Monday, January 19, 2015
Now Martí Was a "Plagiarist"
I often ask myself — "What's the next slander that will be directed at Martí?"
Once upon a time, his hagiographers, with all the best intentions in the world, encumbered Martí with enough praise to break the reputation of any other man; for Christ Himself, to whom Martí was often compared, would have strained to bear the weight of so many perfections. Still, that is Christ's job; it is not Martí's.
As might have been expected all along, the hagiographers have now been challenged by the detractors, whose intentions are decidedly not good, though they claim that by presenting Martí "warts and all," they are doing a service to his memory by making it possible for mortals to relate to him as what he was — a man, not a bundle of perfections, but, rather, a bundle of imperfections.
Between the hagiographers and the detractors, I will cast my lot with the hagiographers; they may exaggerate Martí's virtues and accomplishments, but they do not invent them; there is always a foundation and usually a firm foundation on which to build their panegyrics. It is otherwise with his detractors. They are the real fabulists. Whether claiming that Martí sired an illegitimate daughter while living under the roof of her legal father, or alleging on the basis of a misinterpreted poem that he was gay or at least homoerotic (while, also, paradoxically, homophobic), or asserting, in the absence of all evidence, that Martí was a Marxist, or a racist, or an elitist, Martí's detractors must rely on convoluted thinking and a profound ignorance of his life and writings to fabricate these libels, which because they can be easily disproved in every case do not so much alter his biography as distort his public image.
The latest of these misrepresentations is found in Pablo L. Calvi's The Parrot and the Cannon: Journalism, Literature and Politics in the Formation of Latin American Identities. I read this doctoral dissertation presented at Columbia University in 2011 with interest and even admiration until I came to the chapter on José Martí. Professor Calvi (who now teaches at Ithaca College) did not have to allege that Martí was a "plagiarist" to "illustrate the difference between the notions of factuality, reality and journalistic truth as conceived in Latin America and the United States, while describing the origins of Latin American militant journalism as a social-historical." But it was useful, I suppose, to expose at least one (actually, one) Latin American "plagiarist" to bolster the supposed superiority of U.S. journalism over Latin American journalism, especially when the alleged "plagiarist" happens to be the most famous and influential journalist in Latin America history.
Since Calvi's thesis concerned truth in journalism as practiced in the U.S. and Latin America, plagiarism was not even germane; a plagiarist may, after all, tell the truth even if he does so in another's words. He is personally and professionally dishonest but not necessarily a purveyor of factual untruths. In fact, a plagiarist may tell the truth in borrowed words when an original writer does not in his own words; and a plagiarist may also be right when an original writer is not. In writing his thesis, Calvi should have been more concerned with journalistic frauds (such as Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews; Miguel Quevedo and Gabriel García Márquez)) than with apocryphal plagiarists. Of course, it would have been another matter if Calvi had been writing about journalistic ethics rather than journalistic truth.
Here is how doctoral candidate (now Professor) Pablo L. Calvi determined that Martí was a "plagiarist" based on the "proof" presented forty years ago by Professor Kessel Schwartz:
Martí was not strictly a reporter but rather a foreign correspondent. In that vein, and contrary to the trend of journalist-witness that had started in American journalism during the Civil War, the Cuban was rarely a direct witness of the events he wrote about (González 1993, 91; Tucher 2006, 145). With a few notable exceptions, Martí’s chronicles from New York were summaries of weekly events gathered from local newspapers, magazines and other news sources. It is therefore relevant to note that, as Kessel Schwartz has documented following Martí’s coverage of the assassination of President James Garfield, in his compositions “Martí relied heavily on and rephrased, paraphrased, and plagiarized from his favorite newspaper, the New York Herald” (Schwartz 1973, 335-342). A paragraph from the Herald coverage of Garfield’s assassination quoted by Schwartz stands out as the proof of this mechanism. By an unknown Herald’s writer it reads:
No verdict of yours can recall him. He sleeps the sleep that knows no waking on the banks of Lake Erie whose limpid waters wash the boundaries of his native state, overlooking the city he loved so well, and beneath the sod of that State whose people had crowned his life with the highest honors. It is too late to call that husband back to the bereaved wife and fatherless children. For that waiting little mother whose face will never fade from the nation’s memory there will be no relief in this world. The fatal deed is done, and its horrors and griefs must remain.
Without attribution, Martí translated for his article in La Nación as follows:
Ningún veredicto vuestro, decía a los jurados, puede ya llamarlo: duerme el ilustre Garfield el sueño que no conoce despertar, sobre la pacífica ribera del lago Erie, cuyas límpidas aguas bañan los límites de su nativo Estado; duerme en aquella ciudad que él amó tanto, y bajo el suelo del Estado aquel que coronó su vida con los más altos honores. Es demasiado tarde para volver aquel esposo a la doliente esposa, a los desheredados hijos: que en cuanto aquella vigilante madrecita, cuyo rostro no se borrará jamás de la memoria de la Nación, no hay ya en la tierra alivio para ella. Cierto es el fatal caso, y vivos quedan para siempre sus horrores y penas.
