Plagiarism, Shia LaBeouf, and the Phenomenal Daniel Clowes

The action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.) of another.  –Definition of plagiarism in The Oxford English Dictionary

Snapshot from LA Times article

For the past month, there has been a brouhaha over the obvious lifting and plagiarizing of a graphic short story by the artist Daniel Clowes. The story, originally anthologized by Zadie Smith in The Book of Other People, features a film critic and titular character named Justin M. Damiano. The story is fascinating especially for those interested in film/arts critique. Actor-turned-filmmaker Shia LaBeouf adapted Clowes’ story for a short film of his own titled Howard Both are about an internet film critic who  extrapolates on the notion that film critics can make or break a film. Those familiar with Clowes’ original story will be baffled by the verbatim representation in the film, which was not authorized by Clowes and was a shock to both him and his publisher. LaBeouf didn’t seek the rights or acknowledge Clowes and “Justin M. Damiano” at all in the process.

Plagiarism has always been a touchy subject. When it occurs–or even with just a lisping whiff of it–our opinions are usually quite strong, both personally and litigiously. When I was a college student, in my introductory poetry class we were taught about found poetry, which according to is: found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. We were essentially given the green light to steal and when the professor was pressed more on the area of plagiarism to create these word collages, she put on a little grin and her pupils broadened.

I suppose the difference between what Shia LaBeouf did and a room full of nineteen-year-old undergrads did lies with the idea of creating something new out of re-purposing. LaBeouf blatantly stole from Daniel Clowes; he was only inspired by him enough to take his story and photocopy it into a new medium.

In the above image, Marcel Duchamp takes the Mona Lisa and adds a bit of a spin to the sixteenth century canvas. This 1919 work was different from his other readymades, but he still transformed a piece of art into something else, adding a commentary and attitude. We all remember that iconic image of Barack Obama by the artist Shepard Fairey. The Associated Press got all hot and bothered because the original photo that Fairey used was not his own–it was taken by a photographer that was on assignment for the AP. The original photographer claimed he held the copyright and enjoyed Fairey’s transformation of the image. Fairey’s main defense was that his own visual had been completely transformed from the original, making it something wholly different (which falls in the realm of fair use exemption).

But coming back to the original predicament: it is clear-cut that LaBeouf plagiarized Daniel Clowes. He purloined the original graphic short story with intent to pass it as his own creation. He was not influenced, for the dialogue and voice-over is either word-for-word or nearly so. I’m not going to delve into the internet freak show that LaBeouf has crowned himself ringmaster of (that’s what Google is for). It’s a shame though. I find it perplexing that LaBeouf didn’t first acquire the rights because the short film itself is very enjoyable and well-made. Instead of taking a foot forward into a potential interesting career as a film maker, he has sunk into some wonderland madness of his own doing. The film has been removed from many places online, but when you’re done reading Daniel Clowes’ original story you can still watch it on YouTube.


  • My recommendation for more Clowes readings are the full-length graphic novels Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and David Boring.
  • Reality Hunger:A Manifesto by David Shields is a mash-up of other sources and quotes with the intent being to have us think about art and the way it is re-appropriated.
  • Jonathan Lethem’s article in Harper’s titled “The Ecstasy of Influence” has the subtitle “a plagiarism.” It is a defense of plagiarism and like the subtitle, the sentences are lifted from other sources.
  • The recent court case concerning which of the Sherlock Holmes stories and characters are in the public domain.
  • Howard short film,

Beautiful Geometry by Eli Maor & Eugen Jost

“By itself, a geometric construction is a stark, black-and-white array of lines and circles. But add color to it, and it can become an exquisite work or art.”

beautiful geometry cover

After a tiresome evening out a few years ago, I, along with a few other sleepy souls, was stuck on a subway train platform in the middle of the night. There was something fishy going on in the subway and everything was at a standstill. The man next to me told me he was the artist-in-residence at the Bowery Poetry Club. He gave me the exhibition’s promotional card and the next morning I looked him up. The artist† was a professor of mathematics who used his knowledge to produce math-inspired artwork. Except for the drawings of MC Escher, I had never really taken into account the role math could take in visual art.

This anecdote is what brought me to Beautiful Geometry, a joint project by mathematician Eli Maor and Swiss artist Eugen Jost. I had so forgotten about my nighttime art/math encounter until I received a copy of this book.

With Maor’s informative narrative, Jost has created several plates utilizing his computer and other mediums like acrylic on canvas. Each chapter is a small morsel of geometry’s history starting back with ancient thinkers and moving in to modern times. Readers will be familiar with names such as Euclid, Zeno, and Fibonacci and take in delight when Jost visually represents their theories and sequences.

