Sunday, September 16, 2012

Philip Roth and Wikipedia, Again

I just came across this by one of the co-founders of Wikipedia who claims to write as a private citizen:
There’s only one problem with this: Roth’s open letter is at best the (justifiably) aggrieved and confused ramblings of a man ignorantly discussing what he does not understand or remember, and at worst a deliberately malicious act inspired by nothing more than a misguided desire to flip us the Vs and maybe get paid by the New Yorker on the way.
Lets go through his account again, shall we?
I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed.
False. There was absolutely no misstatement in the article. What the article claimed at the time he wrote this open letter was that “Kakutani and other critics were struck by the parallels to the life of Anatole Broyard, a writer and the New York Times literary critic in the 1950s and 1960s who was of Louisiana Creole mixed-race descent and passed for white”.
This is entirely correct. Kakutani was struck by the parallels, and has stated this, as have Brent Staples in the New York Times and several other literary reviewers and authors.
So, the defense is:
  • Insults
  • Some people had indeed the impression that there were parallels different from those that Roth himself reports. And Wikipedia reported the fact that someone had such an impression.
We all know that impressions by someone (anyone?) are more important than what a primary source reports. Do we? Well, in my view this is even more idiocy of the Wikipedia kind!

What about a sentence like: "Philip Roth claims ...", followed by a footnote reporting the "fact" that "others (previously) have had the impression that ..."? Even better, I'd like some argument as to why someone's "impressions" are to be preferred over the claims of the author! And who the hell is (was) Kakutani? I hope it's not the same one that Jonathan Franzen is said to have called "the stupidest person in New York City."


A.N. Other said...

So, in order:
1. I'm not a co-founder of Wikipedia.
2. We don't prefer "impressions" over the claims of the author, if both are reported in secondary sources - as my blog post makes clear, the claims of the author were already included in the article at the time of Roth's complaint. We listed both Roth's statement and the surrounding literary criticism...which did not contradict Roth's statement.

MK said...

1. The Blog from which I took the information seems no longer up, so I cannot re-check the exact claim. I may have gotten the title wrong. Sorry, if I did.

2. "We don't prefer "impressions" over the claims of the author, if both are reported in secondary sources ..." You ALWAYS should treat impressions as more dubious than claims of the author, whether they are reported in secondary sources or not! This is NOT to say that authors should always be taken at face value.

3. The real problem is with Wikipedia's incoherent conception of "secondary sources."

EMauro said...

The link you mention is not valid anymore. I wonder why.

MK said...

It was taken down pretty much at the same time as the "response" appeared in the comments!

Makes me wonder too!

A.N. Other said...

Well, probably because that's not actually a valid link (or my blog). You're looking for

MK said...

Well, whatever the reason, it works again!