Friday, August 10, 2007

Did Theresa Duncan borrow or did she steal?

I've just found Ghost of a Flea's blog. He apparently knew Duncan and sparred with her. (I believe this was limited to verbal jousting, but I could be wrong. In one of her posts Duncan claimed to be taking fencing classes.). Now, post mortem, he's a bit of an apologist for the Wit.

Flea writes:

There are some people who would read irresponsible fantasy, even duplicity, into creating a second life like this. Oscar Wilde had a different name for the practice, viz Art. William Blake, the Imagination.

I believe he is referring to Duncan's Lunar Society posts. And, if I'm reading this correctly, I agree with Flea here. At least with the first part of what he says. Anybody who took Theresa Duncan's fantastic Lunar Society posts literally is an idiot and deserves to be "deceived." Clearly these were meant to be amusing vignettes into an imaginary world. This is perfectly okay--totally permissible. Unfortunately Duncan's Lunar Society posts were hackneyed and derivative, the literary equivalent of Penthouse Forum. You can almost hear her getting off as you read them.

On the topic of Duncan's literary "borrowing," in response to Seaword, Flea writes:

Though I should add Americans - and Canadians - tend to take the view that every reference must be made explicit in order to be legitimate. This is not the case in French scholarship. In a country where it is still possible to assume a readership with a classical education there is no need to telegraph an allusion to Plato. Sadly, the English-speaking world has a created a culture where sensible people can quote Scripture or Shakespeare and have not a clue they are so doing.

We are not talking about that in this blog. We're talking about Duncan's blatant plagiarism from ordinary sources like Wikipedia, not Plato. She lifted whole paragraphs from other sources, made a few minor tweaks and posted them as her own. (Some of her lifts are embedded, so they appear to be quite deliberate.) Now, this may be essentially a victimless crime. But for the love of God and of all the bullshit that's written in the holy books, let's not call her writing brilliant!

What I've dug up so far proves how very ordinary and common Duncan was. The quintessential Hollywood wannabe. This story is fascinating because those of us who live in this town recognize the universality of the themes. The struggle against the grind, the need to create a persona with an aura and a mystique, to "brand" oneself creatively and yet be considered commercial enough. To use crude industryspeak: to be fuckable.

The fact that Duncan was a plagiarist, a woman who pretended to be something she was not (for one thing she pretended to be younger than she was and she clearly pretended to be a blonde), does not make her any less interesting. In fact she is fascinating, but perhaps not for the reasons she would want to be.


fredricktoo said...

will you get 1/1000th the attention you seem to crave when you commit suicide? I do hope so.

arebours said...

I take your point-it is galling to hear people being called"brilliant"over and over,when it is really style over substance-yet it seems premature to jump on this,bodies barely cold etc.

Kate Coe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate Coe said...

I deleted my first comment, because I didn't sign it. I'm Kate Coe.

I don't agree--and I'm one of the journalists who wrote about her and her work. Duncan did create (working with others, credited or not) genuinely original and innovative work in CD-Roms and animated film (The History of Glamour is clever and smart and even a little touching).

When she came to LA, Hollywood was busy scooping up ideas from a zillion different places, because the usual sources for movies weren't very good. But, CD-Roms were the perfect medium for small groups of creative and passionate people. Movies are the perfect medium for large groups of people who want to make money.

Duncan might seem like just a wanna-be, but compare her to Brett Ratner, and she's like Balenciaga to his Juicy Couture. She did try, with all her heart--she wrote the scripts and took the meetings and pitched great ideas. She wasn't just some poseur with a laptop at a Coffee Bean table.

She talked and wrote about people and ideas that most Hollywood types have never heard of and could care less about. Being too smart out here can shut you off from the main crowd very quickly.

I admit that I don't know what the Eureka! moment (if any existed) was when she and Blake decided that Beck's church was deliberately thwarting them. Her first agent told me, too late for my story, that he had many clients who blamed their lack of professional progress on various people or organizations (including but not limited to, the Church of L. Ron, the Republican party, the Democratic party, the NRA, the NFL, and parents whose kids went to Crossroads School).

