Yesterday, Esther the Beautiful—do you know Pavel Golia’s “O Ester O
Renée”?—tricked Haman the Wicked and saved her race. Haman hung
happily hanged from a neighbouring balcony on Hutchison Street because in the
neighbourhood, the shtetl really,
they were celebrating Purim.
they? We were, for the children’s joy
was contagious. There sped another Esther and another, each one with redred
curls, down the sidewalk so as not to miss anything.
two of us went the long way, past as many costumed children as we could, for
this is their Hallowe’en, for a walk to the market: I to get La Repubblica, J to leaf through wedding
magazines. The two of us have been more than married, and less, for twenty
years already, but J’s niece is getting proper married soon.
He’s a rocker. You
probably know more about The Dears
than I do. I’m trying to follow the latest music, especially now, but I don’t
get it. She is the spitting image of a younger J and is off this fall to play
at a doctorate in my old school.
So I’m going to tell you something about doctorates, the suspect and the
lovely. About the doctorates of Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg, Saif
al-Islam Gaddafi, Tom Ložar, and between the lines, the herds of Non-aligneds
that you in old Yugoslavia if not educated at least garlanded. Do you still
remember, comrades, all that bullshit? For just an instance, dissertations on
the Theory of Non-alignment. Not to mention the dishonourable honorary
the fool, over here, thought up a doctorate about the American poet and painter
Kenneth Patchen. Find his “The Orange Bears.” Why Patchen? He was my kind of
poor bugger. Nobody told me, or I wouldn’t hear it, that you should pick your
dissertation themes the way you pick stocks, not lovers. Will the dissertation
be cashable? If I insisted on writing about second-rate poets, I should have
picked a Canadian. There were a bunch. Those were heady patriotic days.
For a lark, yesterday, I cracked the dissertation, the two huge dusty volumes,
and I gotta tell you, it ain’t bad. I had a mind then. There is of course no
sign of plagiarism, for two reasons. First, not many had been theretofore
foolish enough to write about Patchen. Second, I would never have stolen ideas,
not because I was that upright, but because I was that vain. Convinced that I
was the sharpest mind around. That I should steal the ephemera of lesser
creatures? Hah! Plagiarism is of course the manifestation of an inferiority
complex. And uprightness is overweening pride.
Oh yes: naturally my students later tried to slip me stolen work. But less than
with my colleagues. Why? If a prof is so lazy as to give his students themes
that are already worked to death on the internet, then he deserves plagiarism.
As a prof, too, I always thought I was the smartest. Of course I didn’t give my
students themes that inferior beings had thought up. You mustn’t, for instance,
ask them about landscape in the prose of Alice Munro. No, ask them, rather,
about daisies in the first three paragraphs of “Oranges and Apples,” because
there are no daisies in the first three paragraphs. Let them fend for
You don’t have to read the dissertations of Guttenberg and Gaddafi
to know that they will be plagiarized. The titles tell you, even if you don’t
know German or English. Guttenberg: Verfassung und Verfassungsvertrag.
Konstitutionelle Entwicklungsstufen in den USA und der EU. Gaddafi: The Role of Civil Society in the
Democratization of Global Governance Institutions. I really feel for poor
Guttenberg. There is no way you can write about that without, how shall I put
I feel sorry for him, too, because his director did not catch him. And why
didn’t he? Hey, it’s hard for a mere professor if the cheater is, and I write
this on my knees, Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph
Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. Me, I’m just Tomaž. Nor is it easy
for a prof at the LSE to say anything to a Saif, who is going to gift the LSE
with a million or two.
Though the explanation for all this might even be simpler: the laziness of
European professors. Neither the two doctoral candidates nor their profs were
particularly working slobs. Slavoj Žižek, the Sage of Ljubljana, once said that
he wasn’t so stupid as to ever move to America when in Ljubljana they paid him
to do nothing.
my albeit quasi-institution-of-higher-learning, I always used to dare my
students to cheat, Try it, I used to say, but remember when I catch you it
won’t be because you sinned against the sacredness of scholarship, but because
you thought you could fool me.
For me, a bigger crook than Guttenberg is Peter
Häberle, his director, who has excused himself by saying that back in 2006 the
software to catch cheaters was not yet available. Yes it was! At any rate, a
diligent prof’s nose will tell him all. Plagiarism smells of plagiarism.
My Doktorvater, as the Germans call
him, also failed in his fatherly duties. Of course he helped me assiduously.
Down to the commas. And then? Four readers vetted the dissertation, I defended
it before four. They all congratulated me, but one, not one of the literature
guys, the outside reader, from philosophy, Francis Sparshott, said, “Of course
you must get this published.” I thanked him but I was then so hapless an
immigrant that I did not visit him the next day to ask how to go about it, what
did he mean, did he know someone who. Nor did he visit me. Finally they
left me hanging. They did not understand that that bright young man was also a
poor bugger. The profs directing the noblemen did not catch their cheating. My
profs did not see the helplessness of the stray.
Author Tom Ložar
Tom Ložar is a columnist for Ve?er in Maribor, Slovenia.