Oh Joy! – Yet more on Plagiarism, Nihilism and Prescriptive Linguists – Oh, Joy!

The spam catcher plug-in I use is normally fairly effective, but it also has its moments of fail. Today, it let through an obvious spam comment (for online shoe shops of all things), while a legitimate comment got caught in the spam trap.

Meanwhile, I have some more links and discussion on the two controversial subjects of the moment behind the cut:

More on the Guttenberg plagiarism case, it turns out zu Guttenberg did not just plagiarize various newspaper articles and the like, but that he also ordered a 20 page research paper from the German parliament’s research service and then incorporated said paper into his thesis without attribution. Never mind that he isn’t supposed to use the parliamentary research service for private projects such as a doctoral thesis anyway.

However, 74 percent of the German voting population are still backing zu Guttenberg in spite of the plagiarism allegations, even though the users of the Guttenplag Wiki have detected that approx. 60 percent of Mr zu Guttenberg’s thesis have been plagiarized. It seems most people have swallowed Guttenberg’s declaration that he was very busy with his job, his political career and family life and that mistakes happen. Never mind that plenty of people who are much less privileged than Mr zu Guttenberg have a day job and a family and still manage to gain an academic degree honestly. My cousin (not linking to him here, because I’m not sure if he would appreciate it) managed to gain two doctoral degrees, while holding down a job, a political career and raising two children.

But of course all of us who believe plagiarism is wrong are just jealous. Sorry, but I don’t want a drafty castle in Franconia, a job which requires me to travel to Afghanistan all the time and a wife who never met a glamourous charity event she didn’t want to attend.

The deeper issue here is that many people in Germany neither understand nor appreciate the sort of hard work most doctoral degrees require. Academic plagiarism is a lot different from copying your classmates homework or taking a peek at your classmate’s answers in a test. And cheating in a classroom context is not taking seriously anyway, because “everybody did it” supposedly (I didn’t, because I actually studied for the tests). I’m generally a tolerant teacher, but cheating on tests is one thing I really don’t tolerate. You cheat, you fail, simple as that.

Sherwood Smith has more links on the great nihilism in fantasy debate, namely from superversive and Matt Doyle.

I dislike the way that morality and political orientation keep getting dragged into this discussion, since having a different taste in literature and entertainment does not make you immoral or a bad person. In fact, it was crap like that which drove me out of the online SFF sphere the first time around, because I was sick of being called immoral for liking TV show X or book Y. Ironically, one of the people who insulted me and everybody I know in real life in that old row stands accused of writing “depraved nihilist fantasy” now. Can’t say that didn’t make me smile.

However, as I’ve stated before, I tried reading some of the decadent and nihilist/gritty and realistic fantasy and usually bounced off it hard, to the point that pretty much gave up reading fantasy and SF altogether for a while, because I kept buying books that came highly recommended, only to end up hating them, because they were depressing as hell, everybody and everything was corrupt, I didn’t like any of the characters (and if I did like someone, that character was sure not to last long) and the whole thing was usually boring as hell, too. “Just kill them all right now, please, and spare us further torture”.

I never even got to the great wedding massacre in the George R.R. Martin series, but the first thing the summaries brought to mind was the infamous Moldavian wedding massacre from Dynasty, only that in Martin’s series the wedding attackers actually manage to kill people. On a totally unrelated note, watching that Dynasty clip, I am shocked that I still remember the names of most of the characters and still know who died (those who in the way of the plot) and who survived (everybody who’s in the title sequence). Though it was totally mean that once the supposedly gay (because he kept sleeping with women, though the script always made a big deal out of his gayness) Steven Carrington had actually found a male partner, they had to kill him off, while totally failing to kill the noxious Blake and Krystal Carrington. Oh yes, and I had a huge crush on the actor playing the princely groom at the time.

Anyway, it is very telling that the first thing a huge turning point in a realistic/nihilistic fantasy series brings to mind is the most awesomely corny cliffhanger ever in the history of big budget soap operas. Because it shows how very easily relentless darkness can tip over into self-parody. At a certain point of one awful thing happening after another, you simply have to make fun of it. It’s either that or slit your wrists.

It was only when I discovered urban fantasy and paranormal romance that I started enjoying fantasy again. Not that urban fantasy worlds cannot be grim – many of them are exceedingly grim in fact – but there’s always some glimmer of hope, too. Also I notice that with the grimmer urban fantasy series, e.g. Rob Thurman’s Leandros Brothers series or Caitlin Kittredge’s Black London series, I can only read one or two books at most, then I have to switch to something lighter.

I still don’t mind the existence of grim epic fantasy, as long as there are plenty of other options available. And unlike many of those who dislike grim fantasy, I have absolutely no issues with sex and profanity, as long as both fit the characters, plot and world. I once bounced hard off a fantasy novel where the protagonist constantly used a certain American swearword (the one that accuses someone of sleeping with his mother), but that was because it felt completely out of place in the world the author had built, not because I had issues with the word per se. Nonetheless, I don’t think sex and swearing go hand in hand with nihilism and relentless darkness at all – that’s American morality speaking there. Sex is actually one of the more pleasant parts of life and the presence of loving and respectful or just plain enjoyable sex is usually a sign that we’re dealing with a non-depressing fantasy novel. And profanity is just part of the way some people speak. I’m very much a fan of realistic speech and that includes profanity, where applicable.

