Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Scholarly Violence of Slavoj Zizek

[Update: Zizek has replied through the International Journal of Zizek Studies (PDF here.) It looks like he's putting this one on his publisher. Apparently he did not correct the galleys. His publisher finds that explanation plausible.]

I'll begin with the evidence and then provide some context. I already know what Zizek and his defenders will say, so I'll try to pre-empt them below. Here, in any case is part of a paragraph from Jean-Marie Muller's "Non-Violence in Education" (UNESCO [PDF], 2002, page 14):

Desiring property and power is legitimate insofar as it enables an individual to achieve independence from others. Adversaries in a conflict, however, each have a natural tendency always to demand more. Nothing is enough for them, and they are never satisfied. They do not know how to stop themselves; they know no limits. Desire demands more, much more, than need. “There is always a sense of limitlessness in desire,” [fn 18] writes Simone Weil. To begin with, individuals seek power so as not to be dominated by others. But if they are not careful, they can soon find themselves overstepping the limit beyond which they are actually seeking to dominate others. Rivalry between human beings can only be surmounted when each individual puts a limit on his or her own desires. “Limited desires,” notes Weil, “are in harmony with the world; desires that contain the infinite are not.”[fn 19]

And here is a paragraph from Slavoj Zizek's Violence (Profile, 20102008, page 54):

Desiring property and power is legitimate insofar as it enables an individual to achieve independence from others. Adversaries in a conflict, however, each have a natural tendency always to demand more. Nothing is enough for them, and they are never satisfied. They do not know how to stop themselves; they know no limits. Desire demands more, much more, than need. ‘There is always a sense of limitlessness in desire,’ [en 21] wrote the French religious thinker Simone Weil. To begin with, individuals seek power so as not to be dominated by others. But if they are not careful, they can soon find themselves overstepping the limit beyond which they are actually seeking to dominate others. Rivalry between human beings can only be surmounted when each individual puts a limit on his or her own desires. ‘Limited desires,’ notes Weil, ‘are in harmony with the world; desires that contain the infinite are not.’[en 22]

I have set the only differences between the two passages in bold type. Zizek adds a (to my mind unnecessary) biographical remark about Simone Weil and removes two quotations marks (which I think were intended by Muller to suggest ironic distance, not direct quotation.)

It's very clearly plagiarism, though I'm leaving out a bit of context that Zizek and his defenders will probably find mitigating. Before I get to that, I want to thank Nancy Taylor Porter for the leg work. She posted a comment on Hollis Phelps' apologia** for Zizek on the occasion of that recent instance of plagiarism, saying she knew of another example and asking how to proceed. She sent me her evidence when I emailed her about it; I'm posting it here with her permission.

Okay, let's look more closely at the context. Just before this paragraph (on page 53), Zizek has actually cited Muller's article (on page 11), providing a reference (albeit an incomplete one) and a properly marked quotation. But there is no way to tell in what follows that he's really just providing what I think he himself thought of as exegesis (what he's called a "resume" when defending himself from the earlier charge of plagiarism). In fact, as I read it, he's providing an argument that implicitly claims to move beyond Muller's position. Still, I'm sure Zizek will say this isn't so bad because he's not stealing Muller's ideas, just his words in order to dismiss the ideas (so who cares whose they are?), which is what seems to happen in the next paragraph when we discover that it's all so much [premodern] Aristotelianism or Kantianism or modernism or whatever.

What irks me (and should irk Muller) is that Zizek is presenting Muller's argument as a very simple insistence on the absolute "badness" of violence. Zizek then presents himself as super-sophisticated, constructing an "easy" "terminological distinction" between violence and aggression, talking about "life-forces" and "death-forces", and then this high-brow literary invocation of Simone Weil on the desire for power and property. But all this is already in the Muller piece (which, like I say, I'm expecting Zizek to say should be obvious to everyone, though it's not**). Muller, in fact, addresses Zizek's position (that "struggle and aggression are a part of life"***) head on, which Zizek then doesn't just ignore but plagiarises to make it look as though Muller hadn't thought of it. And there's more: Zizek describes the rejection of any distinction between good and bad violence as Muller's "starting point". But the passage he then (accurately) quotes appears on page 22, eight pages after the material Zizek plagiarizes. That is, Muller's definition actually comes as the conclusion of an argument that includes the considerations Zizek pretends (my contention) to introduce to complicate Muller's simplistic rejection of violence.

