Quotation, Paraphrase, and Plagiarism: An Exchangeby Pavlos Roufos and Libcom
Dear Field Notes,
We’ve just seen Pavlos Roufos’s article, “The Aggressiveness of Vulnerability,” in the July 2018 Brooklyn Rail, which is partly a response to our two pieces on Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies. Unfortunately, we think the piece misrepresents our arguments, to the point of attributing quotes to us that aren’t in the pieces cited.
For example, Roufos asserts that “libcom’s post ‘informed’ its readers that Nagle’s book is ‘laughing at the alt-Right’s scapegoats,’ that she has performed a ‘leftist laundering of sexual assault,’ that she is transphobic and, essentially, a rape apologist.” In fact, the phrase “leftist laundering of sexual assault” appears nowhere in our articles, nor is it a paraphrase. The only mention of laundering is: “The right’s successful creation of a moral panic around campus free speech may in fact be a good illustration of a ‘Gramscian strategy’ (KAN, p. 98) of setting the political agenda through media and culture. But rather than critique this fabricated moral panic, KAN’s dubiously sourced analysis gives it a leftist laundering.”
We specifically did not claim a leftist laundering of sexual assault (or rape apologism), but claimed that dubious sourcing results in a laundering of right-wing campus free speech moral panics. Given that this section is complaining that we’ve accused someone of doing something they haven’t, it seems ironic to fabricate statements from us in order to make the claim. We’d appreciate a correction in this case.
Additionally, from another footnote: “The irony of claiming to be influenced by the Situationist International while at the same time accusing someone of plagiarism would be merely embarrassing if it wasn’t sad.” This does not mention that the article in question says “we don’t really give a shit about plagiarism as such.” Rather, the issue is how poor citations are used to make claims which “either do not stand up to scrutiny, or simply repeat alt-right narratives about themselves as Nagle’s own analysis” (see https://libcom.org/blog/angela-nagles-plagiarise-any-nonsense-03052018).
We’ve had a lot of bad-faith mischaracterization of our arguments by Nagle supporters; most we’ve ignored but decided to respond here due to the egregiousness of just making up a quote, and because your site is more reputable than most.
Pavlos Roufos Replies
Libcom claims that I misrepresented their arguments against Angela Nagle in my article, “The Aggressiveness of Vulnerability.” Something like that is always possible and mistakes should be corrected. This is not such a case.
Libcom provides two examples of my alleged misrepresentation: The first, accusing me of “attributing quotes to [libcom] that aren’t in the pieces cited,” concerns the following statement from my article: libcom’s post “informed” its readers that Nagle’s book is “laughing at the alt-Right’s scapegoats,” that she has performed a “leftist laundering of sexual assault,” that she is transphobic and, essentially, a rape apologist.
Interestingly, what libcom takes issue with is merely one phrase in this passage, “leftist laundering of sexual assault.” I admit that this sentence does not appear as such in the article and should therefore not have been put inside quotation marks. What does appear in libcom’s post is the charge that “rather than critique this fabricated moral panic, KAN’s dubiously sourced analysis gives it a leftist laundering.”
But what exactly is this “fabricated moral panic” that Nagle “laundered” for the left?
In the same part of the article from which the above passage is taken, libcom argues that Nagle “omits the substantive issue of sexual assault entirely,” an accusation repeated in the next paragraph. Then, directly before the “leftist laundering” passage, they write: “What does a complaint about an invited speaker in Cardiff have to do with the fallout of a sexual assault in Illinois? How are such scattered incidents parlayed into a transatlantic crisis of campus free speech? Any material analysis here would need to at least discuss the asymmetric nature of a culture war which pits well-funded professional pundits (such as Turning Point USA and their professorial watchlist, or the aforementioned Spiked and its UK university free speech rankings) against unpaid student activists—and often specific individual students protesting bigotry, harassment or assault.”
This is, then, the actual content given (by libcom, not me) to the “fabricated moral panic.” The issue of “sexual assault” is mentioned at least four times in the immediately preceding paragraphs, which go through a number of controversies before concluding that all the above can be summed up as the Right’s “fabricated moral panic.”
So even though I agree that the sentence “leftist laundering of sexual assault” should not have been given as a direct quotation, it is pretty obvious that only someone who cannot read (or understand what they write) could claim that the “fabricated moral panic” of the Right is not related to the issue of ”sexual assault”, which Nagle is accused of “laundering.” Paraphrasing is not the same as quoting, I grant that, but complaining about misplaced quotation marks or bad citations is not the same as radical critique either.
The second example of misrepresentation concerns my assertion that it “would be embarrassing, if it wasn’t sad” for a website that claims to be influenced by the Situationist International to complain about plagiarism. Libcom’s letter to the Rail points out that they explicitly say in their article that they “don’t really give a shit about plagiarism.” I have to admit that I was particularly puzzled by this complaint. One is forced to wonder why someone who “doesn’t give a shit about plagiarism” would repeatedly accuse Nagle of precisely that in the libcom (or individual administrators’) twitter exchanges. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why someone who “does not really give a shit about plagiarism” would title their article “Angela Nagle’s Plagiarize Any Nonsense.” But even if libcom likes to pretend that its exchanges on twitter or its article titles are irrelevant, the situation is actually worse. Their very explanation of what they mean when they “don’t give a shit about plagiarism,” is a very peculiar (and quite clearly anti-Situationist) definition of plagiarism: for libcom, we read, plagiarism is ok when related to news events; if “19 news sources have a similar account of that event, it doesn’t necessarily make any difference which source you use as the basis of your own writing—they’ve probably copied it from another source themselves anyway.” Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Situationist embrace of plagiarism would find libcom’s approach “embarrassing, if it wasn’t sad.”
My article’s key criticism of libcom was that their “critique” of Nagle’s book (and of her as a person) proceeds through the filters of identitarianism, which leads them to present her as a veritable monster. There is no critique of the content of Nagle’s book but instead an academic-style complaint about bad citations and insinuations about her motives and her “real political beliefs,” such as her views on rape, sexual assault, and transgender issues. Instead of responding to my arguments, libcom complains about misplaced quotation marks, while presenting a very unusual understanding of the notion of plagiarism. Perhaps nothing else is needed to indicate their inability to read (or even write) properly but I cannot resist the temptation of mentioning that at the end of their letter they call me a “supporter of Nagle” . . . I rest my case.