Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Papa's Suitcase

As the literary-minded will no doubt recall, on the cusp of Hemingway’s early fame virtually all of his finished but as yet unpublished work was lost in a bizarre twist of fate. The incident, which occurred in late December, 1922, is noted by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast and receives half a paragraph in Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway. As Baker reports, Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, before catching a train from Paris to Switzerland to meet her husband, had packed all his manuscripts (except for Up in Michigan and My Old Man) “in a separate small valise so that he (Hemingway) could get on with his writing during the Christmas season.” However, at the Gare de Lyon someone purloined the bag holding Hemingway’s pages — which contained poems and short stories and the beginning of a novel never again seen.

Though the tale of what happened to the suitcase and its contents has been the subject of apocryphal rumors for the last eight decades, several years ago two interesting takes on the tale appeared in popular literature. The first, The Hemingway Papers by Vincent Cosgrove, takes this episode and embellishes it in a winning action-adventure novel. The second, MacDonald Harris’ Hemingway’s Suitcase takes the tale a step further and purports — within the confines of a story about finding the suitcase — to reproduce five of the missing Hemingway short stories.

Hemingway’s immediate reaction to the loss was just as once might expect — continued melancholia and a lingering sense of bitterness over the loss, which some critics have pointed to as the cause of his breakup with Hadley. In a 1923 letter to Ezra Pound, Hemingway wrote:

I suppose you heard about the loss of my Juvenalia? I went up to Paris last week to see what was left and found that Hadley had made the job compete by including all carbons, duplicates, etc. All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem which was later scrapped, some correspondence between John McClure and me, and some journalistic carbons. You, naturally, would say, “Good” etc. But don’t say it to me. I ain’t yet reached that mood.

Though it is unlikely that they would turn up at this late date, works by Hemingway have a strange way of appearing out of thin air every decade or so. In 2009 a “restored” edition of A Moveable Feast was released which includes additional material that was cut from previous versions; in 1998 the novel True At First Light — which had been under seal since the early 1970’s — was edited and released by Hemingway’s son Patrick; and in 1986 a much-abridged version of Garden of Eden (which had run to 800-pages in manuscript) was released by Scribner’s to mixed reviews. Perhaps 2011 will see the discovery of the suitcase in a ramshackle Paris attic that is being converted by a French Legionnaire’s grandson into condos for the new generation of American expats. To be true, the tale would have to be so over-the-top that it would make bad fiction cringe.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kindle vs. iPad: Slicing, Dicing and Pricing Literary Rights

Kindle vs. iPad: Slicing, Dicing and Pricing Literary Rights

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Jack Kirby's Kids Sue Marvel -- And Disney Too

In January, Marvel Comics filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York seeking a declaration that all of Jack Kirby’s creations belong to Marvel under the “work -for-hire” doctrine. This month, the Kirby kids have retaliated by filing suit against Marvel and Disney in federal court in Los Angeles seeking a declaration that the copyright termination notices they sent out last September are valid, and that the copyright in all of Kirby’s characters — including Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, and the X-Men — will revert to the heirs over the next several years.

The timing of the suit could not be better — given Hollywood’s continuing fascination with superheroes, and the upcoming release of the first Captain America movie, the litigation theatrics should commence shortly. Stay tuned for further details, and be sure to check out Eriq Gardner’s article in the The Hollywood Reporter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Downloading Is Piracy?

James Murdoch says illegal downloading is just like stealing a purse. What do you think? See article at http://bit.ly/dl6a4g

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How To Write a Novel Using Someone Else's Work

Helene Hegemann is pushing the limits set by writers like James Joyce (the original Mr. Cut-and-Paste) by freely grabbing content from other writers — in some cases, entire scenes — and appropriating it for her own use. This pastiche or collage style of writing has pushed hot buttons in the ongoing debate about what constitutes copyright and plagiarism in literature. Some writers claim that the practice is so commonplace that it is simply part of the creative process — that the living inevitably borrow from the dead — and that it has been going on from time immemorial. Shakespeare, as any college literature student knows, borrowed heavily from other playwrights. Hamlet, for example, is very like Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum; Romeo and Juliet is said to be based on Arthur Brooke’s narrative poem The Tragical History of Romeo and Juliet; and King Lear is based on the story of King Leir in Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Borrowing plots in this way was common at the time, and after Shakespeare’s death playwrights promptly began borrowing from his works as well.

Several years ago, Jonathan Lethem wrote a brilliant article defending the use of “borrowing” by writers in their pursuit of new creation, arguing that creation itself necessarily calls upon the inchoate melange of what one has read over one’s life as an unconscious source of style, language, allegory, sentence structure, plot, and pacing, and that — in a sense — imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But now writers such as Hegemann and David Shields — whose new novel “Reality Hunger” is built almost entirely of quotations from other writers and thinkers — are pushing the boundaries as to what is appropriate as borrowing, and casting the question of copyright infringement in a different light. When is it plagiarism and not merely exercise of artistic license for transformative purposes? When does fair use become foul? We’ve seen what has happened to the music industry as it has been pulled kicking and screaming into the future by DJs and artists who use sampling techniques to create their own unique sound, and it was only a matter of time before the issue jumped media to stodgy old print. But where is the line going to be drawn? I suspect that the answer does not lie in the simplistic question “To borrow, or not to borrow,” but rather in litigation reminiscent of Bleak House, which will leave everyone unhappy.