To understand the violence, if you will, of Zizek's scholarship here, imagine that you write a paper that arrives at an important, if arguably "simple", conclusion. Knowing that you have a sophisticated readership, you write a paper that takes a long series of nuances and objections into consideration. Someone then cites your conclusion as your "starting point" and offers a partial plagiary of the argument you had constructed as a more nuanced and sophisticated treatment of the issue, finally arriving at the opposite conclusion you did. I hope it's clear why that would be wrong.

It's interesting to note, finally, that Muller cites Weil in the French edition, and Zizek steals those footnotes too (converting them into endnotes). This means Zizek is implicitly claiming to have translated the Weil quotes, though he's obviously just stolen them too.

One excuse that I think we should dismiss in advance is that this is the work of some anonymous "friend". Zizek has explicitly said that he only availed himself of that kind of help once, and doesn't even use paid assistants. So he's going to have to own this one. My question to his supporters is this: I know you're going to say, "Big deal! Two cases of a paragraph that should have been in quotation marks." What I want to know is how many examples I have to find before you'll stop taking his prose seriously? I'm going to assume that if every other paragraph is actually an unmarked quotation, you'll lose as much respect for him as I already have. But less ought to do it, right? What's your limit?

Now, if Zizek had just owned his earlier mistake, acknowledged that it was huge and embarrassing and something he will work hard to avoid in the future, then I might not have thought too much of finding another case. People do make mistakes. But I hope this one, taken together with the previous one, will let us get beyond the "It's only an isolated instance" bullshit and start talking about those lowered standards that Hollis Phelps was reminding us of. I think way too many academic areas have lowered their standards to Zizek's level. It's time to turn things around.

_________
*I should acknowledge that Phelps has denied that his piece is an apologia. Like a few other people I know, however, I can't find another way of reading it.
**This is similar to the problem in the Hornbeck case, where Zizek uses a plagiary of a clearly positive review as though it is a neutral exegesis that sets him up to dismiss the views thus summarised. It's baffling to read.
***Update (08/10/14): It's worth looking at this in detail. Here's Zizek (page 54):

But how can one wholly repudiate violence when struggle and aggression are part of life? The easy way out is a terminological distinction between the 'aggression' that effectively amounts to a 'life-force' and the 'violence' that is a 'death-force': 'violence', here, is not aggression as such, but its excess which disturbs the normal run of things by desiring always more and more. The task becomes to get rid of this excess.

And here's Muller (page 10-11):

But many writers tackling the issue of violence give the impression that it is inherent in life and that those seeking to eliminate it are merely deluding themselves. Hence the emergence of phrases such as these: “life demands violence”, “life is violent”, “life needs violence”, “violence is part of human nature”, “resorting to violence can be good”, “violence is a sudden sense of being alive”, “there is a hierarchy of violence and it takes judgement to draw the line between normal violence and pathological violence”, “violence is a thirst for life”, “violence brings both life and death”, “human beings need violence, for without it they have no life-force”, and so forth.
These two sides of the debate are utterly contradictory and cannot help but bewilder the teachers. So the concept of violence in use tends to be confused, uncertain, blurred, muddled, vague, ill-defined, indistinct and, ultimately, unintelligible. And the confusion strips the concept of “non-violence” of any relevance. The second of the above sets of slogans largely serves to maintain the total confusion between the “aggression” that effectively amounts to a “life-force” and the “violence” that is a “death-force”. The word “violence” would, according to our working hypothesis, need to be replaced with the word “aggression” in each slogan for everything to fall into place. Slogans aimed at vilifying violence in the eyes of youth can then be taken literally. The concept of “non-violence” recovers all of its meaning and it becomes possible to “mobilize people to combat violence”.

