask: “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness."

When I read this paragraph, I was intrigued, both because the insight is a compelling one and because I did not remember it from the novel. In fairness, it’s been a little while since I read the whole thing straight through, and it’s a long book at that, more than 200,000 words. I went and looked, mostly around Chapter 126, “The Life-Buoy,” which contains the falling phantom in the air. I couldn’t find it. I looked at another edition, and couldn’t find it there either. I went online, found an e-text, and searched on the relevant keywords, “injuries” (which doesn’t appear, at least not in plural form) and “bitterness” (which appears only once, in relation to the resentment experienced by men who are placed in charge of men who are superior to them “in general pride of manhood”). I searched in the Kindle edition, found nothing (though there were six occurrences of “subterranean”).

It appears, from all available evidence, that Dylan invented the quote and inserted it into his reading of Moby-Dick. Was it on purpose? Was it the result of a faulty memory? Was it an egg, left in the lawn to be discovered in case it’s Eastertime too? Answering these questions would be drilling into the American Sphinx, and beside the point anyway. As it stands, it’s very much in the spirit of his entire enterprise: to take various American masterworks and absorb and transform them. The mystery of it makes a wonderful lecture even more wonderful. And it’s worth ending with a quote from Stubb, the second mate, about the transformative power of singing and its centrality to life itself:

“But I am not a brave man; never said I was a brave man; I am a coward; and I sing to keep up my spirits. And I tell you what it is, Mr. Starbuck, there's no way to stop my singing in this world but to cut my throat. And when that's done, ten to one I sing ye the doxology for a wind-up.”

One is totally impressed that Greenman could recognize so facilely text that is NOT in Moby Dick.

--> The "quote" of Dylan does NOT appear identically in SparkNotes. As pointed out in Slate by Andrea Pitzer:

In Dylan’s recounting, a “Quaker pacifist priest” tells Flask, the third mate, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness” (my emphasis). No such line appears anywhere in Herman Melville’s novel. However, SparkNotes’ character list describes the preacher using similar phrasing, as “someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness” (again, emphasis mine).

If one submitted such a thing in a high school paper on Moby Dick, there might be a problem. However, one suspects this little flap is NOT going to change the opinions of many on Dylan. Recall Joe Biden's paper as a 1L at Syracuse Law, wherein 5 of 15 pages were exactly copied; Biden still became Senator and Vice-President.


Franklin's post includes some "re-writes" of Dylan lyrics, including

Well it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe / Ifin' you don't know by now / An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe / How he wrote those words somehow / When he borrowed some phrases that were hard to find / At first the critics didn't seem to mind / Plagiarism not that easy to define / Don't think twice, it's all right

link to Franklin:

link to Greenman:

link to Pitzer:

***Separately, in other news related to copying, the Daily News reported that the Philippines tourism department fired McCann Worldgroup Philippines:

The tourism department on Thursday [June 15] cancelled its contract with McCann Worldgroup Philippines and demanded an apology, after deeming its just-launched promotion for the Southeast Asian nation was too similar to a 2014 South African campaign.

"It is not right that we will be paying for something delivered to us which is fraught with accusations of being a copycat version," assistant tourism secretary Reynaldo Ching told reporters.

The ad showed an elderly tourist enjoying his trip to the Philippines and ends with him whipping out a blind man's walking stick.

It was ridiculed in social media for what netizens described as its uncanny similarity to the "Rediscover South Africa" ad.

This was the copying of an idea, rather slavish identical copying. Did Dylan's text bear an "uncanny similarity" to the text in SparkNotes?



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