True Detective Creator Accused of Plagiarism

True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto has been accused of lifting phrases and ideas from writer Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against The Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror, as well cribbing ideas from works by numerous other writers.

Jon Padgett, founder of the website Thomas Ligotti Online, and Mike Davis, editor of The Lovecraft eZine, have collaborated in hopes to expose what they see as clear-cut plagiarism of Ligotti. As Padgett told Davis in an interview:

It became obvious to me that Pizzolatto had plagiarized Thomas Ligotti and others — in some places using exact quotes, and in others changing a word here and there, paraphrasing in much the same way that a high school student will cheat on an essay by copying someone else's work and substituting a few words of their own.

In the interview, Padgett highlighted specific phrases that he found suspect, most of which came from lines spoken by the show's main character, Rust Cohle (emphasis theirs):

COHLE: We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.

"We know that nature has veered into the supernatural by fabricating a creature that cannot and should not exist by natural law, and yet does." (CATHR, p.111)

COHLE: … we are things that labor under the illusion of having a 'self'…each of us programmed with total assurance that we're each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.

"And the worst possible thing we could know — worse than knowing of our descent from a mass of microorganisms — is that we are nobodies not somebodies, puppets not people." (CATHR, p. 109)

Padgett noted that most of what we see in True Detective is the original work of Pizzolatto, but that the plagiarism is significant because "the most egregious instance of Pizzolatto's plagiarism involves some of the most captivating and most quoted of all the scenes from the series." He cited the infamous car ride during which Cohle outlines his worldview to a slack-jawed Woody Harrelson as one such example.

In interviews, Pizzolatto has admitted to paying homage to Ligotti, but only when asked directly. Padgett pointed out that in an interview with Pizzolatto in the Arkham Digest, the interviewer brought up "Cohle's Ligottian worldview," but the screenwriter evaded the comparison in his response.

Pizzolatto did explicitly talk about the influence of Ligotti in one interview with the Wall Street Journal, but Padgett hypothesizes he only did it because the journalist, Michael Calia, had explicitly pointed out the screenwriter's Ligotti influence in another article for the WSJ. Still with us? Of the timing, Padgett said:

Usually I would give any kind of writer who appeared so praising of Ligotti the benefit of the doubt, but I knew how deep the plagiarism issue ran, and I had no illusions that Pizzolatto suddenly and coincidentally wanted to talk about Ligotti after already having dozens and dozens of opportunities to do so before. Was Pizzolatto in damage control mode (i.e., "I don't want to get in legal trouble" mode)? Quite suddenly Thomas Ligotti was one of his top literary influences, an acknowledgement that would never be repeated again in a full-length interview or, to my knowledge, elsewhere.

Davis also wrote a follow up about the legal ramifications of this sort of plagiarism (sort of) (mostly about how he doesn't know if there are any, and also doesn't care), which you can read here. Thomas Ligotti, meanwhile, a professor at Wayne State University, has remained mum on controversy surrounding his good name (Pizzolatto hasn't commented on the accusation either, for that matter).

So. What do you think? Plagiarist or no? Should we all just go to bed? Let's just take one quick nap for however many days it takes to feel rested, and then we'll think about it.

[image via HBO]