I was not part of her inner circle of friends, nor have I presented myself as such. But I did know her, and even when I thought she was embroidering a little or a lot, I liked her. She was funny as hell, very smart and more down to earth than her blog would present.

But I love a mystery as much as the next person, and I was fascinated as the layers of the story peeled away, and I know that admission seems ghoulish, even for a journalist. I wish with all my heart that she and Jeremy had had a happier ending in NYC.

WendyB said...

There seems to be of a JT Leroy aspect to TD, no?

HEK said...

Greetings, fellow Duncanologists:

I'll begin with an unusual ploy; that is, to agree both with Poulet and Ms. Coe, for varying reasons.

Yes, Poulet hath shewn that, indeed, Duncan filched from Wikipedia and other sources, without obvious notation as from whence the material came. But, as Ms. Coe features, I agree that Duncan possessed ideas of her own and was working to create in a new media way.

Now, if that media allows a creator to slolom around the Akashic Library and pick up oddments during her caroming, there's the nubbin. How does one govern that behavior? Can you? What's the point? You enter into new media with the ethics you have, not the ethics you expect others to either a) have, b) invent later. That's an interesting aspect to this whole event -- which now, due to the sad turn, we are given to nattering about.

But more to the point raised by Ms. Coe, and an underlying part of the story. It's very, well, "Sunset Boulevard"/"The Player"/"Speed-the-Plow"/"Children of Light" isn't it? All of those works set in the film industry have death at their center, either by suicide or murder.

Feeding the starmaking machinery of U.S. popular culture is an awful business, yet those with a certain disposition fly to it like those proverbial moths. Some who make it chose to live outside the circle, and a few just quit.

Problem is, you have to get in too deep to learn firsthand of the viciousness employed by that "bitch goddess" fame. We speak of a well known, charismatic person--whether in politics, art or pop music--as being a "rock star." Upon reflection, this description is somewhat dubious considering how many "rock stars" flame out due to the various endulgences of their worst habits that money and access allow them.

This yearning for self-validation through mass media is a kind of, well, illness. You can go back to Nathanael West's grotesqueries in "The Day of the Locust."

Theresa Duncan was ambitious--she once described herself as "predatory" (But was she serious? Who knows.) She desired to stake her claim in the culture. That's not a crime.

Far worse characters than she have made it to the top of the worm-squirming heap, and little caring whose arm they broke or what eye they poked out to get there.

How all that relates to what happened between Duncan and Jeremy Blake, and that whole Scientology/psy-ops mishigas --

-- Frankly, I think all you needs do is go back to Euripdes: "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."

But if nobody knows you're mad, or if they know but cannot or will not say -- what hope is there for one thus made mad?

The clouds at last blot the sun. Then you walk into the ocean.

Anonymous said...

the LA LUNAR SOCIETY exists...maybe not now.You don't know cos' you weren't invited wanker,wonk,dickless,nameless snitch bitch.Katie Coe is an asshole-just like Monica Gensue people only know who you are cos' of Theresa,only thing is-we don't care who you are-you've estab'd your rep as the one who throws water on the witch-but BIG BAD WIT ain't dead-
had you payed a little more attention to the Staircase-you could have attended a NY annex edition of the Lunar Society,Wit included a link to directions for the event.
What is your evidence of plagiarism across the Staircase...everything I read lists the author just below the passage,use of quotation marks-never citing herself as author-you do know when she's writing about herself-the section on Detroit for example.
THE HISTORY OF GLAMOUR is execellent-the central character is Theresa in many ways,primarily the depictions of life shooting guns,and dreaming of rocknroll-there is also a clue to what the LA Lunar Society is- only in the film it's a wild variation.

Good writers borrow,great writers steal. Who said this? I did.

Kate what have you ever iterated
what have you done since writing about Theresa D. What have you created that demonstrates anything of interest about you?
Exactly!...Nada tostada!


Kate Coe said...

Mike, you're a little late defending against the plagiarism charges.