Last night Nic Pizzolatto, a Writer and Visionary best known for his hit HBO series True Detective, released a statement denying that he is a plagiarist. It reads as though written by a committee of lawyers, your sophomore year college boyfriend, and some kind of PR firm that specializes in making you hateful to the entire internet:
Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.
As Joan Didion once put it: "Oh, wow."
Maybe you loved True Detective. (I liked it too! Bad ending though.) Maybe you understand that to be successful in Hollywood requires you to labor under enormous self-regard. And maybe you believe—like me—that it's a little much to call the transposition of phrases and concepts from non-fiction writing to a fictional setting "plagiarism."
But this statement tells us several unpalatable things about Nic Pizzolatto:
- "An historic," for starters, announces Pizzolatto as a high-diction sort of guy. A guy who loves language. A guy who will say to you, should you use the wrong prepositional phrase while discussing some terrible thing you read on the internet, "Actually, modern usage..." Pizzolatto is a man who believes in precision, and correction.
- Pizzolatto is the sort of guy who drops "anti-natalist philosophy" into a Hollywood press release, which means those words may also have appeared in his wedding vows.
- Speaking of romance I am pretty sure Pizzolatto belongs to the exclusive order of Men Who Quote Philosophers At You While They're Breaking Up With You, and plainly belonged to its wider membership category of Men Who Quote Philosophers At You While They're Dating You, Usually At Random Intervals. In other words: men very anxious, usually, to let you know that they stand on the shoulders of previous Great Men (and Visionaries).
- Here at Gawker.com, we of course expect that every serious writer take some pride in their work. That said, towards the end Pizzolatto actually seems to believe that the character he created has a consciousness of his own, capable of "speak[ing] towards a philosophy with erudition and in his own words."
- While Pizzolatto is thus prepared to cite his fictional character's "erudition" in this ponderous little paragraph, he nowhere therein mentions the name "Thomas Ligotti," who is the writer he stands accused of actually copying.
This last is, actually, important. The most convincing claim in the long, rambling post at this "Lovecraft e-zine" is that Pizzolatto has been coy about acknowledging his (undeniable) Ligotti influences. In fact, in the Wall Street Journal article where Pizzolatto is said to have finally and fully acknowledged Ligotti—well, look closely and you'll see he didn't quite cop to the whole offense:
In episode one [of "True Detective"] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got.
"And it would have been nothing to re-word them," is the kind of sly troop maneuver one admires in the internecine warfare of middle-school girls. Nicely played, Pizzolatto.
Some friends of mine who have been following this small controversy seem to believe that Pizzolatto is in the thrall of lawyers, is afraid to admit anything lest he be hit with a giant copyright suit by Ligotti. I think they are out to lunch on several levels, not least because Ligotti is apparently a recluse and I doubt whatever lawyer he can afford to hire seriously intimidates the likes of HBO.
I prefer to rely on a much simpler theory, based on the above evidence: Pizzolatto has a giant ego which, fed on the fat diet of praise True Detective received earlier this year, now rages over the countryside of his soul. He got a bit sloppy here and probably meant no real harm by it. But to abandon his Great Infallible Genius Narrative now would be a death blow to his own self-image, so he cannot give an inch to any kind of criticism.
He should watch out. Many a greater artist than he was felled by this sort of towering self-love.
The fallout promises to be funny for the rest of us, though, at least.
[Image via Getty.]