Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood


A garden of forking paths

As promised, here’s the Trowenna Sea story in links, in roughly chronological order. NB this by no means a comprehensive list; feel free to let me know of any major omissions.

The Herald leaked the story on Friday 6 November, complete with press releases from Penguin and Auckland University pronouncing it a non-story.

The Listener came out the same day with the cover story by Guy Somerset in which Ihimaera said both that the appropriation was accidental, and that it was deliberate. My review ran in the same issue.

The same day: my first blog post on the subject, and the lengthy discussion that followed.

The next day, the Herald article that interviewed my blog about "How Witi was Found Out."

On the Sunday, Nicholas Reid’s review appeared, and Paul Holmes opined that plagiarism was an author’s greatest sin (tied with being boring, surely).

I blogged again, explaining the context of some of the plagiarized material, as the Listener article was not yet widely available; and discussion ensued.

Giovanni Tiso came at the question in his usual rewardingly diagonal fashion, and always has the most erudite comments. Scott Hamilton at Reading the Maps pointed out that collage is a well-worn poetic technique that, when deployed artfully, enriches the source material as well as the new work of art (in poetry, anyway).

David Cauchi made a similar point about the history of visual art, which Stephen Stratford followed up.

Witi Ihimaera was named one of five Arts Laureates by the Arts Foundation, and after that it's all a bit of a blur.

The Herald came out with a very uncompromising editorial the morning after the Laureate Awards.

Paul at the Fundy Post took on the university’s treatment of the case, here, here,
here, and here.

C.K. Stead also criticised the university’s approach, and John Drinnan remarked that there were a few chapters left in the row.

In the wake of the Laureate award, Witi Ihimaera explained the experimental literary technique he’d been attempting, and announced his plans to buy back all remaining stock of the book, in order to “preserve the mana and integrity of the novel”:

"Although I have already made the relevant apologies and have publicly undertaken to fully audit the book myself, it seemed appropriate to remove the first edition immediately and begin working on a corrected second edition."

Denis Welch wasn’t the only one who thought that giving the money back would also be a good idea.

There were further editorials by Karl du Fresne and Michael Cummings.

Vincent O'Sullivan, emeritus professor of English at Victoria University, agreed that plagiarism was analogous to doping in sports: "It's a performance-enhancing technique that works at someone else's expense."

Danyl at the Dim-Post pointed out the Herald's glasshouse-stone conundrum.

Keith Sorrenson, whose historical writing was “sampled” in The Matriarch, said on Radio NZ that of course it was indeed possible to plagiarise by accident, but that in that case one would have to say that Ihimaera was “accident-prone.”

I also spoke on the radio and then blogged again, leading to a lively discussion.

Over at Pundit, Andrew Geddis framed it as a question of respect for the work of other writers. And Peter Wells agonized about the situation.

The Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University issued a press release, saying:

“The University does not condone plagiarism, but recognises the need to take into account a range of factors such as intention, seriousness and extent. Were a small amount of unattributed material to be discovered in a doctoral thesis, for example, the student would be required to rewrite the thesis with appropriate attribution - precisely the action Professor Ihimaera will be taking of his own volition.”

Margaret Soltan, who blogs at Inside Higher Education and carries a flaming torch on the subject of plagiarism in the academy, weighed in several times.

Joanne Black followed up in The Listener with further examples (found by me) and an interview with Margaret Soltan. [NB full text not yet online]

Stephen Stratford expressed sympathy for the publisher.

Alan Samson’s opinion piece in the Dominion-Post, on the epidemic of plagiarism:

“Plagiarism does matter. Setting aside ownership legalities, there is a fundamental issue of trust to be considered in the relationship between author and reader. If deceit is evident in one area of publication, why should one not expect it also to emerge in another? Indeed why, subsequently, should one take an offending author seriously at all?”

An op-ed by a disappointed Valerie Grant, retired from the University of Auckland.

Ranginui Walker didn’t look too pleased here.

Steve Braunias wrote a satirical piece (not online, alas), while Rosemary McLeod urged compassion.

Mary McCallum also urged kindness and categorized the various responses.

In early December, Joanne Black reported in the Listener that Penguin had asked the magazine to desist from quoting the novel any further. She also spoke to prominent historian Peter Stanley about borrowed lines from his work.

The Herald noted that the book was still on shelves.

Deborah Coddington proposed that “Thank you” was as useful as word as “Sorry” in situations like this.

Prof. Lawrence Jones elucidated the context of composition and a hypothetical explanation.

Graham Beattie called for a time-out.

And Peter Wells returned to the subject.

Witi Ihimaera himself, after the post-Laureate interview about his experimental fictional techniques, has kept his own counsel.

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