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The story of the New Zealand novelist whose latest work is a cut and paste job gets weirder. Having been found out by a careful reader who stuck various phrases from the novel into Google Books and came up with the books from which he plagiarized, the author has decided, in the proud words of his publisher, Penguin Books New Zealand, “to purchase the remaining warehouse stock of the novel The Trowenna Sea from his publisher Penguin Group (NZ). … Witi Ihimaera has taken this extraordinary step to show that he is actively engaged in resolving the issues involved. We congratulate him on that.’

Yes, take a bow. Not only has Ihimaera done himself proud; he’s also introduced a new business model to Penguin. As detection technology reveals more and more plagiarism among a publisher’s authors, it can institute a Witi Clause, in which writers of plagiarized manuscripts buy up the entire plagiarized run. In this way, publishing houses are guaranteed to sell out the first edition.

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9 Responses to “Congratulations on buying up all the copies of your plagiarized novel!”

  1. Caleb Says:

    It’s worth reading Gracewood’s follow-up piece to this, I think, which gives some more context and provides some interpretation of what Ihimaera might have been trying to do.

    It’s all pretty depressing, though. Ihimaera’s not a scumbag, by any means. He was pretty much the vanguard for contemporary Maori fiction writing, and he’s also a decent human being and a reasonable lecturer. (Disclosure time: ex-student of Ihimaera’s at undergrad level.) There are many more deserving targets of opprobrium out there than him.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    The opprobrium is targeted not at his decency or his record as a writer, but at his, and his university’s, failure to deal decently with what he has done. We teach our university students to acknowledge wrongdoing; we punish their plagiarism. When we abet our faculty in denying wrongdoing, and when we fail to punish faculty plagiarism, it breeds cynicism — and cynicism is particularly toxic to the university.

  3. Caleb Says:

    I agree with you about the cynicism bit. It is, after all, depressing to see that faculty seem to be governed by different rules than their students.

    What I was taking issue with was your suggestion, in the previous post, that Auckland, as a "very provincial university," was pretending that the plagiarism incident hadn’t occurred. Metropolitan bias aside :), I don’t think this is the case. Ihimaera’s out-of-pocket the cost of the entire first edition, and he’ll be, if you like, rewriting and resubmitting his novel.

    It might also be worth pointing out that there is a mandatory academic retirement age of 65 in New Zealand, and that Ihimaera will thus be retiring at the end of this academic year (i.e., next month) in any case. The University probably thinks it’s best to simply let him leave as planned.

    The whole thing is just a mess. And some, at least, of the glee over Ihimaera’s apparent fall from grace seems to be politically and racially motivated. (Ihimaera is both Maori and gay.) The commentary piece in the NZ Herald you linked to, I think, should be read in that context. It was written by right-wing broadcaster Paul Holmes. The incident he refers to, where Ihimaera acted as part of what he calls a "university lynch mob," happened after Holmes went off on a bizarre racist rant on his radio show and repeatedly referred to Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie." There’s a transcript here; it should indicate why Holmes’s use of the phrase "lynch mob" in this context is rather grotesque.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Caleb: I had no idea about some of the background you mention, and I thank you for it. I suppose it wasn’t very nice of me to call the university provincial, but even with the details you mention (he’s about to retire, etc.), I’d still say it’s a mark of some provinciality to paper over serious offenses — it makes one suspect that the university is really mainly about human relationships — cronyism? — rather than about rules and neutrality. As for the racist rant – yikes.

  5. Caleb Says:

    Yes, in the light of the new information surfacing about earlier incidents, the University’s response is looking more and more inadequate. And the attitude of Geoff Walker at Penguin NZ is just appalling. Nothing more to say? "This is days old?" Seriously?

    What’s interesting is seeing how the various factions in the New Zealand fiction-writing and academic communities are responding to this.

    Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme has slammed the Arts Foundation’s decision this week to award Ihimaera a literary prize as an example of their "especial brand of clueless patronage."

    C. K. Stead, quoted in one of the other Herald articles you link to, took early retirement from Auckland’s English department in the late ’80s because he was disenchanted with the increasingly poststructuralist and postcolonial direction the department was taking. There were certain hiring decisions he disagreed with, I think, particularly the employment of Samoan novelist Albert Wendt (who doesn’t have a PhD). It might be worth mentioning at this point that Ihimaera, who was hired shortly afterwards, only has a BA, and doesn’t really produce academic criticism (although he has edited several anthologies). He’s an outlier in a department with a strong tradition of scholarly publishing, and in which pretty much all his teaching colleagues have doctorates. (The rules have always been a little different for creative writing teachers, though, I guess.)

    There’s some decent commentary led by Jolisa Gracewood here, including an acerbic discussion of Ihimaera’s latest explanation for what the hell he thought he was doing:

    "Normally with historic fiction what you get is a piece of work where history is treated as fiction. But with The Trowenna Sea, I have always tried to be on the cutting edge of fictional devices, what I have been attempting to do with that book is to create fiction as history. So I think what Trowenna Sea is, is the beginning of a hybrid book in which [you have] the problematics of acknowledgement of historical material and historical inspirations. Where you have non fiction writers traversing that area then they can use footnotes but fiction writers can’t so I am having to try to figure out creative ways of addressing that and I think that what we will end up with is in fact a very, very exciting new approach to creating a framework to those new fictions."

    So, yes. The longer this goes on, the worse Ihimaera and AU look. And I really wish someone would tell Ihimaera that Melville already applied "his very, very exciting new approach" to fiction writing in Moby Dick, and that therefore he really should just stop digging holes for himself.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi Caleb: Yes – I saw that bit of stream of consciousness from Ihimaera and couldn’t make enough sense of it to post anything about it. But of course you’re right — his very very exciting new approach has been around for awhile.

  7. Caleb Says:

    Absolutely. By the way, your quote about this being the kind of thing "a very provincial university will do" seems to be getting quite a bit of attention here. (There are further responses down the page.)

    "Provincial" is just about the worst insult you could level at a NZ university, historically a *very* insecure species of institution. So I’m actually really glad you phrased it that way — it might help the issue gain further traction.

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I knew when I dropped the provincial bomb it would explode.

  9. Caleb Says:

    Dropping the p bomb! Love it.

    And now, further scrambling from the University as the Vice Chancellor seeks to defend the University’s position.

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