Schwartz and Calvi are very poor readers of Spanish, or else they would have known immediately that both the Herald writer and Martí were quoting the District Attorney's summation to the jury at Garfield's trial. This obvious conclusion does not require any deductive thinking or research: Martí states clearly his source within the quotation itself, and if he does not footnote it, it is only because this is a newspaper account, not an academic paper. Martí called attention to the quotation with "decía a los jurados," or "he told the jury." Who was addressing the jury? Clearly, the District Attorney, for it is inconceivable from the content that the defense counsel would so have prejudiced the jury against his own client. Although nothing could be more apparent to any competent reader of Spanish, I still took the time to google the quotation and found its source immediately. It appeared in the Court Transcript of Guiteau's trial and was, indeed, spoken by District Attorney Mr. George B. Corkhill.
Pedro Calvi said...
Hay muchísimas instancias en las que Martí traduce literalmente al Herald en su cobertura del juicio a Guiteau.
La primera de estas referencias es la que toma del diario del 15 de noviembre: “Guiteau entered. His face evidenced fear. His eyes gleamed and danced as if he were inspired by dread of some danger. He threw a quick but timid glance at the crowd and then sat with head downward,” escribe el reportero del Herald. Y Martí traduce literalmente: “Va lleno de espanto. Sus ojos giran de prisa como los de quien busca un peligro que teme. Con mirada rápida y humilde, como para no excitar ira, ve al público. Y se sienta con la cabeza baja.”
Martí también toma sin cambios las descripciones de los miembros del jurado que el periodista del Herald envía en su despacho del 17 de noviembre: Al hablar de William Browner, por ejemplo, el reportero señala que “[he] believes in different phases of insanity, and though not a church member, he believes in God and a future state of rewards and punishments.” Martí lo sigue así: “William Brawner [sic] cree que existen diversos grados de demencia y que aunque no es persona devote, cree en Dios y en una vida futura de penas y castigos.”
Martí también toma sin modificar la descripción del ataque a Guiteau de la edición del 20 de noviembre del Herald que dice: “The ball penetrated the side of the van, grazing the top of his left arm. Guiteau’s coat and shirt sleeve were torn by the bullet.” Martí traduce: “De pronto una bala rompe la pared de hierro del carro… La bala tibia ya, rompió su levita e hizo una contusión en uno de sus brazos.”
Se puede seguir enumerando ejemplos de este mecanismo hasta agotar la cobertura completa del Herald y la de Martí, Manuel. Claro que hay variaciones, porque el Cubano está traduciendo del Inglés al Castellano. Y aunque a veces embellece la prosa y agrega detalles imaginarios, en muchos de estos pasajes la traducción se ciñe al original sin escena tras escena.
Además, resulta bastante improbable que Martí haya tenido acceso directo a las transcripciones de los testimonios del juicio, por lo que seguramente también éstas las obtenía del Herald. Esto sería muy fácil de probar, simplemente triangulando las transcripciones oficiales, lo que el Herald reprodujo y lo que Martí tradujo.
Mi trabajo del 2011 no intenta menospreciar la calidad literario-poética de Martí, que es uno de los escritores que más admiro. Lo que intento rastrear en mi tesis es una tradición de periodismo que no se basa en la observación directa del evento y que en América del Sur llamamos crónica.
Te recomiendo que releas el trabajo que escribí sin ofenderte de antemano, si es que de verdad te interesa saber cómo trabajaba Martí. Y mucho más te recomiendo que leas el paper de Schwartz que es inobjetable. Y en cuanto a las defensas de Martí, dejalo que se defiende bien solito.
Un cordial saludo.
First, I must commend the alacrity with which you answered me. Google is really a marvel. I google my own name every day to see what others are saying about me, too.
Do not think that your allegation of "plagiarism" on Martí's part surprised much less shocked me. Kessel Schwartz's accusation didn't surprise or shock me in 1973, either. In fact, Professor Schwartz was not the first to document that Martí had relied heavily on his sources. That distinction belongs to Marcia Yoskowitz, whose "El arte de síntesis e interpretación: un estudio de 'El Terremoto de Charleston' de José Martí" was published in Cuadernos Americanos, XXVII, 6, (Nov.-Dec. 1968). Yoskowitz, however, never used the word "plagiarism" in her article, though pointing out even more commonplaces than Schwartz did. In her introduction she writes: "La crónica de José Martí, titulada 'El Terremoto de Charleston", es una síntesis bellamente transformada e interpretada del reportaje periodístico neoyorquino sobre el desastre que tuvo lugar en Charleston, South Carolina, durante la primera semana de septiembre de 1886". After having compared, side by side, similarities between Martí's crónica and articles published in The New York Tribune, The New York Sun and The New York World, Yoskowitz concludes: "En esta crónica Martí ha eliminado la monotonía de los artículos periodísticos y ha dado a su síntesis de los hechos otras funciones además de la de resumir y describir lo que había ocurrido. Aunque a veces se parezcan bastante los artículos y la crónica, sólo la crónica de Martí revela un propósito artístico y filosófico. Impregnado de los ingredientes estilísticos salientes de Martí, 'El Terremoto de Charleston' es una de las crónicas que les presta a las 'Escenas Norteamericanas' la belleza y profundidad propias de la obra de José Martí".
