American Views Abroad

Friday, December 02, 2005
Brad Vice Followup

My article on Brad Vice received an anonymous comment which I will repeat here:
Hi Fred--

From today's New York Press:

"If Vice's plagiarizing from Carmer is in fact an homage to Southern literature, then how are we to regard Vice's plagiarizing from Dent? Is it an homage to the screwworm?"

Care to revise that "gross injustice...against Brad Vice" part of your post?

You were right about one thing. Mr. Vice's troubles are far from over.

Additionally I received a signed e-mail with the subject "Brad Vice stole again!!" and message "And now Brad Vice has been completely destroyed," then a link to the Robert Clark Young article.

To summarize, Brad Vice has been accused of plagiarism, has had his book "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train " and Flannery O'Connor award withdrawn, and stands now to lose his job. But from my point of view these charges of plagiarism are not at all clear cut. I have read the referenced article by Robert Clark Young. It indeed makes Brad Vice look bad. I still maintain it is a gross injustice to deny someone due process, to not examine both sides, before declaring them guilty.

I had never heard of Robert Clark Young until reading some of his comments at one of the Story South articles on Brad Vice. They struck me as being especially provocative, vindictive and uncalled for. I responded directly to these comments myself. Now it is no surprise that his name shows up on an article attempting to deliver the knock out punch to Mr. Vice. I do wonder about Mr. Young's motives and the energy he has apparently put into destroying a fellow author. Based on the comments and his volunteer investigation he seems to me to have some hidden agenda, which to some extent discredits his arguments.

My quick response to his New York Press article would be:

1) The original charges:
There is clear evidence that Brad Vice's story "Tuscaloosa Knights" was meant as an homage to Carl Carmer's work. The similar title suggests it implicitly and Mr. Vice has acknowledged it explicitly (before the controversy) in interviews.

I'm not in the literary profession per se but I know that there is a long tradition of borrowing and building upon which is something qualitatively different than plagiarism. It would probably be easy to build false cases of plagiarism based on an out of context comparison of texts, as Mr. Young does. My point is that a work must be judged as a whole, and passages judged in their context. Why does Mr. Young not want to do this, although doing so would be called upon by due process? I have read the story in question and see Mr. Vice's use of the Carmer passages as a valid literary device.

2) As for the new instance of alleged plagiarism:
What I remember about plagiarism, in the context of high school and university research papers is that it's not OK to repeat word for word passages, but that borrowed passages must be put into one's own words. Even in the line by line comparison shown in Mr. Young's article, this is clearly the case. There is gray area here, and this does not seem to me to be grounds to destroy someone.

3) Accusations of favoritism:
Mr. Young describes some of Mr. Vice's friends and associates at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and makes the accusation that Mr. Vice spends most of his time writing favorable reviews for his friends' and mentors' works in exchange for favorable reviews of his own works. I am not in a position to judge objectively, as I do not have an overview of Mr. Vice's critical writings or critical writings on Mr. Vice, though I know his work has been critically acclaimed. I do sense that an alternative explanation is possible, namely that Mr. Vice is simply a person who is very generous with his praise. I would take that to be a positive quality. I've often felt moved to review works that have impressed me, less so works that failed in their impression. This is not a unique motivation. On the other hand, if Mr. Vice is guilty of favoritism, Mr. Young is definitely guilty of the opposite, as he has shown himself to be very generous with his contempt, in the form of attacks and denunciations. That I call a very uninspiring human quality.

Anyone wishing to write a letter of support for Brad Vice to the committee at Mississippi State reviewing his employment may do so at:

Richard Raymond
316 Lee Hall
English Department
Mississippi State, MS 39762

Postscript: Two additional bloggers offer further light on the NY Press article: Michelle Richmond at Sans Serif and Hayden at From Here to Obscurity.

Storysouth has also published a response.

There are serious problems with Young's article. According to this, the Young ignored evidence and changed Vice's sentences to make it appear that they were plagiarized.
Thanks Steve. I hadn't seen your comment yet, and already posted a link to the new Storysouth article.
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