Sunday, October 21, 2007

An open letter to Miguel de Beistegui

I must begin by admitting that I was a trifle disappointed by the legalistic tone and dry, academic style of your letter. I expected some panache, some élan, though perhaps I expect too much.
Before getting down to business, as it were, I would like to make an apology. The original post was written after taking a little more than a little something to drink, and thus my clarity may have been compromised. I did not intend to describe the whole of Truth & Genesis as "rubbish" (I have it from M that your book is rather good). The description was merely meant to apply to the page of material that has given birth to this fruitful dialogue.
Now to your letter. You take my claims to be (i) I accuse you of plagiarism, and (ii) I "draw conclusions that aim at discrediting an author" and that I insinuate disingenuousness.
This is mistaken. I have little or no problem with plagiarism. And, importantly, I never use the word 'plagiarise' in my original post. Rather, I raise doubts about your intellectual integrity; doubts which I would like to elaborate here in more detail.
First, you call into question the status and meaning of plagiarism regulations in the university. Let me explain. It is peculiar that, with all your readers and editors at Indiana, you are unable to notice a whole page taken very nearly verbatim from another author (especially where that author is the focus of the chapter), when an 18 year old kid is expected to avoid much subtler 'errors' on her tenth coffee, at five in the morning on the day of her essay deadline.
What's more, it is your job, your duty, to cry foul and notify the authorities when such student 'mistakes' occur. Something is definitely amiss here.
Second, I would like to challenge your assertion that we are dealing with nothing more than missing quotation marks. Here we might appeal to scholarly practice. If the page in question was intended as a long quote, there are one or two details which indicate that the passage lacked more than quotation marks. In the two places where the text diverges from DeLanda's, there should be square brackets in place. The first line of the passage contains a clarification of terms which is parenthesised (ie, enclosed in round brackets) when it clearly requires square brackets to indicate that those are not the words of the quoted author. In addition, the passage ends with a longish quotation (from Albert Lautman) which matches DeLanda's exactly. This definitely does not conform to style standards. The scholar does not lazily reprint another scholar's quote. And if your intention was to separate the Lautman quote from the DeLanda quote, then the organisation of the whole passage would have to be changed in order to avoid a complete mess.
Furthermore, after an - admittedly - brief perusal of your book, it seems that the section of text we disagree about would make for the longest quotation by far. Surely Deleuze or Heidegger are much more worthy candidates for quoting at such length? In all, the proposal that you intended to make a quotation of 'our passage' looks very uncertain.
This brings me to my third point. I completely accept that you aren't trying to take credit for DeLanda's work (you do refer to him all the way through that chapter), though I have difficulty understanding why you would devote a sizeable section of your book to material that you have apparently not come to terms with. In the first year, they tell us: "You have understood the text if you can put it into your own words."

That was the main thrust of my response. I would now like to clear up one or two misconceptions that you happily propagate in the third paragraph of your letter.
Given what has happened since I published my denunciation, it must be self-evident why the blog is anonymous; though in fact many students and a few lecturers know who I am, and it wouldn't be at all difficult to pierce the flimsy veil of anonymity...
And as for Axel, I should have you know that he is a very fine young scholar, in spite of our divergent philosophical tastes.
The most important of your claims in this paragraph, that I am "actually proud of not having read any of the work", requires an explanation on my part. I absolutely reject any ascription of anti-intellectualism. I have a vague knowledge of Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy since I happened to have the misfortune to run my eyes over half the book a few years ago.
As those who are familiar with dogmat will know, I believe that there is a ship of fools sailing through British universities; not Bernard-Henri Levy's vessel (a ghost ship of his feeble imagination), but a nightmarish construction, always already commandeered by witless British students, Saint Gilles and Saint Felix thrown overboard before setting foot on deck.
Dogmat simply does not wish to be press ganged aboard.

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