Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ms. Viswanathan – you do words a great disservice

For writers, the act of putting particular words in a particular order is our hard labor. Even when the result is mediocre and unoriginal, it is our own mediocrity.” - David Plotz

in-ter-nal-ize: to give a subjective character to; specif : to incorporate (as values and patterns of culture) within the self as conscious or unconscious guiding principles through learning and socialization – in-ter-nal-i-za-tion.

In other words - my own to be exact - taking in an object, and then producing from it, a subjective and/or emotional representation. To internalize something, is to either reflect deeply upon its implications or be existentially altered by its presence.
For instance, an airplane in the sky is an object. Objectively, it is an airplane; nothing more and nothing less. Although many fail to do so, journalists are supposed to represent only objects – “There is an airplane in the sky.” Nothing more – nothing less.

But subjectively, the airplane might represent humankind’s longing to rise above earthly misery or, perhaps it is mankind mocking the ancient gods, or maybe the airplane represents the sorrow we feel when saying goodbye to loved ones. Writers are supposed to show us subjects. More importantly, different writers can represent the same object very differently. That is the difference between objective and subjective writing – journalism and storytelling.

Enter, the unashamed, Harvard undergraduate, Kaavya Viswanathan. She presented her book as an original story, not as a news report. Ms. Viswanathan took in objects but then gave us back objects – the same objects - albeit a bit distorted from their original state. That’s not internalization, its plagiarism.
And you understand of course, we are not talking about repeating a lone, but relevant phrase or reusing a mutual expression that we also relate to emotionally - for that is a simple and active part of cultural transmittence. Plain and simple.

Some of you may think this a trivial matter but, there are some of us for whom literature is an important measure of intellectual horizons; of cultural expediency. In death, our written words speak for us because no one else will. And why are our words so important in life? Well, I think a phrase from a 1968 Bee Gee’s hit song is appropriate here:

It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.
-Just a peasant
Photo from the Fountain Pen Network