Kessel Schwartz, the first to level the charge of "plagiarism" at Martí, was a professor at Miami University when the first wave of Cuban exiles arrived in Florida. Among them, of course, were the leading Cuban academics and intellectuals of the Republican era. Kessel, an Hispanicist of some note in this country, suddenly found himself surrounded by an army of experts (or "rivals") who knew profoundly what he only knew superficially and as a dilettante. Their "invasion" and eventual conquest of his domain could not go unchallenged: at Miami University he was literally on the front line of this attack and naturally felt more besieged and paranoid than others in his position elsewhere. That was the genesis of his article "José Martí. The New York Herald and President Garfield's Assassin," published in Hispania 56 (1973), where he first alleged that Martí was guilty of "plagiarism." Of course, Martí was only the instrument; it was really those exiled academics that were his real target. By claiming that Martí was a "plagiarist" and hence a fraud who had made his reputation by pilfering lines from anonymous New York newspaper reporters, Kessel believed that not only would he prove that he knew more than the Cubans did about the seminal figure in their history and culture but also wound them in their heart's core as Cubans. It was a great disappointment to him that his article went unanswered by any Cuban academic, who really regarded it as beneath contempt or even notice. This reaction (or, rather, non-reaction) infuriated Schwartz. He bode his time, and ten years later rehashed the same accusation in "A Source for Three Martí Letters — The Art of Translation and Journalistic Creation," published in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos XVIII (1984). Again, the same predictable reaction: Schwarz's canard was once more ignored on both sides of the Florida Straits. That he was a crackpot who was best ignored is practically the only thing that anti-Castro martianos and pro-Castro martianos (an oxymoron) have ever agreed upon.
If Professor Schwartz were still alive today, he would be in his mid-nineties. I sincerely hope that he is if only so that he can have the satisfaction of knowing that he finally managed to entrap a disciple and that his canard will live on after him.
Everyone knows because Martí never concealed it that he gleaned his news from the New York dailies. You are right when you say that except on rare occasions Martí was not a reporter; nor did he pretend to be one; nor did his editors in Mexico or Argentina regard him as one. Martí was what we would call today an Op-Ed writer. He was given a more extensive canvas than Op-Ed writers are today so that he could also provide background information for his readers, who because they did not live in the United States were unacquainted with current events here and required some precis of them in order to understand Martí's commentary. Perhaps he should have saved himself some trouble and simply quoted articles from the New York papers verbatim, something which he rarely did. Instead, he synthesized reports from numerous sources, analyzed their reliability and objectivity, removed the racism and jingoism with which they were often tinged, and presented the facts to his readers in his own inimitable style, which did not need to be "embellished" with tropes from forgotten hack writers. Of course, there were many commonplaces in Martí's summary of the news and the English-language newspapers' of his day. There are no less striking similarities between, say, reports in The Sun and reports in The Tribune on the same story. How could anybody expect it to be otherwise?
It is instructive that the instance of "plagiarism" which you chose to highlight in your dissertation, and which, obviously, was the most egregious example you could find, actually turned out to be a quotation from the court transcript of remarks made by the prosecutor at Guiteau's trial. And still you will not admit that this was not an instance of plagiarism, but counter that Martí surely got the quotation from The New York Herald and not the original court transcript! What does that matter? What does that prove? Does the fact that you yourself got the quotation from Schwartz's article show that you "plagiarized" it, too? I have no doubt that most if not all of the commonplaces cited by Schwartz have their origin in the court transcript, which, incidentally, was not consulted by Schwartz. The New York Herald — to use another example which you provide of Martí's "plagiarism" — described juror William Browner as he described himself under cross-examination before he was seated on the jury, and so, of course, did Martí. Did you expect the American reporter or Martí to interview the juror during the course of the trial on his opinion of insanity or his religious beliefs? The only recourse which both had was to quote from Browner's testimony. That's OK when the American reporter does it, but somehow "plagiarism" when Martí follows suit?
By accusing Martí of being a "plagiarist," you simply wanted to create an effect; perhaps your intentions were not malicious, as in the case of Schwartz; but you definitely wanted to reduce Martí a few pegs, which is the height of presumption and self-delusion and can only revert to your discredit.
Wishing you the best, and hoping that you will be able to recognize it when you see it.