Pastiche Not Plagiarism

While reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier I found myself many times confused, amused, intrigued, and most often confused. My confusion was easily swept into frustration, as it is so oft to do. However, I remembered Professor McCoy’s advice on scorn, that is to reserve it for what truly deserves it. Sadly my scorn showed its confused face when I became agitated with the novel’s use of reference. On October 25th, My Classmate Susan Dolan noted my frustration with the novel’s allusion to the film The Defiant Ones in her Blog post titled Plagiarism with Purpose. “I remember during this conversation I shared Kevin’s frustration because I also could not recognize what Everett was doing.” (Dolan).” This frustration came, in part, to the lack of understanding I had, but it also stemmed from a moral dilemma I had been struggling with. This moral dilemma was plagiarism. 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms describes Plagiarism: “In which one author steals a passage or idea from another, passing it off as his or his own and failing to credit the original source.”(Bedford 316). They key to understanding plagiarism, however, is intent. The Bedford goes on to explain that “deceptive intent” is required for any copying to be considered plagiarism. It was with this definition in mind that I faced the plagiarism tutorial Dolan described in her post. Dolan describes that the tutorial states “any reference to facts, ideas, or data that are not considered common knowledge must be properly cited.”(Dolan). Within this course I had been given two standards of plagiarism and asked to uphold both of them. I was made to believe by the Bedford that deceptive intent was what characterized plagiarism, but this lesson was telling me that even an accident could make me guilty of plagiarism. This confusion, again lead to frustration, and scorn. Which standard was I to uphold? 

While searching for the answer to this, I began to better comprehend what I Am Not Sidney Poitier was doing with its parallels between Sidney Poitier movies. Sadly, what comes with comprehension is critical thought, and thus the question was raised in my head as it was raised in Dolan’s; Is Percival Everett guilty of plagiarism? My initial answer was yes. At face value, Everett is using exact lines, and story arcs from movies to fill the plot of his novel. This made me, understandably, upset. Why should I as a student writer be held to a standard that not even a college professor such as Everett himself cannot uphold? Are the Masters not expected to be greater than the students? Roughly 78 pages of I Am Not Sidney Poitier parallel either The Defiant Ones or Lilies of the Field without a citation in sight (I took the time to count them myself). Everrett even prefaces before the novel begins, “All characters depicted in this novel are completely fictitious, regardless of similarities to any extant parties and regardless to shared names.” (Everett). In other words Everett is claiming that all of these said characters are completely fictitious and that he created them himself, seeing as he does not credit them to anyone else. 

Finally I believed I had a just reason for scorn, I was ready to write a blog post about the inequality between student and teacher, the failures of our academic standards, and the ridiculousness of plagiarism. As I was about to begin writing I decided to reserve my scorn, and make sure I had the proper information to support such a presumptive and bold statement. I again turned to the Bedford. As I looked again for the definition of plagiarism I came across the term pastiche. Pastiche is “A literary, musical, or artistic work that imitates another’s recognizable style or pieces together a medley of often incongruous elements from a number of existing works.”(Bedford 316). Yes, as you might guess I was again confused. How was this any different than plagiarism? What was I missing? The key lay in the next few lines of text. Here the Bedford explained “it is sometimes treated synonymously with parody, but is more often distinguished from the latter by its respectful tone.”(316). Pastiche it seems was a loophole from plagiarism. A copy? Sure in some ways, but one of admiration and respect. The intent is key, pastiche is an intent of homage. My scorn began to lessen as I realized that Everett wasn’t plagiarizing. He was implementing a literary device that until now, I hadn’t known. Under the definitions of the Bedford, Everett is not guilty of plagiarism. Without giving it much thought it may seem that he is, but with a more critical lens it is visible that I Am Not Sidney Poitier is making a point. This point however, I plan to explain further in a blog post of its own.

This internal struggle of understanding where the black and white line of ownership and plagiarism left me with an important lesson. This lesson was that writing is never black and white, it is usually grey. Grey is the line between tragedy and comedy. Grey is the line between genius and madness. Grey is the line between Sidney and Not Sidney. Grey is the line between plagiarism and pastiche. As budding writers and students, my classmates and I need this lesson now more than ever. Many of us have learned to write through rigorous structure and clear cut outlines. Now we are in college, where for many of us there is little to no structure, where freedom can either sink us or lift us to new heights. It is through accepting that writing is grey that we can find our own voice and become greater writers. Do not take my advocating for “the grey” as support plagiarism, far from it actually. Rather, I believe we should not let our confusion and scorn force us into decisions that aren’t well thought. Before we label someone guilty of plagiarism, let us think about what their intent was. If I had used this judgment I wouldn’t have been so scornful towards Everett. My tale of confusion and scorn in many ways itself parallels the confusion and scorn Not Sidney faces in his story. My hope, however, is that my life will be seen as pastiche, not plagiarism. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.