This is a pretty good example of what Rebecca Moore Howard calls "patchwriting". If he had attributed this line of thinking directly to Muller (instead of pretending to raise a question Muller hadn't considered) it would count as a (slightly too close) paraphrase. E.g. "Muller knows what his critics will say. How can one wholly repudiate violence when... His solution is too easy. He would have us distinguish between..."

35 comments:

Julia Molinari said...

Can there not also be a sense in which an original composite whole can emerge from plagiarised constituent parts? I am reminded of Alistair Pennycook (1996) on memory, and on a brief history of how knowledge gets to be 'owned'. He raises some ontological questions about epistemic ownership. Diane Pecorari has also written on patch-writing, but more to explain why it happens (so causative), rather than whether it should (normative). I haven't read zizek, though. I am just speculating, here, on what plagiarism actually is, and why it matters so much? Is it not more important to know what an end user (reader) does with knowledge, than how that knowledges entered the agora?

Thomas said...

In scholarship (as opposed to art) it's very important to know where ideas come from and how they were transformed at each step. Plagiarism obscures that history. We will never know what ALL the "end users do with knowledge". We can, however, sometimes trace an idea back to its source.

I've written about Pecorari recently. I think there is an (at least) implicit normative message that follows from her descriptive accounts. I don't agree with it.

In general, I think it's important not to react to a concrete accusation of plagiarism by problematizing "the very idea" of plagiarism. Maybe Virgil did plagiarize Homer. But please look at this case; consider the details. Decide whether you think it's okay behavior.

To use the theme of Zizek's book: if someone punches you in the mouth, you need to decide whether that punch was justified. Not whether violence is ever okay, or never not. Or whatever.

emailjuliamolinari said...

Can we classify plagiarism as a 'moral' concern, then (rather than a legalistic, property-bound one)? 

You frame it as 'ok' and 'not ok' behaviour, which suggests it is a moral issue. But you also suggest we judge it on a case-by-case basis. So you're not a Kantian categorical imperativist because Kant would want you to universalise and commit to whether it is right or wrong in all circumstances.

Could you be a utilitarian consequentialist, when you say we need to decide if plagiarism can ever be 'justified'? So what would be the grounds of that justification? a) The intention of the writer (cf deliberate and non-deliberate deceit/memory lapse) or b) the effects that a plagiarised piece of writing has on the knowledge community, in terms of (not) furthering and transforming our understandings and our knowledge?

Arguably, once systems are in place, you cannot question the foundations while somebody is actually being tried for plagiarism (while they are in the dock, so to speak), but those foundations are based on contentious and fallacious assumptions. Plus, I am not so clear in my mind about the boundaries between academia and art ....

Thomas said...

I was trying to be vague about what sort of "wrong" plagiarism is by asking whether and how it is "okay". Minimally, not citing your sources is bad scholarship. In some cases it causes harm to the original author. (I think that's the case here.) In others it merely fails to credit another's labor (also the case here). Plagiarism pretty much always misleads the reader, and when this is done intentionally it's lying, which is certainly a moral issue.

Plagiarism is, first and foremost, a fact about a text, or, more precisely, about its relationship to another text.

There are cases where, all things considered, it's not morally problematic. One such case would be Virgil and Homer. That the former plagiarized the latter may be (I haven't look closely at it) a fact, but it has no moral force. Homer (who may never have existed as a discrete author) has no moral claim and Virgil (who is very dead and solidly canonized) has no one to answer to (except in some heaven that we'll leave him to worry about). It remains (if it is) a fact about where Virgil got his words.

As for Zizek, I think it's important to know that his writing can't be trusted to get the ideas he dismisses right. We can't learn anything by reading Zizek because he doesn't really care about the correctness of his refences to others. He doesn't respect other thinkers. I don't think we can even learn anything very reliable about his own opinions.

He doesn't respect his readers. If "trust" is a moral issue (it probably is) then he's got a moral problem. But mainly he's just lost my interest as a scholar.

And people who cite him as an authority on anything won't get very far with me from here on

Uzzi Levi said...

Seriously?. Zizek must mean a a lot to you, that you spend such amounts of time trying to find plagiarism in his works. Honestly I have better things to do, get a life too mate.

