Sunday, March 22, 2009

La Chanson de Roland II (the cover version)

Legend!ary journalist/musician/raconteur Everett True is reinventing himself yet again, this time as an academic, a process we can all follow in his thought-provoking new blog. Like Socrates with access to the complete K Records back catalogue, he poses questions that bounce between alt-rock, lit-crit, cult-studs and back again.

Here’s a frinstance, with specific reference to Roland Barthes: “Have there been any famous examples of post-structuralists being reprimanded for plagiarism?”

Funny you should ask, ET. One of the key books in my intellectual development (could that sound any more poncy?) was Myths and Memories, by Gilbert Adair. It was essentially a reworking of Barthes’s Mythologies, but from the point of view of a Scot born in 1944, rather than a Frenchman born in 1915. That said, Adair does explicitly acknowledge his debt; and after I'd read it, I went on to read Barthes, and then Baudrillard and Debord, and even tried to get into Deleuze, so nobody missed out, especially when the royalty cheques came round.

Essentially, Adair can’t be accused of plagiarism because he tells us that he’s plagiarising; he offers a knowing, known pastiche, not a forgery. Matt Barton, in his essay A Critique of Plagiarism, suggests that context is all:
My purpose here is not to praise dishonesty or dismiss it as harmless. What I am arguing is that a student who downloads a paper and submits it as her own is not so much guilty of “literary theft” as she is of lying about the type of work she performed.
So, provided she subtitles her essay ‘A Post-structuralist Tribute to Wikipedia’, she’s OK. If she doesn’t, she gets an ‘F’.

The thing is, if we follow the logic of Barthes’s Death of the Author (essentially, that as soon as a text is read, it ceases to be the sole intellectual property of the poor sap who typed it), we are all – including the reader – writers; and we are all – including the writer – readers. If credit for authorship is shared, so is any culpability for plagiarism.

One of Small Boo’s least favourite business maxims is that one about not pointing your finger at someone else, because three will point back at you. As she so eloquently notes, this is not true, provided you point like Alvin Stardust does, with all your other fingers splayed out in different directions. And in a culture where authorship is dead, it is not to Barthes that we must turn for the final verdict, but to Stardust: we are all plagiarists; we are all plagiarised; his leatherette fingers are pointed at you and me alike. Alvin ripped off 1968-era Elvis, and was in turn ripped off by Travis in Blake’s 7. We are victims, we are villains; we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon; in the great continuum of creative thought, Everett True is Roland Barthes is Gilbert Adair is one of the drummers from the Glitter Band.

And I bet Socrates never got an answer like that.

8 comments:

Jerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry said...

I guess my comment, "Rock critics are like Gods. We only have power that the people choose to give us" has a direct correlation with the ideas behind Barthes' "Death Of The Author", correct?

In other developments, I've strongly been recommended Deleuze. Is he punchy?

Chris said...

It's pretty exciting that Everett has a new blog, thanks for pointing that out.

If anyone can make me interested in Post Structuralism, it is him. And even if he doesn't, he is bound to let slip musical enthusiasms every ten seconds along the way.

Did you know about this previous re-invention?

rivergirlie said...

can't help wondering, what is the point of alvin stardust? x
my kookachoo?!?!?

Billy said...

Without Alvin Stardust, we'd have to rely on Darth Vader to help us cross the road.

That's the first I've visited the K records website. It's not as entertainingly willfully amateurish as I would have liked.

Tim Footman said...

Jerry: Yes, it's the link between author - someone who writes stuff - and authority - someone who's in charge - most people forget that the words are so similar, and interrelated - that Barthes seeks to sever. That said, RB is less concerned with the social/political implications of power than some other theorists (eg Foucault, Debord). I've tried to get into Deleuze, but so far with little success. Don't let that put you off though. I do like his theory of rhizomatics - that is, if I understand it right...

Oh, I see Chris. *I* can't get you interested in Post-Structuralism. It's got to be groovy Mr True, with his amusing anecdotes about Courtney Love and the drummer from the Bodines and all that. Hmmpph. :-) Yeah, the original Everett True is glorious. But less violent than this one, of course.

Rivergirlie: He makes us think the Sweet weren't too strange after all.

I know, Billy. It's as if they might actually want to sell some records or something. Disapppointing.

Chris said...

Don't take on, Tim, I don't much fancy Everett's chances either. Simon Reynolds couldn't do it.

Tim Footman said...

SR got it from Penman and Morley, Chris. Bow down before those two.