Saturday, February 28, 2015

Things I Don't Get #7: Ghostwriting

Amid the confusion of life, harmony refreshes. Second to the joy of agreeing on pizza toppings is the occasion when common sense and philosophy conjoin under the twin suns of logic and propriety. This coalition shines in the simple observation that a thing is and is only what it is, and that calling it something else does not make it so. This happy premise doesn't imply that the process of definition is easy or infallible, or that all things admit singular definition, but that the process of definition is largely objective and its concepts exclusive.

That is, if a writer is a person who writes and you don't write, then you can't be called a writer. The process of ghostwriting and the inherent contradiction between the nominal author's lack of writing and the definition of a writer is the object of my scorn.

Now I understand the economics of the situation. Some people can write but don't have ideas, and some people have ideas but can't write. It seems a happy marriage, but how on earth do you have the gall to put your name on something you didn't write? Worse, what temerity such an individual has either to consider himself an author, i.e. an auctor, a creator, or to expect to be treated like one. There is also a question of sympathy implicit in ghostwriting, namely that the inability of someone to find expression for his ideas is more important, for he gets the title credit, than the inability of someone with the facility to express ideas to find any. I don't see any reason to prefer the former plight to the latter.

Speaking of whom, how can the actual author, that is, the person who did the writing–is it ever a good sign when you need to insist upon adhering to reality?–stand to have his work treated in this manner. Putting your name on someone else's book is not copying by oversight, mind you, the anxiety of every neurotically footnoting student, nor is it accidental imitation, the crippling fear of many writers, and not even is it writing in full knowledge that he will be overshadowed, but writing with the intent of someone else claiming your work as his own. The appropriation by the so-called author is not mere kidnapping, but raising the child as your own, that is, plagiarism, however socially acceptable the form.

Of course the process of ghostwriting entertains a spectrum of possibilities. At one end a would-be author with more money than talent pays someone else to make him look good. A rank process and detestable individual. On the other end, though, I imagine a collaboration something akin to a director and screenwriter, or better, the screenwriter and author of the story. The story guy has the ideas, the "basic narrative, idea, theme or outline indicating character development and action," as the WGA handily writes, and the screenwriter pulls it all together. Nothing objectionable here.

Now to their credit and proper crediting, some book authors defer to this distinction by that indefatigable preposition with, which lets us know that they had a little help. You usually need an electron microscope to read the other guy's name, but it's there and we appreciate the acknowledgement. The work is a collaboration.

Yet ghostwriting in the form of speech-writing has a long history. Such does not seem to redeem the practice, though. For example, though professional speech-writing is thousands of years old, I can never get past the fact that a man is reading someone else's arrangement of his own ideas. Who can readily accept the ideas of a man who didn't comprehend the process, be it art or science, at least of their articulation. This might seem at first look to be unfair, for a poor writer might have a good idea and bad ideas have had lucid and artful expression by good writers, and indeed in truth I don't readily trust the articulate infecund either. Yet to me the processes of writing and thinking seem so much the same that I can't trust in the presence of the latter if I don't see at least an attempt at the former.

Lack and excess of both matter and style are equally unfavorable, and a mean out to be sought suitable to the speaker and occasion. Last, the writing ought to be a frank collaboration or one's own work, however humble.

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