Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, August 20, 2010

jest the second

So, in footnote 304 — ten thousand words or so ostensibly devoted to a history of Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents — we get a beautifully and truly prophetic account of online plagiarism, a topic of occasional interest here at TP. A teenager named James Struck consults the B.P.L. ArchFax database for information about this group, “one of the most feared cells in the annals of Canadian extremism,” while researching a paper he must write for his History of Canadian Unpleasantness class. And of course the possibility of copying and pasting from an online source is irresistible to him. He spends a lot of time thinking not only about what he’s going to steal but also how he’s going to conceal the theft — though as he grows more and more exhausted he also grows less and less self-critical, and ends up just tossing stuff in that surely will get him nabbed. Then:

What’s interesting to Hal Incandenza [the closest thing IJ has to a protagonist] about his take on Struck [and some other students] is that congenital plagiarists put so much more work into camouflaging their plagiarism than it would take just to write up an assignment from conceptual scratch. It usually seems like plagiarists aren’t lazy so much as kind of navigationally insecure. They have trouble navigating without a detailed map’s assurance that somebody has been this way before them. About this incredible painstaking care to hide and camouflage the plagiarism — whether it’s dishonesty or a kind of kleptomaniacal thrill-seeking or what — Hal hasn't developed much of any sort of take.

But surely the “navigationally insecure” — acute phrase, that — are unlikely to be thrill-seekers. Isn't it more likely that they’re not just hiding their sources, but also hiding — from themselves as much as from their teachers — the fact of their insecurity?

And one more thing: the article Struck plagiarizes explains that Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents have their origin in a game played by Québécois teenagers. It's called Le Jeu (or La Culte) du Prochain Train, and the goal of the game is to stand next to railroad tracks as a train approaches, with five other people, and to be the last of the six to leap across the tracks. Supposedly this leads to players who jump an instant too late and have their legs severed by the onrushing train. Now, here's the point: the whole story is completely nonsensical. You couldn't possibly play such a game. Start with the fact that the players would have to stand in a row so that they're not equidistant from the train; plus no one jumping across tracks would do so with legs neatly trailing behind to be conveniently severed (try it and see). The game is, I believe, only described in the article Struck consults — though it's mentioned in at least one other place without description — so maybe the article is completely fabricated. Maybe Struck is being suckered. (I haven't finished the book yet, so perhaps I'll find out.)

1 comments:

  • Michael Straight said...

    Or it's possible that although camouflaging plagiarism takes longer than writing a paper from scratch, some students find it much easier and feel like an hour of writing is much more work than two hours of plagiarism.

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