Tangentially related to the issue of nihilism in fantasy, this Russian Lord of the Rings retelling from the perspective of the forces of Mordor is sure to get the hackles of the Leo Grins of this world up.

Finally, here’s a linguistics article, namely yet another prescriptivist lamenting the alleged decline of the English language in City Journal, which in spite of its innocuous name seems to be a very rightwing publication. The author is a political speech writer, so he clearly cares about language, but this extreme prescriptivism is so wearying. Never mind that there is a huge difference between spoken and written language, which a political speech writer of all people should know. Though the bit about the overuse of “like” made me smile, because I know a linguistics doctoral student who is writing his PhD thesis on the use of “like” in different varieties of English.

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10 Responses to Oh Joy! – Yet more on Plagiarism, Nihilism and Prescriptive Linguists – Oh, Joy!

  1. Estara says:

    Joyful sex – the first novel that sprang to mind is The Sharing Knife fantasy series by Lois McMaster Bujold – and lots of the sex Miles Vorkosigan has, too ^^.

    Hmm, come to think of it, there seems to be little sex in your average fantasy, unless it is fantasy romance or romantic fantasy. There can be love stories though, but we usually don’t see them consumed, hmm. Pity, that.

    I agree with you that sex should be offered in our literature as joyful, too, not just the dark side. Especially in coming of age books, or films for that age group because if it’s a taboo subject at home where else will you learn that it can be a positive part of a relationship – and not just something your peer pressure group forces you to do, so that you can say you “did it”.

    • Estara says:

      Addendum: What with the huge amount of evidence, at least the university who gave the title ought to take it away again. Who will trust the academic title of people who went to that university if they don’t do at least that?

      • Cora says:

        Yeah, this reflects very badly both on the university and on the “Doktorvater”. It also reflects badly on everybody who gained a degree honestly from that university (Bayreuth, I think).

    • Cora says:

      Cliched as it may seem, it seems as if a large part of the fantasy and SF readership has issues with sex and would prefer that it either doesn’t exist or that they at least don’t have to read about it. And of course, certain SF authors of the harder persuasion are also really crap at writing about sex.

      I totally agree on Lois McMaster Bujold, because sex in her novels is portrayed as normal, healthy and positive, even if the pairings (in the Vorkosigan series at any rate) are unconventional. And predictably, I have heard readers (usually male, it has to be said) complaining about “too much sex”.

      I also agree that it’s vastly preferable that teenagers read about positive and loving sex in books or see it shown that way in films (and a lot of film and TV sex is badly portrayed) than that they get their information from bad film sex or worse, porn. Because at least my students all know about that website which the Bildzeitung so helpfully promoted on its front page (under the guise of complaining about all the filth on the internet).

      The first sex scenes I saw on film were in The Name of the Rose, Sea of Love and Presumed Innocent. Talk about offputting and borderline traumatizing.

      • Estara says:

        I think the first fade-away sex scene that left a real impression on me was Dirty Dancing ^^ and Pretty Woman on the piano, heh. I grew up on the 40s and 50s musicals my dad adored, and the screwball comedies of the time, so that was about as hot as it got ^^.

        I learned more about sex from books, though. Angelique! and Shanna! O.O !!

        • Cora says:

          Oh yes, Angelique. My aunt had the whole series (up to that point) and I read them all. When she moved into a smaller apartment and gave her books away, I got the Angelique series from her.

          I managed to avoid Shanna, but I got the whole Clan of the Cave Bear series for my birthday. I had no idea what was in those books and neither did my parents, I suspect.

          • Estara says:

            Oh goodness me – Ayla! And I read the second and third books first – so I didn’t get the dark side of sex, more the jealous one.

            Jondalar, was it Jondalar? and his mighty organ that only fit comfortably in Ayla? *rofl* I liked the part of the second book best where she made herself her own home and tamed animals, etc. before he shows up.

            My parents used to buy Bertelsmann Book-picks of the month religiously, they were members of the club, so whenever a book from that was not on the usual shelves, but hidden away in their closets, I could be sure it was something I wasn’t supposed to read. Heh. I was 16 when I started looking for them on purpose, so in comparison to kids nowadays I was probably a pretty late bloomer.

            • Cora says:

              I think every teenaged girl must have read Clan of the Cave Bear at that time. At the translators’ meet-up a while back, someone mentioned Clan of the Cave Bear and all of the women went, “Oh my God, Ayla!”, while the two lone men at the table were like “huh?” I also preferred book 2 before Jondalar of the mighty organ shows up.

              My mother was also a Bertelsmann bookclub member, so we had a lot of their picks. She didn’t try to hide them from me, though, probably because she remembered how well that approach had worked for her own mother with the “dirty” Bertelsmann books.

              One of the earliest grown-up books I read was a Bertelsmann edition of Harold Robbins, when I ran out of books while on vacation and had to turn to my mother’s. I gave it back to her after the second chapter, when all the sex stuff started, and told her that it was boring. I was ten. A bit later, I read a Bertelsmann edition of Uta Danella, which was deemed appropriate because it was about boarding school girls. There was a defloration scene, which is all I remember about the book, because I found the idea that women bled during sex icky.

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