Marija Krtolica said...

I am surprised how fixated we still are on the questions of authorship.Who is the author really, and what do we expect from him/her especially when dealing with issues such as violence, social justice, and universal human suffering? Is the main question who gets credit for certain lines which might imply repercussions such as being criticized for certain point of view (the more original one gets the less he/she can share the responsibility of the group), or is it really a question of material compensation and or fame/recognition for creating a fully "original text"?

Thomas said...

All I expect from an author is to tell me what s/he knows and thinks. I do not expect some unspecified number of paragraphs in a given text to have been cut and pasted into it without me being able to tell that's what's happened. In fact, I expect the opposite. I expect authors (and publishers) to care about their references.

When I discover these sorts of things, I make them public. Then everyone's smarter. You can be as fixated on authorship and originality, or not, as you like. As a scholar, I just want to have an accurate sense of the relationships between texts. When a text obscures its debt to another, I cry foul. Could be an honest mistake. I don't want compensation. I just want the truth to be known.

Anonymous said...

Do you have at least a PDF copy of the book pages where these passages appear in Violence? Unless one owns the book, there is no way of verifying your claim.
I tried to see the pages through free online sources, but they are not available.

Thomas said...

Interesting. I've set it up to link to the pages on Google Books and it works for me. I guess it depends on where you are in the world.

Fortunately, the facts aren't in dispute. Zizek acknowledges in his clarification that quotation marks don't appear in the book and he blames his publisher for the error.

While Eugene Wolters doesn't think it's a big deal, he, too, confirms that "the paragraph is verbatim lifted from Jean-Marie Muller..."

Jonathan said...

I find the "you should have better things to do" argument kind of funny. Zizek is a big name in Theory and has been for a while. An "author" with his own name on his books and articles. He is not just some anonymous nobody. There is emerging a pattern of self-plagiarism, at least, and now at least two instances of plagiarism of others in his works. There will be a different excuse every time, it appears.

Unless you're saving a kitten in a tree, you almost always could be making better use of your time. That's really weak.

Anonymous said...

That's some really weak sauce. Do you even lift, bro?

Thomas said...

@Jonathan: I'm going through the surrounding text, and it's a very strange experience. The Muller stuff is almost entirely surrounded by self-plagiarism from an earlier Zizek piece, and a book.

That means that the "writing" that Zizek has done around the patches of Muller (whether quoted, paraphrased or plagiarised) are taken verbatim from a context that has nothing to do with Muller's text. Zizek had to do literally NO thinking to come up with his critique of Muller's position on language and violence. And virtually no reading. (All he had to do was search the "web manuscript" for mentions of "language" or "speaking" and the drop Muller's words into his own older writing. Presto. A critique of the "predominant ideological approach".

Anonymous said...

The fact that people are beginning to question whether plagiarism is actually a bad thing says a lot. I'm all about being charitable in interpreting someone. However, when the only way people can save an author from the embarrasement of plagiarism is to re-define the normative and epistemic significance of not plagiarizing (or, better yet, make an ad hoc claim about the artistic merits of an instance of plaigirism!), then you know that the author has a substantive ideological following.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Michael here:

I don't care to defend Žižek particularly, I looked into it because it is getting some currency among people I know.

It is strange that you do not mention to the reader that this material is immediately preceded by an long, genuine, properly cited quotation from Muller's 'semi-official' text 'for UNESCO'; this is what is emphatically and explicitly under discussion throughout the vexed passage. It would be a little strange to start plagiarizing an author in a page that is intended to criticize parts of the passage plagiarized (it would perhaps be possible with a sufficiently contradictory author!)

There doesn't even seem to be any confusion in Žižek, say of the type where a fragment of an intended quotation gets misread as one's one work. The passage wouldn't make sense if the 'plagiarized' thoughts were supposed to be represented as Žižek's own: pp 53 - 5 make sense when you put quotation marks around the text that is described as the 'easy way out' as he is calling it -- sc. Muller's way. Then put a colon after "The task becomes to get rid of this excess", and indent Muller's paragraph about excess, pleonexia etc. After that second extensive quotation, we then resurface with a paragraph beginning "This approach remains firmly within the pre-modern Aristotelian coordinates", where 'this approach' is evidently the Mullerian just quoted for a third time.

