Bhrigu's question

कभी जो याद भी आता हूँ मैं तो कहते हैं के आज बज़्म में कुछ फ़ित्ना-ओ-फ़साद नहीं - मिर्ज़ा ग़ालिब

Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Manufactured fame and its aftermath

Kaavya Vishwanathan is in trouble. The hype was not caused by the media. It was the result of a campaign by Little, Brown and co to make the magnitude of the deal public. 'Opal Mehta' was very famous due to that reason alone. We are given to correlate quality with cost and most of us naively presumed that the surprisingly large advance for her work was indicative of the quality of her writing.

Valuing an artistic output

There are any number of genuinely good writers out there. The blog world has given a spotlight to literati to broadcast their talent. Unfortunately, it takes much more than talent to be successful. V. S. Naipaul has spoken rather eloquently on this subject.
But books are not created just in the mind. Books are physical objects. To write them, you need a certain kind of sensibility; you need a language, and a certain gift of language; and you need to possess a particular literary form. To get your name on the spine of the created physical object, you need a vast apparatus outside yourself. You need publishers, editors, designers, printers, binder; booksellers, critics, newspapers and magazines and television where the critics can say what they think of the book; and, of course, buyers and readers.

I want to stress this mundane side of things, because it is easy to take it for granted; it is easy to think of writing only in its personal, romantic aspect. Writing is a private act; but the published book, when it starts to live, speaks of the cooperation of a particular kind of society. The society has a certain degree of commercial organization. It also has certain cultural or imaginative needs. It doesn't believe that all poetry has already been written. It needs new stimuli, new writing; and it has the means of judging the new things that are offered.

In other words, it is the commercial value that publishers attach to a work of art, that determines the market that it will find. Ergo, if the very same people do not attach a value to it, it may not find a market. Thus, commercial considerations alone dictate the exposure given to an individual.

Why should critics pillory Kaavya?

Is this commercialization that I spoke about, bad? Not at all. In a free world, checks and balances are provided by critics and laymen. People who evaluate published works (or films, music) and give an opinion, however biased, about that work. Purchasers evaluate such critiques and then make up their mind whether to open their wallets or not. Consequently, critics have a great responsibility on their shoulders. They must speak up.

On why it matters

For a while now, it has not been easy for talent to succeed on its own merit. Mediocrity and crassness have been rewarded far too often. Kaavya did not so much write the book, as it was packaged by a bevy of professionals. The same ones who package boy/girl bands who cannot sing/play instruments, write lyrics or compose music, and materialise them into multi-million dollar successes.

Mediocrity should not be rewarded. Mediocrity that is backed by felony should be actively punished. Mediocrity & felony that is backed by nepotism and raw money power should be sought out and shamed.

Don't the folks who express sympathy with Kaavya worry about the double standards that send small time hungry thieves to jail while not doing a thing to touch white collar criminals? A well-healed private schooled, Harvard going child of wealthy doctors cannot plead ignorance about not knowing the difference between right and wrong. One should treat her the same way as one treats a inner city kid who steals change from a soda machine.

At least the kids of the friends of Kaavya's parents will be glad. Till this scandal came to light, they must've had their parents breathing down their collective necks with "Yennadi? Why can't you be more like Vishu maama's daughter?" Now these kids must be grinning from ear to ear.


Anonymous Dhananjay Joshi said...

What a wicked post! There appears to be a tinge of evil glee rather than a severe dressing down to Ms. Viswanathan.

Of course, I cannot bring myself to say, 'poor kid ... so sad', and have to agree that she must face the legal and moral consequences of her act. But for some reason, there is also a feeling that this case is only of an errant child getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Is it because of her naive and innocent-appearing justification of having 'internalised' the other books or is it just because she happens to be pretty?

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Satya said...


The word is "schadenfreude".

4:05 AM  
Blogger Confused & Baffled said...

I completely agree. I was shocked to read about the sheer mass of plagiarism Kaavya has bundled out in her one book. Even more shocking, however, is the entire ring of book packagers and publishers with their devious methods of authorship and "bestseller-manufacturing". Kaavya has got off far too lightly in this matter.

Another googly of the publishing world that has me baffled is the way sportspersons' autobiographies are made. Andrew Flintoff, Wayne Rooney (having had 18 glorious years of life) are "writing autobiographies" through other people. Ghost-writing to me seems a real shame. When I read books by eminent sportspersons, I look forward to not just his/her experiences but also to read the person's choice of words and manner of description. Thats what makes an author. Wayne Rooney has a 5-book deal worth millions of pounds, and the fool does not even know how to frame sentences.

11:40 PM  

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