Update: Shattering the silence: An open letter to the Philippine writing community

Update: Yuson contract not renewed

Spot the similarities: If you haven’t already done so, it would be useful to follow Fire Quinito’s advice and compare Rey Joble’s original draft to the not-at-all-rewritten version published in GMA News Online to the Rogue article credited to Krip Yuson.

A sedate and straightforward apology would’ve been enough. Perhaps not for what Palanca Hall of Famer Krip Yuson himself terms “the usual lynch mob that marauds through social media,” which I suppose refers to such responses as this and this and this, i.e., those who have no kind words for his act of plagiarism (and apparently, as Yuson himself testifies, kind words have gone his way). But it would have quite efficiently catapulted those who bother to be bothered by such things–those who, at the very least, would not see apologizing for a mistake as particularly heroic–from indignation to weariness to amnesia. Granted, the apology rehashed the usual unsatisfying excuses for sloppy writing (lack of time, the pressure of the deadline) and unfairly complicated the said simple instance of sloppy writing by citing part-authorship of the source article, since Yuson edited the piece. Pero sige na, nag-sorry naman siya (somewhat), marami pang masmalaking problema sa mundo so move on na.

Which is why it is befuddling to see Yuson continue to belabor what is proving to be his non-apology in his latest column published by The Philippine Star. “Since then, of course, as I’ve heard from friends, I have been rendered into mincemeat. Thank goodness I have no time or taste for wallowing in mean-spirited bloodlust,” says Yuson of those not delighting in his defense of his plagiarism. “What matters is that Rey Joble has forgiven me. What matters is whether Howie Severino and Mari Ugarte believe my story. What matters is that friends and supporters who know me have pitched in with words of solace and encouragement.”

If being “rendered into mincemeat” means berating critics publishing in their blogs from the comfort of your column published by a major broadsheet, a column whose existence is clearly not under threat despite a mistake/violation that typically demands some kind of consequence (a failing grade when done by a student, resignation from one’s post when done by a public figure), then isn’t this a case of power clearly unthreatened to begin with cavalierly admonishing as “mean-spirited bloodlust” any dissenting–though apparently ultimately inconsequential–views on the matter? What’s a little shame for a mistake/violation when in the long run (minutes, hours, days later), no awards need to be returned, no posts need to be resigned from, and there are even “words of solace and encouragement” for the non-aggrieved party? As Yuson himself points out, he is more than able to reduce his case to a private affair, brushing off the reading public and involving only those he deems to matter–Rey Joble, Howie Severino, Mari Ugarte, friends and supporters. As Yuson himself points out, he continues to enjoy the perks of his job despite the plagiarism: “I wonder if I must also be doing something right since as I write this, I am enjoying something else anew, as part of a media fam-tour group on a Yangzi river cruise to the Three Gorges, and gorging all the way.” Despite strong words from a few dissenters, Yuson is clearly untouchable. Rubbing it in is overkill. So can he please please please please please stop talking?

I have an ongoing interest in plagiarism and appropriation in literature, concepts which I engage with in the poetry and nonfiction courses which I teach. I am also one to bristle at the knee-jerk conflation of plagiarism with crime, since plagiarism also functions as a generative method of composition in literature. I find it useful to turn to essays like Jonathan Lethem’s take on appropriation, published in Harper’s Magazine, and Travis Macdonald’s survey of erasure poetics to introduce such concepts. On the interplay between author and editor in the production of texts, I am reminded of the Raymond Carver-Gordon Lish tandem. Yuson’s piece for Rogue is not self-aware or self-reflexive in its engagement of plagiarism and author-editor relations, and so it really is uncalled for in this case to mask a case of sloppy writing with something more profound. That has to be said, although it is clear that Yuson will have the last laugh on this matter.