It is a little tiresome to represent this as a case of plagiarism.

--Michael

Anonymous said...

Michael, once again:

The clause "Zizek has actually cited Muller's article (on page 11), providing a reference (albeit an incomplete one) and a properly marked quotation" which would have to be true, for there to be anything in this, is false; this distracts the reader who is actually looking things up. (You claim to be linking p 53, but aren't.)

The only defect in the 'plagiarized' paragraph is a failure of indentation and spacing.

I recommend you make a little study of Aristotle's Physics on the distinction between motion or change 'by nature' and motion or change 'by violence' -- this is presumably the origin of the word as we have it: 'bia' appears as 'violentia' in the medieval translators

Note that Aristotle's Physics, and this particular aspect of it, are exactly the paradigm of the 'pre-modern'. Any minimally competent reader will see that this is a quite apt (polemical) description of the Muller passage he is quoting. The passage where you suggest that is choosing randomly -- "it's all so much [premodern] Aristotelianism (begin strikeout) or Kantianism or modernism (end strikout) or whatever" is incompetent, since only 'premodern Aristotelianism' is apt, the others not. I think that if you were equipped by education or even brief study (e.g. by googling "aristotle violent") to comprehend the beginning of this paragraph you would immediately detect the missing indentation.

Thomas said...

Hi Michael, I think you're reading my post too quickly. We agree that I say that Muller is quoted on page 53, and yet in your previous comment you say I don't mention this quotation.

You're the second person to suggest there's something wrong with the links. My guess is that Google lets me link directly to those pages here in Denmark, but they're not open to preview from your location. Sorry. I'm trying to be as helpful as I can. Page 53 is the right page.

The "only defect" in the most classic cases of plagiarism is the absence of quotation marks. That's what we've got here.

I'll grant the part that I struck out was a bit glib. Which is why I struck it out.

You're of course free to conclude that I'm unencumbered by an education. I don't think a critique of what's actually on the page is necessarily rendered void by what what one would find my Googling two words.

I stand by my assessment that these four pages are a mess (even if the paragraph had been properly indented). I think much of your defence goes to the question of whether he was trying to deceive.

Anonymous said...

Michael says,

I take it to be obvious that there no attempt to deceive here. There is a paragraph announcing that he will attack Muller; then a long quotation from Muller; a paragraph warming to the attack; another long quotation; and more attack. The whole thing is a unified critique of Muller and only makes sense as such. You are characterizing this as "scholarly violence" when it's a palpable typesetting error.

It's true think you only fail to see this because you are not actually reading any of this.

It is quite false by the way that most plagiarism is a matter of missing quotation marks; the thought that it is, suggests strongly that you have no practical experience with matter. I have unearthed countless plagiarism cases over 30 years and I don't think even one had this property.

Thomas said...

Please note the difference between "the most classic cases" and, say, "most cases". You're right that most plagiarism is not as obvious, not as "classic". But this one is.

My view of plagiarism is that its a fact about text, regardless of the process that produced it. (Intention does not matter.) Other people think that plagiarism cannot result from carelessness or error. It sounds like you're one of those. So we're sort of talking past each other. I'm not accusing Zizek of cheating, I'm accusing him of being careless. We could (if you were interested) discuss how much harm has been done here, but obviously sufficient care was not taken to avoid it.

Again, you're free to suppose something about my experience in this matter. (My experience is a matter of public record, and searchable in this blog.) You're also free to disagree with me about conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Michael, yet again (sorry if I'm being tiresome):

The only thing that is crystal clear about the English word "plagiarize" is that is not

a fact about text, regardless of the process that produced it. (Intention does not matter.)

This is not a view about plagiarism, but a mistake about English. It is not the intent that poses difficulties, it is the 'actus reus', as the lawyers say, that is trouble.