I must admit, however, that the book was not exactly what I had expected. The publisher describes the book as a “visual history of geometry.” In a way, the book is exactly that, but I still questioned its execution. What I thought I was getting in to would lean more towards the historical perspective. Half the time Maor did, indeed, do this. I enjoyed all of the tidbits about each mathematician or important historical event. Yet, half was a bit more like a textbook. I felt my eyes glazing over many of the proofs. With that said, I think I would have found math class in school far more interesting with a book like Beautiful Geometry. In a way, the book acted like a parent sneaking veggies into a difficult child’s dinner. Jost’s alluring images accompanying Maor’s approachable and intriguing narrative was a lovely combination.

Maor and Jost approach geometry much like the ancient Greeks: instead of relying solely on numbers and figures, their minds were tuned to the visual. It was impressive to first read Maor’s brief description of a proof along with the relevant history, and then to see how Jost interpreted it. In his introduction, Maor describes mathematics as “cold, rational, and emotionless,” where art is meant to be expressive and subjective. How could these two possible meet? But, they do, dear readers!

Beautiful Geometry, even with the abundance of math (which always makes me nervous!), I was fascinated to see both Maor’s exploration of geometry’s history as well as a co-project where both the participants inspire each other along with the subject matter.

The book is filled with many wonderful plates created by Eugen Jost. I have selected a few of my favorites for the gallery slideshow below.

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Honestly, I’ve been a little confused about the release date of this book. The publisher has assigned it various dates, but I think it will finally become available this month. See the publisher’s page for more information.

† The artist was John Sims. I suggest you see his website, where he displays his past projects.

Writer Word Art + Nietzsche

Sylvia Plath: Drawings

“It gives me such a sense of peace to draw.”

sylvia plath coverWith the recent release of Sylvia Plath’s drawings, we get a glimpse at a side of the writer that was previously a mystery to most. The book is a collection of the author’s drawings and sketches, along with letters and diary entries edited and with an introduction by her daughter, Frieda Hughes. Frieda states, “She had dreams of grandeur in hoping that the New Yorker might use her illustrations alongside her written work, as the Christian Science Monitor did.”

Paired with the personal letters and diaries, one can track Plath’s progression as a secret visual artist. The book is divided into four sections, each titled ‘Drawings from…’ [insert England, France, Spain, USA]. The correspondences and diary entries that precede the drawings are a curious thing. They, of course, give insight into one of our favorite American authors. She speaks gushingly of her courses and scholarship, along with her husband, poet Ted Hughes. To see the subjects and point of views change ever so slightly when she is in a new locale at a new point her life is where I find most pleasure.

Drawings is a brief book and by the end, I was unhappily reminded of a great writer who left us with too little. The book closes with a timeline of her life, which was a stark comparison to the jovial letters and diary entries that were included.

In the gallery below, I’ve chosen some of my favorites. Also, included is the article with illustration that Sylvia Plath had accepted by the Christian Science Monitor. 

Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets

courtesy of NPR.orgI am incredibly jealous of anyone who lives or will be visiting Washington D.C. in the near future (up to 28 April 2013 to be exact). The National Portrait Gallery is having an exhibition that “is putting faces to lines like, I sing the body electric.” According to NPR,

Poets are not the world’s most visible celebrities. Their fame is tied to their verbal achievements, not the way they look… that, in fact, 20th century poets were public figures with vivid visual personas.

If you’re like me and won’t have the opportunity to see this in person, the National Portrait Gallery has supplied some of the photographs and further information on their website.

every librarians worst nightmare

The image of a librarian slide tackling an X-Acto knife wielding artist was the precise visual that popped into my mind when I stumbled across the book sculptures of Alexander Korzer-Robinson.

The artist is precise in his collages and the book sculptures really are stunning. He uses mostly 19th Century children’s books filled with explorers and adventures in far-off places. According to his website,

I make book sculptures / cut books by working through a book, page by page, cutting around some of the illustrations while removing others. In this way, I build my composition using only the images found in the book.

When I looked through the artist’s work, I also couldn’t help but think of the illustrations of Henry Darger.

TO VIEW : slide show | artist’s website

‘Cartoons’ Of The Artist as a Young Woman

Exciting news for Flannery O’Connor fans–a new book entitled, Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons  is available. In the NPR article, Glen Weldon writes,

But to focus entirely on O’Connor’s linework is to miss the true insights these works afford. Because of course they aren’t still lifes or anatomy studies, they’re gags. Which is to say: stories, often darkly funny ones, distilled to their essence — captured in a snapshot and usually accompanied by a droll description or characterizing bit of dialogue. What better training ground for a fiction writer?

If you want a quick peek, NPR has also posted some excerpts.

