Blogging Stocktake

I’ve been busy the past few months consolidating all of my writing onto my blog. It’s been a humongous undertaking, but the task was designed to help me save my work in future. My blog has proven to be the most reliable way to preserve my content. The consolidation project began because, late last year, Google+ announced it was shutting down in April 2019. Long-time readers would know that, outside of this research blog, much of my public scholarship emerged from Google+. From my involvement in a community run by multidisciplinary scientists, Science on Google+, to my co-management of STEM Women (a community and website supporting the careers of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), as well as my own sociology posts, much of my public sociology and outreach happened thanks to Google+.

Google+ held over 3,000 (!) of my public posts on my personal profile, let alone hundreds of private community and interpersonal messages. Importing my content to my blog was the easy part – editing has been a massive effort.

Google+ is much like other microblogging sites like Facebook or Twitter, where you can make original posts, or simply share things you find interesting. In the early days, I reshared a lot of content, which I now only privately consume. For example, I read and commented on a lot of news, but nowadays, I mostly publicly discuss specific issues tied to my professional life, rather than comment on everything that captivates my attention. It was a massive task to re-read every G+ post and decide their past and future value. It was also a kick to see how my sociological social media ‘voice’ has changed over the past few years. You can see a little of that on my blog; I rarely nowadays post just for fun, but I did this in the early days.

Having already faced the shut-down of Vine and Storify, I couldn’t go through the potential loss of my content all over again. After I finished importing not just my personal posts, but another three G+ pages I managed, I started to import, and curate, my Tumblr. This was yet another 3,000 public posts and a few hundred drafts to organise. Phew! The process was both fun and it also brought dejection along the way. Continue reading Blogging Stocktake

The Plagiarist’s Tale

Q. R. Markham (real name Quentin Rowan), the author of Assassin of Secrets, talks to Lizzie Widdicombe from The New Yorker about his compulsion to plagiarise. The article is fascinating: it covers the idea that plagiarism was an addiction for Rowan. (Widdicombe notes plagiarism actually doesn’t meet the psychological definition of addiction; it is classified as a compulsion). Rowan talks of how his early success as a young writer led to his anxiousness to be excellent and to please people. Unable to put in the work required to develop his craft, he began his life as a serial plagiarist while he was still in high school. The article also touches on the fact that the publishing industry assumes that agents and publishers will know enough about writing to pick up on acts of plagiarism before they sign authors. Widdicombe points out that plagiarism is not a crime. Acts of plagiarism can be found to be in breach of copyright laws, but plagiarism itself is judged as an ethical transgression. I also loved this section that talks about the distinction between emulating stylistic conventions of other authors and genres and plagiarism.

Originality is a relative concept in literature. As writers from T. S. Eliot to Harold Bloom have pointed out, ideas are doomed to be rehashed. This wasn’t always regarded as a problem. Roman writers subscribed to the idea of imitatio: they viewed their role as emulating and reworking earlier masterpieces. It wasn’t until the Romantic era, which introduced the notion of the author as solitary genius, that originality came to be viewed as the paramount literary virtue. Plagiarism was and remains a murky offense, “best understood not as a sharply defined operation, like beheading, but as a whole range of activities, more like cooking,” the English professor James R. Kincaid wrote in this magazine in 1997. Imagine a scale on one end of which are authors who poach plot ideas (Shakespeare stealing from Plutarch) and on the other are those who copy passages word for word: Jacob Epstein, who cribbed parts of his novel “Wild Oats” from Martin Amis’s “The Rachel Papers”; the Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel plagiarized chick lit.

I found this article to be equally intriguing as well as frustrating. Plagiarism interests me for three reasons: first, having had to deal with students plagiarising when I used to teach at university, I felt perturbed that policies in dealing with plagiarism are not uniform. Secondly, after I left academia and entered the public sphere I had to learn to deal with the devastation that there is little protection of my work. Writing reports that are not released publicly makes it difficult to argue against outside experts who appropriate my ideas. Thirdly, I see many problems that go along with blogging with respect to plagiarism. Writers have to actively try to catch people who steal or reproduce their work without attribution. The main option currently available to bloggers is to ‘name and shame’ blogs that plagiarise; but other than that there is little recourse.

Read more about the whole Markham/Rowan debacle here.

Image credit: Photograph by Molly Landreth via The New Yorker.

The Plagiarist’s Tale

Derrida on Fear and Writing

French philosopher Jacques Derrida on the fear of writing (from the 2002 documentary Derrida):

…when I don’t write, there is a very strange moment before I go to sleep… all of a sudden I’m terrified by what I’m doing. I tell myself: ‘You’re crazy to write this!’ …what can I compare it to? Imagine a child who does something horrible. Freud talks of childhood dreams where one dreams of being naked and terrified because everyone sees that they’re naked. In any case, in this half sleep I have the impression that I’ve done something criminal, disgraceful, unavowable, that I shouldn’t have done. And somebody is telling me: ‘But you’re mad to have done that’. And this is something I truly believe in my half sleep. And the implied command in this is: ‘Stop everything! Take it back! Burn your papers! What you are doing is inadmissible!’ But once I wake up, it’s over. What this means or how I interpret this is that when I’m awake, conscious, working, in a certain way I am more unconscious than in my half sleep. When I’m in that half sleep there’s a kind of vigilance that tells me the truth. First of all, it tells me that what I’m doing is very serious. But when I’m awake and working this vigilance is actually asleep. It’s not the stronger of the two. And so I do what must be done.

In this clip, Derrida speaks with no-nonsense clarity, self-reflexive insight and honesty. He shows amazing courage to admit to his insecurities as a public intellectual. The doubt that Derrida voices applies to anyone who is honest about the difficulties of writing something original for a public audience: ’I do what must be done’.