PALO ALTO, CA – The suicide letter left by Stanford football has been criticized by the literary community for its “poorly cited” bibliography, prompting a series of back and forths between several journalists, literature publications and even members of Stanford’s own English department. Though there have been no outright accusations of plagiarism, the issue has nonetheless spawned an international outcry coming on the heels of the letter being shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
An image from the jacket of Stanford Football: Deconstructing 116 Years of Grotesquerie and the Fabulism of Crowds (Stanford University Press, 2007)
“It’s ridiculous,” said Ramon Saldivar, chair of the Stanford English department and author of The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary (2006).
“The bibliography is fine. I’ll tell you exactly what this is: cultural backlash. Six years of anti-Americanism has manifested itself in European disdain for the kind of revolutionary research represented by Stanford football’s suicide letter. They haven’t directly said ‘plagiarism’ but we all know what’s at stake here, what they’re insinuating. I stand by the football department and their work. It’s daring stuff. It’s the kind of writing that made this country the locus of late twentieth century literature at the expense of continental Europe, and they know it.”
Saldivar’s strong words are just one example of the growing division between pro-Stanford football suicide letter supporters and a loose group of European intellectuals based primarily in Paris and Brussels who call themselves “post-symbolists”.
Columns, op-ed pieces and essays defending the letter have appeared in publications as diverse as The Paris Review (which is actually based in New York), the Wall Street Journal, and the National Review – the conservative political opinion bi-weekly founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. – in response to the French literary journal Les Temps Modernes‘ initial criticism of the bibliography. Each has taken a distinctly pro-American stance, with journalist Tom Wolfe writing a particularly scathing column in the National Review‘s Feb. 9 issue:
[Les Temps Modernes publisher] Claude Lanzmann is a stooge. He is a backwards, small minded hellion with no vision. Even worse: he is uncreative. Francophilia is dead in America (if it was ever alive) and Lanzmann is the reason why: despite the magnificence of crepes, Baudelaire, the musicality of their language and Zinedine Zidane, the French have systematically destroyed any semblance of hope for a love of the French. Why? Because they kept on being French, which is to say they maintained a palpitating cloud of superiority no matter the cost. I’m sure Lanzmann read Stanford football’s suicide letter and felt in his testes the same cold dread that descended on the terrible lizards when the Yucatan turned into a gigantic crater. Like them, Lanzmann and his ilk are destined to become paleontological curiosities, studied as examples of evolutionary dead ends and serious misallocations of brain power. If you sliced him up I’d expect Lanzmann to look exactly like a stegosaurus: miniscule gray matter up top, with most of the higher functions located in the ass to help with walking. I piss on the Eiffel Tower.
Lanzmann responded by labeling Wolfe a “silly American” and calling on fellow Europeans to “collectively sniff in [America's] general direction.”
The post-symbolists’ issue with Stanford football’s suicide letter revolves around the idea of “Jungian-epic dualistic banality”, an idea they claim was first put forth by Belgian philosopher Ivan O. Godfroid in his seminal Psychiagenia: A Gauge Theory for the Mind-Brain Problem (Neuroquantology, 2003). In its letter Stanford football claims that something similar to Jungian-epic dualistic banality is the primary cause of the poor attendance, low enthusiasm and general apathy of a Palo Alto home crowd, though the letter calls the phenomenon “because we sucked for so long”-ism. Post-symbolists interpret the lack of an acknowledgement of Godfroid as borderline plagiarism.
Responding to the claims of numerous European writers, philosophers and intellectuals, political commentator Bill O’Reilly noted that they should “shut up” and “stop supporting terrorists with their panty armed leaflets and ‘ideas’ and spineless flags with no stars or even stripes.”
Added O’Reilly: “It’s not like anyone even knows where Belgium is. They haven’t done anything for us since Jean-Claude Van Damme. Time Cop is a masterpiece. It’s a wonderful film, and I thank them for it. But what have they done for us lately? Nothing. In my book that puts them right up there with [Osama] bin Laden and [Iranian president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
Mississippi head coach Ed Orgeron defended Stanford football’s suicide letter, calling it “a beautiful elegy on par with Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!“
“Whitman took our grief over the death of Lincoln and expressed it for the common man, and for the uncommon man. He took grief and transformed it into beauty. That is the purpose of art: the mediation on the transient leading to an acknowledgement that temporality is the first requirement of the truly beautiful. Stanford footbaw is no longer with us, and we now know why: because it was more beautiful dead than alive. We should celebrate that,” Orgeron said.
Regarding the issue of plagiarism, Orgeron noted that Godfroid’s ideas had their precedent in the numerical monism of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras.
“Everybody is derivative. Look at Swingers: they talk about how Reservoir Dogs steals from Goodfellas, and then the next scene they’re stealing from Reservoir Dogs. This is exactly like that, only with literary constructionism and empirical archetypes and footbaw,” Orgeron added.
Despite the citation furor Stanford football’s suicide letter was recently shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and its £30000 ($59,000) award.
Newly hired Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was not aware of the existence of the letter, nor of the suicide of Stanford football. Harbaugh – until recently the coach of Division I-AA University of San Diego – was told of both, as well as the controversy over the letter’s bibliography. He was visibly confused.
Said Harbaugh: “I don’t see what the problem is. It sounds like they followed proper Modern Language Association citation guidelines.”