Similarly, there seems to be a problem with your understanding of the English word "classic" or "classical" : if you speak of "most classical cases of plagiarism" it is necessary that you are envisaging a list of actual cases, e.g. Kosinski or Dershowitz or whatever you like. Good luck to you finding any actual case to count as 'classical' or 'a classic' that has anything like this form.

If I had found this in a student paper, I would have corrected it as I do a spelling error.* It is exactly the sort of thing that arises e.g. in conversion from .doc to .docx If a teaching assistant brought this to me as 'clear case of plagiarism', I would worry about his or her mental health.

* There is a subtlety here about the added information about 'the French religious thinker' Simone Weil. In the above judgment I am leaving it out of account. It was clear to me on the first reading, as it would be to any member of the implied readership, that neither Žižek nor Muller would have been physically capable of writing this. It would be exactly as if a biologist writing in a distinguished journal were to write something like "... as Charles Darwin, a noted scientist, hypothesized in ...."

Anonymous said...

Michael, yet again (sorry if I'm being tiresome):

The only thing that is crystal clear about the English word "plagiarize" is that is not

a fact about text, regardless of the process that produced it. (Intention does not matter.)

This is not a view about plagiarism, but a mistake about English. It is not the intent that poses difficulties, it is the 'actus reus', as the lawyers say, that is trouble.

Similarly, there seems to be a problem with your understanding of the English word "classic" or "classical" : if you speak of "most classical cases of plagiarism" it is necessary that you are envisaging a list of actual cases, e.g. Kosinski or Dershowitz or whatever you like. Good luck to you finding any actual case to count as 'classical' or 'a classic' that has anything like this form.

If I had found this in a student paper, I would have corrected it as I do a spelling error.* It is exactly the sort of thing that arises e.g. in conversion from .doc to .docx If a teaching assistant brought this to me as 'clear case of plagiarism', I would worry about his or her mental health.

* There is a subtlety here about the added information about 'the French religious thinker' Simone Weil. In the above judgment I am leaving it out of account. It was clear to me on the first reading, as it would be to any member of the implied readership, that neither Žižek nor Muller would have been physically capable of writing this. It would be exactly as if a biologist writing in a distinguished journal were to write something like "... as Charles Darwin, a noted scientist, hypothesized in ...."

Anonymous said...

Bah, Thomas, sorry for the double posting, this system is too hard for me. --Michael

Thomas said...

Hi Michael, If you can't stop making judgments about my basic qualifications to even have this conservation, please stop talking to me.


Anonymous said...

The violence of accusations based on interpretive abstractions.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, I'm not sure I follow. Are you affirming that it is consistent with 'basic competence' in the craft of writing, to affirm that plagiarism is "a fact about text, regardless of the process that produced it. (Intention does not matter.)"? -- Michael

Thomas said...

I'm saying we can disagree (or even just misunderstand each other) about such things without that rendering one of us incompetent.

It's up to you. I am certainly of the opinion that even if I'm wrong about plagiarism in general, or Zizek's plagiarism in particular, I am educated enough, experienced enough, good enough at English and, finally, sane enough to be worth talking to about it. These are all things you've questioned to punctuate your criticisms of my post.

As I've said on each occasion, you're free to make those judgments in the privacy of your own mind, and even to post them to my comment stream. I don't intend to keep talking to you, however, if I have to be defensive of my personal qualifications every time I answer.

Just make your point and let me answer. Then get on to your next point. It's the blogosphere, friend; we're all amateurs here.

Anonymous said...

I did make a point -- or rather I posed a yes-no question -- but you didn't answer it; the question was about the criteria of competence in the present domain. It did not involve any accusation of competence.

You seem also to be suggesting that a text appearing in the so-called blogosphere is subject to fewer ethical constraints than one that is 'published' in a more traditional sense. I don't see what could make you think this, rather than the reverse. Traditional publication is far less likely to allow demagogical abuse; 'blogospheric' production imposes a far higher level of responsibility on the author. What is your argument for the opposing position? Is your thought that the 'blogosphere' is full of cranks, anti-semites, racists and all manner of irresponsible demagogues-- and that you can on that ground disclaim responsibility for the truth of what you write?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that 'Anonymous' ^^^ was Michael again.

