Again the crime of pakuri is not a Western conceit

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I have been following the controversy about artist Wada Yoshihiko‘s alleged artistic theft on Kikko’s blog (click to see a visual comparison), but now The Japan Times is finally reporting on the topic in English. Long story short, an esteemed artist is being stripped of his awards for a work that completely and utterly rips off a painting by an Italian painter.

I bring this up not to suggest that Japanese artists are inherently thieves, but to knock out the final leg on the myth that “there is no sin in Japan against copying other artists’ works.”

Crazy how human nature works, but people in Japan — like in many other countries — think it is generally unethical to copy directly from 1) contemporary artists 2) un-ironically or un-referentially 3) in the same artistic genre 4) and pass it off as your own. If there is any more debate to be had on this issue — that somehow the idea of “intellectual property” and “originality” is a Western conceit forced upon an unwilling Eastern populace — go for it in the comment section, but I am pretty much convinced that the massive increase in artists being busted for pakuri in recent days has little to do with the entrenchment of Western values and everything to do with the democratization of the media space thanks to 2-ch and blogs. You couldn’t get “caught” for pakuri when the media worked to black out all criticism of artistic works. Thanks to the Inter Net, now you can.

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

15 Responses

  1. carolalotta Says:

    The best justification for plagiarism i heard lately was on the otherwise maybe a little overrated movie “the squid and the whale” : “I felt i could have written it.” Very good, young man! Fair enough. I think that is as just an explanation as any for passing somebody elses work off as your own and should be used anywhere possible. I surely intend to do so in my phd, i ll just quote myself over and over and over. If your just confident enough, they cant get you. Die kommen dir NIE auf die Schliche, niemals. Maybe you just had the exact same idea as somebody else, right? Hmmmmmm….
    Would it be thought of as ethical to copy a non-contemporary artist who cannot defend himself anymore? Where exactly is the difference?

  2. graham Says:

    Maybe you just had the exact same idea as somebody else, right?

    Jorge Luis Borges has explored this. But this story of trying to recreate Don Quijote line-by-line by total immersion is more of a jab at the inaccuracy of translation than an apology for plagiarism.

  3. Momus Says:

    If there is any more debate to be had on this issue, that somehow the idea of “intellectual property” and “originality” is a Western conceit forced upon an unwilling Eastern populace, go for it in the comment section

    While this does seem to be an open-and-shut case of artistic plagiarism, and Wada will certainly be condemned in Asia as well as the West, I hope you’re not saying that attitudes to intellectual property and originality are identical in the East and West, because they clearly aren’t.

    I also hope you aren’t saying that the only reason these attitudes differ is because Asian societies are less open (but are “now beginning to open up”). This is the usual journalistic bullshit: “They were different, but with each day that passes they’re becoming more like us”.

    In other words, beware of making convergence assumptions. Why? Because not all societies are converging. But also because societies are not stable in their attitudes — and that includes our own. There’s been a clear shift in Western attitudes to originality between the Modernist and Post-Modernist periods, and another one in the internet age. Digital copy-ability has thrown traditional copyright law into crisis, and anyone involved in the arts knows this.

    It’s precisely the internet, which you credit with bolstering some sort of universal, trans-cultural attitude to originality, which has helped undermine it.

  4. check Says:

    The Internet – like all storehouses of information – can be used both to inform plagiarists, and inform the public about plagiarists.

    Whichever it does more, is simply the prerogative of those using the particular medium of communication.

    As for the current use – well, that would require actual research, wouldn’t it?

  5. marxy Says:

    In other words, beware of making convergence assumptions.

    But also beware of making uniqueness assumptions in order to project Japan into a blissful postmodern society. Yes, Japan has many postmodern elements, but you must also recognize the points of convergence, the premodern elements, the modern elements, the things that can be well explained by structures, not voodoo.

  6. der Says:

    Mo: In other words, beware of making convergence assumptions.
    Ma: But also beware of making uniqueness assumptions

    That quite nicely sums up much of the discussions here.

  7. henryperri Says:

    If anything, Japan went overboard and surpassed the West in terms of property rights and patents. You can’t have a successful country without decent property rights laws.

  8. Momus Says:

    You can’t have a successful country without decent property rights laws.

    That makes China, the world’s most successful country right now, — well, what, exactly?

  9. henryperri Says:

    I’m not sure how China qualifies as the “most successful country” in the world. Maybe you were referring to their growth rate of 10%. In that case, Azerbaijan qualifies as the most successful country in the world with a 26% growth rate last year.

    China is something of a recent success story, but the average manufacturing wage is still below $.75/hr. They’ll catch up to the West eventually, but only with further free market reforms. They were more advanced than the West 1000 years ago, and it was only the constant totalitarian presence that’s kept them from realizing their potential.

    They’ll get there eventually. It takes a while to shake off thousands and thousands of years of totalitarian control.

  10. Mark Pritchard Says:

    when the media blacked out all criticism of artistic works

    How’s that again? Are you saying the Japanese media has tended at some point to refuse to print arts criticism?

    Could be — I dunno — I’m just curious.

  11. Momus Says:

    I think you’ve just come up against Neomarxisme’s tendency to see cultural preferences — in this case, the Japanese preference for the avoidance of direct and open criticism of others — as sinister, top-down conspiracies.

    I believe this is a conspiracy coming all the way from David W. Marx himself, but if anyone asks, you didn’t hear it from me, okay?

  12. Brown Says:

    OK Momus, so Japanese people tend to avoid direct and open criticism- of superiors. But there is plenty of open, brutal- and often unwarranted, nonsensical, and extravagantly sadistic- criticism of inferiors (consider, to pick one recent example, the demonization of NEETs). This avoidance of criticism is asymmetrical, it is wedded to hierarchy. What you describe as a benign cultural attribute is the “preference” of the powerful not to be criticized by the comparitively powerless. What ruling class wouldn’t prefer things to be so, if they had their druthers?

    Of course, this begs the question: Why are they able to get away with it? What are the material, historical conditions that have brought us here?

  13. marxy Says:

    Here we go again…

  14. marxy Says:

    The hilarious thing about Momus’ counterarguments is that they always include a link to his blog, instead of links or references to reality, which makes me think that his intentions have less to do with trying locate a “correct” analysis of a phenomenon and more to do with increasing his Technorati ranking.

  15. Momus Says:

    The hilarious thing about Momus’ counterarguments is that they always include a link to his blog, instead of links or references to reality, which makes me think that his intentions have less to do with trying locate a “correct” analysis of a phenomenon and more to do with increasing his Technorati ranking.

    Oh fie and fiddlesticks, Humphrey Wilberforce Marx! I link to my blog because it’s an index of other people’s research — in this case the research done by Chen Zhuo which is otherwise only available online as a pdf. Are you seriously suggesting that everything I put on my blog instantly falls into some kind of black hole and no longer qualifies as “real”?