In praise of plagiarism

Many books, poems and art are fine, but in need of improvement by a more skilful hand, or just a different voice. Some great authors have built monuments which define style and art, but most have slips that could benefit from a brush-up or are in places a semi-tone off. Another hand could step in and make it perfect, but modern sensibilities condemn this as a cheat’s trade.

Without constructive plagiarism, we would lack several great plays by Shakespeare: Hamlet was a complete lift from Thomas Kyd’s version, which itself was from Saxo Grammaticus; the Merchant of Venice is largely swiped from Marlowe’s grim The Jew of Malta. Each was written when the original writer was barely cold in the grave, but each was turned inside out and improved immeasurably.  Bach swiped others’ tunes continually and magically transformed them into something new. A great artist need not be completely original when he can be an alchemist, performing transmutation of weak material into gold.

In the modern day though, this treatment of another’s work unless radically undone and rewritten is looked down upon as if it were a sort of theft.

We do permit radical film adaptations, because it is such a different medium. I never hear complaints against Coppola that he stole from Conrad when he made Apocalypse Now, because it is a new work of art adopted from Conrad’s work. It can be an improvement: Ray Bradbury said that the changed ending in the (original) film version of his most celebrated novel was possibly a better conclusion that the ending he wrote. (That is a curse for a writer who creates such perfect fluidity of plot – how can it end? The ending is where many great works fail.) As a book, I would count Fahrenheit 451 amongst those great works which should not be bowdlerised, of which it would otherwise be in danger because at least a shadow of it has become part of common culture, and because what was when written a work of wildly fantastical dystopian fiction is becoming, horribly, prescient. For film adaptation, changes are necessary for the medium.

Not all works deserve such reverent preservation: the books that fade out in the middle; the poems that have a couple of great lines and an idea but then turn mediocre; the film which wastes its premise; the music that find a pretty section and repeats it endlessly for want anything better – I would argue that we should be happy for an artist to improve on these.

It is part of our preconception of art and literature that it should be a single, inspired piece. That is an attractive idea, but I would say it comes more from a superstitious desire for purity than from rational consideration. As we know though, the love of purity is at odds with the creative spirit.

If a fine house is built, but the garage at the side is poorly proportioned, we do not insist that the whole house be demolished and started from the foundations:  we get a new builder to knock the poor bits down and build then better. If a good book has almost been written but goes wrong somewhere, it makes sense to let someone write it. Editors of cheap novels arrange that more than you might think: they are not daft. In the film world they understand this very well: when a film goes awry, the studio sacks the director or the scriptwriters, but keeps as much as possible of the good work they have already done. (Sometimes they get it wrong, which is why the Director’s Cut is often better than the original. There is, for a true artist, such a thing as purity of conception.)

Shakespeare did not face copyright claims, so he could do what he liked with other people’s work. Today we would need permission, and the profit of any ‘improved’ book would go mainly to the original author whose donkey-work has provided the bulk of it. That accepted, there is no other reason not to revisit works which could be improved markedly by others. I read plenty of poetry I would like to rewrite.

It is not cheating but perfecting; not dishonouring an original author, but making their hard work flower into what it deserves to be.

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Books

Justice And Injustice What

And in this law of Nature, consisteth the Fountain and Originall of JUSTICE. For where no Covenant hath preceded, there hath no Right been transferred, and every man has right to every thing; and consequently, no action can be Unjust. But when a Covenant is made, then to break it is Unjust: And the definition of INJUSTICE, is no other than The Not Performance Of Covenant. And whatsoever is not Unjust, is Just.

Justice And Propriety Begin With The Constitution of Common-wealth But because Covenants of mutuall trust, where there is a feare of not performance on either part, (as hath been said in the former Chapter,) are invalid; though the Originall of Justice be the making of Covenants; yet Injustice actually there can be none, till the cause of such feare be taken away; which while men are in the naturall condition of Warre, cannot be done.

Therefore before the names of Just, and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive Power, to compell men equally to the performance of their Covenants, by the terrour of some punishment, greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their Covenant; and to make good that Propriety, which by mutuall Contract men acquire, in recompence of the universall Right they abandon: and such power there is none before the erection of a Common-wealth.

And this is also to be gathered out of the ordinary definition of Justice in the Schooles: For they say, that “Justice is the constant Will of giving to every man his own.” And therefore where there is no Own, that is, no Propriety, there is no Injustice; and where there is no coerceive Power erected, that is, where there is no Common-wealth, there is no Propriety; all men having Right to all things: Therefore where there is no Common-wealth, there nothing is Unjust. So that the nature of Justice, consisteth in keeping of valid Covenants: but the Validity of Covenants begins not but with the Constitution of a Civill Power, sufficient to compell men to keep them: And then it is also that Propriety begins.

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Books

A stronger President than we realise

It did not look good for him. Though the centre of a scrum of adulation amounting almost to worship, and the honeymoon period the press are determined to keep going, President Biden’s political position is in a fine balance. That counter-intuitively may make him all the stronger.

The American system is hard to get a flavour of from British preconceptions: a Prime Minister’s strength depends on the size of his majority, if any, and the relative rebelliousness of the members in their party, and he or she may be tumbled out of his office at a moment. Australian Prime Ministers are with indecent frequency. In America though the Presidency is winner-takes-all and he is emplaced ,practically immovably for four years.