Thomas said...

Weird. But now I'm almost certain you're trolling. Are you trolling, Michael? Because it looks like you're trolling.

Anonymous said...

Michael, again, saying:

Thomas, you are not responding to any of my criticisms or questions; at the moment you are just engaged in name calling, without even bothering to give grounds. The question of your definition of plagiarism a very grave one. The question of the responsibility of the 'blogger', and the force of your claim that 'we're all amateurs here' is again a very grave one.

My claim was that "plagiarism" is an ethical concept. The question of its boundaries are highly disputable, but this is not. But because it is an ethical concept, it is impossible to divorce it from any and every mens rea. It is equally clear, moreover, that an accusation of plagiarism is as much unjust as an accusation of theft or murder would be, if it deliberately takes no account of the author's mind or "intent".

The latter two propositions really belong to fundamental ethical consciousness.

You seem however to have a different theory, one in which plagiarism is not an ethical concept, but a fact about a text irrespective of intent, and to hold moreover that this theory can legitimately be propounded by a teacher of writing or any other topic in which the question of plagiarism may arise. Is that right, do you have such a theory?

Thomas said...

Exactly! A while back I explicitly refused to discuss this with you as long as you insist on betting your "legitimacy" (presumably against mine) on the outcome.

Anonymous said...

Michael says:

But Thomas, there was no bet; it was a very clear yes-no question; you refuse to answer it much less to justify an answer. You seem, on this page at least, only to be willing to discuss matters with people who approve of your ideas. The ethical quality of your action in maintaining this particular post, is at all costs to be evaded and kept from reflection. Anyone who raises doubts is to be declared a troll without justifying argument. But the page has already been linked by genuinely and verifiably dangerous demagogues, e.g. this one http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2014/10/another-zizek-plagiarism-scandal.html (for evidence of destruction see e.g. https://sites.google.com/site/septemberstatement/ and myriad google-able others) You cannot evade responsibility for this by declaring it to be 'just the blogosphere', as is this were a trans- or sub-ethical realm in which 'we are all amateurs'; it is your doing, pure and simple. Your own insistence, in the fine print here, that, actually, you have no ground for assigning culpability to Žižek since you only meant to be saying something that is independent of 'intent,' is a direct admission that what you doing is simply wrong; yet you continue to do it, and to let demagogues link it.

Thomas said...

Dear Michael,

Two years ago I wrote a post arguing that we should focus on the epistemic over the ethical aspects of plagiarism. Here is a pretty standard statement about plagiarism that explicitly leaves intent on the side:

"You plagiarize when, intentionally or not, you use someone else’s words or ideas but fail to credit that person. You plagiarize even when you do credit the author but use his exact words without so indicating with quotation marks or block indentation." (Booth, Colomb, Williams, Craft of Research, 1995, p. 167, my emphasis)

There is a legitimate discussion to be had about whether this clause about intent is a good idea, but even here it clearly not a matter simply of what the word means or what writing instructors must, professionally, believe. Diane Pecorari, for example, says that "there appears ... to be at least two sorts of plagiarism, distinguished by the presence or absence of intentional deception" (Academic Writing and Plagiarism, p. 4). Others, like Rebecca Howard, have argued that we drop the word "plagiarism" altogether precisely because its too ambiguous.

In any case, like I say, I am no longer interested in discussing the matter with you, for reasons I've stated and you have ignored. You and our readers are free to draw whatever conclusions about my ethics and demagoguery from the comments you've contributed to so far.

Best,
Thomas

Anonymous said...

Michael again, in two parts, it seems:

Here again there is a failure of fundamental ethical consciousness.

The quotation is addressed to an audience of readers, telling them what to do or not to do, it is in general inept to characterize the 'mens rea' involved in the imputation of a crime. No one deliberates whether to do something intentionally or knowingly.