New Directions and the verbal revolution

I recently had a German houseguest who was visiting the US for the first time (side note: he will be translating a story of mine for an Austrian anthology being released in November in Europe). Of course because the two of us are pseudo-writers, we had to hit up many book stores and I dragged him to literary events around the city. I always thought the books being published in Germany, et al were beautiful and looked like more craft was paid than over here in the States. He mentioned that the US editions were creative and came in all different sizes. But then…

We came across a copy of Anne Carson’s new translation, Antigonick being published by New Directions. A friend showed it to us and it is truly fantastic. In co-production with a visual artist, Antigonick is cloth-bound and offers translucent pages by the artist that cover Carson’s handwritten text. It is a complete artistic experience provided by New Directions. The words become art and the visual art becomes part of the text.

In an age when publishing is going down the tube and the reading audience (myself included), sometimes shops with its eyes, these smaller presses are wise to put exhaustive energy into their product. Many of these smaller presses are doing a great service by publishing long forgotten writers, works in translation, or exciting new writers that need exposure on the market.

Unfortunately, New Directions is no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts or queries, but perhaps, if the book industry gets back on its feet, small indie presses can offer this courtesy once again.

Allusions in Literature

As most of you know, I am reading The Woman in White (a real page turner, by the way). The book was originally published in its entirety in 1860. My copy is the Barnes & Noble Classics edition so it includes a lot of extra scholarly information: essays, timeline, footnotes, etc.

As I was reading the book last night, I would glance to the bottom of the page every now and then to see what little tidbit was being explained to me. Of course, any one of us could read this book without additional informational aids and enjoy it, but it is nice to know  that jog-trot acquaintances are habitual, routine acquaintances, not close friends [77].

However, there was a footnote to a reference about the Siren song. I thought this an easy one, especially, if you were educated in a Western school (I’ve read the Odyssey countless times when I was in school/college) and wondered why the editor would feel it necessary to include it.

It got me thinking about my academic past. I remembered that my fantastic senior year English teacher in high school emphasized how important mythical and biblical allusions are in literature and that everyone should know the basics. When I went off to college, I studied creative writing and classics. My focus in the classics department was Greek mythology and gender in society of ancient Greece (for three semesters, I even translated sections of the Old Testament in to English). I am the opposite of a religious person, but I think it very important to know stories from the Bible. I really enjoy academics and continued to take additional classes about southeast Asian religions and Islam while an undergrad.

I tried not to be a snob about the whole Siren song footnote and thought that I was just incredibly lucky in my high school schooling and in my own choices when I was a college student. I must admit that it’s been a number of years since I read up on any myths, but I really need to to keep my mind sharp. We can’t always know everything, but wouldn’t it be nice to really understand what’s happening in Faulkner’s  novels.

  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton Originally published in 1942, many people consider her book to be a good intro to classical myth. I hold the same opinion and think it’s a must have. This book has been around for decades and  you can probably find an incredibly cheap copy.
  • Theoi Greek Mythology I’ve only perused this sight for a few minutes but it seems to be jam-packed with tons of info and pictures. It also looks like the webmaster has taken great care in organizing all of the information.
  • Allusion in Prose and Poetry Some brief, yet, important examples of Biblical illusions in literature. At the top, there is also a great image of Jonah being swallowed by a whale.

The Squid & the Whale

original artwork by Matt Kish

Today’s post is going to be on the lighter side because of my night spent awake due to this stupid cough (mother–if you’re reading, yes, I’ll go to the doctor if it persists). When I was able to get a restful moment of sleep, I had a dream about a giant squid and a whale attacking each other. When I awoke, my head was just a whirl with literature. I think Moby Dick is a fantastic book and I am definitely proud that I’ve read the whole thing! I keep it right in the middle of my mantle and above it hangs a beautiful framed reproduction of a 19th C scientific drawing of a whale.

Around the time that I was conquering this giant book, someone sent me to a website featuring the artwork of Matt Kish. He has created artwork for each page of the novel. His art has been collected into a book that I’m sure is a beauty unto itself.

And of course, how could any New Yorker or any nautical lover for that matter forget the famous exhibit at the Museum of Natural History called “Clash of the Titans.” The diorama is located in the best room of the museum. Once one is done staring at the mammoth whale that hangs from floor to ceiling, you should swiftly make your way into the quiet, dark corner where the sperm whale and giant squid are duking it out. Fun fact: sperm whales can live between 50-80 years.

courtesy of Wikipedia

Speaking of the “Clash of the Titans” diorama, there is always the great film The Squid and the Whale. It has been awhile since I’ve seen it but I remember really liking it. The title is in reference to the diorama and the film is centered around the oldest son of two writers who are going through a bitter divorce.

To end this strange little post, I just wonder how many works of prose and visual art have been inspired by these two almost mythical beings of the deep. They are frightening creatures that seem to pop up in the arts and there is something always astonishing about them.

>>I’m also a big fan of the American painter, Winslow Homer, who is most famous now for his nautical paintings. My favorites are the ones that always feature a cloudy day at sea. A personal favorite: Eight Bells.