Saturday, November 28, 2009

Three opinions (mine and others)


On Witi Ihimaera's recent plagiarism debacle

Reading the Maps has come up with an opinion piece titled Plagiarism: What Ihimaera could learn from Eliot. Basically, the writer says that the Witi issue has been debated wrongly. First of all, those wanting to defend or attack Witi's plagiarism have not discussed the instances when literary borrowing is allowed. The writer insists that, as in the case of TS Eliot's The Waste Land (which I have not read, nor have I read Witi's The Trowenna Sea), borrowing without acknowledgement is good if it builds on the context of the original source. Whereas in Witi's case, Witi has borrowed to make his own prose look pretty - hardly a collaborative effort & smacks of vanity.
The difference between the plagiarisms in The Waste Land and the plagiarisms in The Trowenna Sea is closely related to the different intentions of the two plagiarists. Eliot has appropriated the refrain of Spencer's 'Prothalamion' because he wants to make the author of The Faerie Queen into one of the voices in the large, discordant chorus that is The Waste Land; he does not want to assimilate Spencer's verbal felicities, but rather to present them to the reader alongside his own.

Witi Ihimaera's plagiarisms are both far less ambitious and far less noble than those of Eliot. Ihimaera seems to have borrowed attractive passages from other authors simply because they make his own prose seem more attractive. Rather than making some sort of original use of the passages he has borrowed - by juxtaposing them with dissimilar passages, for instance, or adding commentary to them - he has sought to insert them as gently as possible into his text. Indeed, Ihimaera appears to have 'tweaked' many of the passages he has appropriated, so that they fit more comfortably into their new contexts.

If Eliot is like the modernist architect who wants his building to bear witness to the origins of its materials, then Ihimaera is like the tasteless but conceited renovator who insists on painting over brick and plastering over iron fills.
Speaking of artistic borrowing, have you read Jonathan Lethem's 2007 essay, The Ecstasy of Influence? It is about plagiarism and it is plagiarism, since every sentence in Lethem's essay is a paraphrase of somebody else's work! It's all there in the footnotes.


On The Woolshed Sessions

Released a year ago, this album was recorded in an old woolshed in Takaka Valley simply because the acoustics of the woolshed were so damn good. So good, in fact, that the music evokes the landscape around it, no kidding. At the end of Sun Song, for example, what sounds like an e-bow over a guitar bringing the song to a close calls to mind the sun setting over yellow grassy plains.

There is the atmospheric track Waterfall, the delightfully playful Stringing Me Along and the sweet Only Your Arms... It's got those twangs, lilting guitars and drum brushes that I love. It's warm country music - life-affirming (with one or two hints of the darker side of life) and smelling of manuka bush, pampas grass and waterfalls. If I had to describe this album in one word, it would be sun-soaked. Perfect for summer.

Listen to filmmaker Gaylene Preston, the owner of the woolshed, talk about it here. Retailing at $29.95 at Real Groovy.


Speaking the words

Sam Hunt reckons it's a mistake to think of poems in terms of words on a page. For him, the written poem is, to borrow a musical word, the 'score' and the real poem is the one that is spoken. He writes:
Imagine looking at a score of sheet music and reading the notes without actually listening to the notes in your head - that would defeat the point. For me it's exactly the same with poems. - From Backroads
But then again, some poets absolutely kill their poems, Sam! Uh, I don't want to name them, but...
Often poets can murder their own stuff - I'm aware of that. Alistair Te Ariki Campbell murdered his stuff on stage yet he had the perfect ear - the words and the score he created are absolutely perfect. - From Backroads
Oh, okay.

Well, I do read poems out loud, but only when I'm the only person in the room! In front of other people, I'd be too conscious of my nowhere-accent. New Zealanders have variously told me I sound Canadian, South African, Russian(!) and have described my Malaysian accent as 'sing-song'. Hahaha!


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