Even so, the Congress cannot be ignored, and he does not control it. The Senate is teetering with Mr Biden’s party in control only by the Vice-President’s casting vote. The House of Representatives is his party’s, but not overwhelmingly, and even in that unfortunate country’s state of angry bifurcation, party discipline is not so strong, nor need it be as their behaviour does not determine the rise and fall of the President’s government.

This may be an advantage to the new President. His opposition is not just from the Republican Party: his most dangerous opposition is from his own party. In that struggle, the presence of resistance from Congress is an ally.

President Biden’s first actions are in the immediate spotlight in the way his future actions may not be, and here he sets the tone, or what he wants to appear to be the tone for the next four years. Wisely, he has struck with a string of orders overturning his predecessor’s legacy, and that has generated the headlines he wanted. The orders in question may be quite ordinary and as expected, reversing Donald Trump’s isolationism and with a good deal of symbolism laid on. This will be an important impression of himself to lay down to the voting public and also to his own party, seething at his heels.

You see, his party has become filled with radicals quite opposed to the old values of the party (and by old values I am not going back to the days when it was the party of slavery, but what it established in more recent ages) and those radicals will be disappointed if he does to impose their wild, foolish, unconstitutional visions. The accusation is waiting, hovering waiting to drop: ‘Vote Biden; Get Trump’. He must deflect that accusation before it falls; firstly by projecting himself within the halo he currently enjoys, and secondly by resisting radical action because it cannot get through Congress.

The balanced Senate is an ally in particular: as the Senate must confirm many of his important appointments, knowing they will not approve a nutcase (to use the technical term) will allow Mr Biden to appoint moderates.

The Supreme Court is another opportunity disguised as a threat. It is said now to be dominated by conservative justices, and this has infuriate radical Democrats. That is not a logical fury though: while liberal justices have been active in overturning Acts of Congress to impose their personal vision, the ideology of conservative justices is the opposite: the prevailing doctrine is to read the Constitution as it is written and not to make rules up from their own preferences. In that case, when Mr Biden gets his legislation through Congress, he wants conservative justices there who will not interfere with it.

It is the radical Democrats who have more of an interest in trying to appoint a court which overrules the democratically elected Houses of Congress – which sheds a great deal of doubt on their being entitled to be called ‘democrats’ at all.

The tensions then and the blind hatred of the extremes, making a mockery of the pleas for unity, should ensure (if handled wisely) that the moderate path in all endeavours is the surest route to follow. That may be how Joe Biden can defeat both sides and be his own man.

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Joe Biden’s inaugural speech leaked – exclusive

Joe Biden’s speech for his Presidential inauguration tomorrow; revealed exclusively here:

All my life I have had a certain idea of America.  This sentiment inspires me as well as reason does. That which is the emotional part of me naturally imagines America, like the princess of the stories or the Madonna in the frescoes, as vowed to an eminent, exceptional destiny. I have instinctively the impression that Providence created it for successes achieved or exemplary misfortunes. 

If it happens that mediocrity nevertheless marks its actions and gestures, I experience the sensation of an absurd anomaly, to be imputed to the faults of the American people, not to the spirt of the motherland. 

But also the positive side of my mind convinces me that America is really itself only at the forefront; which alone, vast enterprises are likely to compensate for the ferment of dispersion that his people carry within themselves, which our country, such as it is, among others, such as they are, must, on pain of mortal danger, aim high and stand erect.

In short, to my mind, America cannot be America without greatness.

Friends, Americans, countrymen, I come to bury Trump, not to praise him. For twelve score and four years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

It’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.

Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together, we will make America great again. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

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What did You do in the Culture War?

It has to come to this: action or defeat. Act, and wisely. First realise that this is not a two-sided fight: the new-left and alt-right are both the enemy to the values of good sense and freedom; the ideals of the English-speaking world.

What to though: what can be done by someone with no influence nor any real desire to be shunned at social gatherings, when they are finally allowed?

For one thing, ask yourself why you think you would be shunned for acting as you must or expressing opinions which are actually those of the great majority of people. What actual power do the new-left have over you or polite society?  They have none but the power your fear gives them. The first enemies to defeat are your own lack of confidence and your fear of shadows.

The left-wing, the woke mob, whatever you call the general tendency, do not have a monopoly of spoken opinion. Even if they have the numbers, they cannot dominate because modern media does not work like that. Looking at America, it has in this generation few journalists worthy of the name, but a variety of online media which has broken the dull conformity. The mainstream channels can pump out lazy platitudes and woke nonsense all they like, but Ben Shapiro on his own can have just as much reach alone in a studio. That is how opinion balances in the open market: one young man can beat ten thousand hardened journalists.

Then again, Ben Shapiro is a genius. Were he not there, we would be in trouble. He has the reach with others do not have, and he can do more. Recently his company even launched a film studio, specifically to break the dominance of the woke-bound big players.

Jordan Peterson is another, calling out nonsense on both sides: who would imagine that a university lecture series on clinical psychology would be getting million+ hits on YouTube? It works because he speaks plainly and truthfully. A lecture series full of mendacious left-wing platitudes would fall flat.

A hundred years ago there were Marxists feeling frustrated that whatever they did, the Establishment institutions were in other hands and they would make no progress in breaking and remaking society until they could achieve a Long March through the Institutions. Well, now they have achieved that and are in command of the heights. Now it needs a Long March of common sense to drive them off.

Most of us are not capable of doing such great works as those like Ben Shapiro, but there must be things to do – the left-wing do not stop just because they are incapable.

First then, I will look at where those with power get that power, and how they pretend to power they do not have. There will be articles to follow. That is my target. What is yours?

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