Just a quick note about this piece, which elicited a lot of … strong responses from my followers on Twitter.
For the record, I don’t think he explains away his actions. In fact, what I found interesting about the piece was just how little of an explanation he had. Take this bit, where he describes the inception of his “habit”:
I was 20 years old, and trying to write a short story for the first or second time when I came upon a paragraph I liked from a short story by B.S. Johnson called What did you say the Name of the Place was? It was so easy to do, as easy as picking up a drink, if you think about it. The lifted paragraph perfectly fit my narrative. And it temporarily assuaged the awful feeling I had in my head that I was no good as a writer.
The thing about mea culpas like this that normally make them effective is that they walk you back to a first, seemingly innocuous step — something that everyone can relate to — after which they inevitably spin off into disaster. But, speaking solely for myself, I can’t even understand the inception of his crime. That leap from copying someone’s paragraph and pasting it into my own work is one that I could never knowingly make.
I’m not willing to call plagiarism an “addiction” (though I’d argue overuse has long since robbed the word of most of its clinical connotations). But is it not possible that there’s some flipped switch in Quentin Rowan’s mind that isn’t flipped in mine or yours? Why is it so much easier to think he’s an evil, evil son-of-a-bitch with no conscience?
It’s great to beat up on people who plagiarize, because it’s one of the absolute wrongs. There’s no gray area, it’s simply not done. I believe most of us are guided away from absolute wrongs by an internal moral compass. It’s one that steers us away from these big sins and maybe allows for a few smaller ones that may be harder to judge, harder to detect.
I may be naive, but I prefer to think that some people have areas where their compasses don’t function correctly, rather than thinking those people are missing theirs entirely. Whether you want to define that as addiction is up to you, but I’d be loathe to kick around someone else’s great big sins just because mine are harder to find.