The Bible just says, Thou shalt not kill. It doesn't say: Though shalt not kill knowingly, nor intentionally (i.e. basically with a view to something further or as an end in itself), nor else unintentionally but with reckless indifference to human life. It directs itself to the deliberating agent; his or her mental state is not among the things potentially chosen; choice itself is not among the things chosen -- killing someone, though, might be something you choose to do. That a mental element is not mentioned doesn't mean that every case that is 'objectively' one of killing, is also a violation of the commandment.

That is, the statement you quote is emphatically not of the form: A person, X, has committed plagiarism just in case X has ... . It is such a statement that would be needed to argue that a person has committed plagiarism. It is saying: don't Any such statement will include a formulation of the requisite mental element or mens rea, which is just to say that ethical judgment or, in the other case, a verdict of 'guilty', will involve assent to some definite mental element.

Anonymous said...


Authorities may differ on what the requisite mental element is -- as in the legal simulacrum, different jurisdictions assign subtly different mental elements to murder, rape, etc. though we say that in all these case it is murder and rape that are criminalized. That we can speak of criminalization at all means that we understand that a mental element has been implicitly or explicitly assigned. You by contrast are insisting that there is no mental element of plagiarism; this is why you think you can call a case a 'clear case of plagiarism' on the basis of identity of characters alone.

If this is difficult to comprehend, try this: note that that the quoted passage doesn't say, "... and whether you know it or not ..." Knowledge is covered by the English word "intent" in legal and ethical contexts. 'Intent', in English, is in fact a somewhat technical and reflective term and differs from the ordinary expressions 'to intend (mean, aim) to do X', 'to do X intentionally', 'to do X with the intention (sc. purpose, aim) of doing Y'. That I didn't do something intentionally or purposefully or with some particular motive, does not mean that intent was lacking; on the contrary, the standard form of legal or ethical "intent" is simply knowledge and it is a confusion to bring into the question the ordinary notions of intention, purpose and meaning (these are sometimes characterized in legal contexts as "desire", but also in a somewhat technical sense).

What is unconscionable in this post is the claim "this is a clear case of plagiarism", and none of these inevitably abstruse reflections, which arise only from your desire to defend the existence of a transparently unconscionable post. You seem not to be capable of registering a distinction like that between "this is a clear case of killing" and "this is a clear case of murder", a distinction that is absolutely fundamental to all human life. When someone points out that the distinction is kind of obvious, you make bold actually to deny this explicitly, citing a textbook that says the equivalent of "Thou shalt not kill", and use it to argue the equivalent of the thought that any case of killing is a case of murder, that is, of violation of the principle contained in "Thou shalt not kill".

That Žižek was not even the agent of the things that you are claiming constitute his plagiarism, and that this is obvious to any reader, is a point I will not continue to labor. Anyone can see that Žižek simply did not write the characterization of Weil, and neither did Muller. Similarly, in the sentence preceding the re-introduction of Muller, Žižek simply did not write "the bearer of university knowledge versus its object". The presence of another agent or agents is forced on the reader by almost every page of this work. -- Michael

Thomas said...

Dear Michael,

I realize I'm being inconsistent by responding, but I want to thank you for that last insight, which may be hyperbolic, but I think intriguing:

"Anyone can see that Žižek simply did not write the characterization of Weil, and neither did Muller," you say. I would counter that many readers may not know enough about Muller, or in fact Zizek, to be as sure as you. But this part of your remark is on to something: "Similarly, in the sentence preceding the re-introduction of Muller, Žižek simply did not write 'the bearer of university knowledge versus its object'. The presence of another agent or agents is forced on the reader by almost every page of this work."

As I understand your comment, this is so obvious that by putting Zizek's name on the cover as the sole author no deception on Zizek's part (or his publisher?) can be claimed. Again, I'm not sure this problematic agency is as transparent as you think, though it may be for an expert reader like you. But I do think that the deeper problem, the problem I'm really interested in, is that the text lacks agency, an "author" to take responsibility for its meaning. Once that's been called into question, I would argue the text become uninterpretable. We don't know who is saying what. Only that there are words there on the page.

Thanks for helping me think that through. I'm sorry that you've formed such a low opinion of my ethics. Maybe if we'd met in some other way...

Best,
Thomas