Yet another bit of bad news about my old department. In the midst of my last grading push this morning I learned about James Twitchell’s sloppy cut-and-paste jobs (via Spinuzzi, who as usual is dead on). How disappointing. How stupid. Ironically, Virginia Postrel, one of the writers he ripped off, cited Twitchell multiple times in The Substance of Style. She’s been very gracious about it, in both her original post and a follow-up to an email I wrote her (no comments on her weblog).
Whether it was sloppy research or deliberately obscured borrowing (and it looks like the latter), I can’t understand why a tenured full professor with a billion books to his credit would do this. My first-year composition students were quick to observe that carefully tracing an argument to others makes the process of writing go quickly. All have realized it’s easier to cite than rip off. And several have said they are having fun as they try to pack in the connections to other work. Why not? As Clay and Virginia both write, the missed opportunity for extending the conversation is the biggest loss here.