Plagiarism Is Like Rainbow Parties: All The Kids Are Doing It


The book world’s latest teen plagiarist is German author/playwright/screenwriter Helene Hegemann, whose lifting of work by other authors is apparently just what kids are doing these days.

According to Nicholas Kulish of the New York Times, 17-year-old Hegemann’s hallucinatorily-named Axolotl Roadkill, “about a 16-year-old exploring Berlin’s drug and club scene,” includes an entire page taken from another, lesser-known novel, with few changes. The novel apparently “borrows” from other sources as well, and while it appears to include some winking acknowledgment of this practice (a character says “I help myself everywhere I find inspiration”), this acknowledgment doesn’t extend to actual citation. A blogger who discovered some of the plagiarism says, “To take an entire page from an author, as Helene Hegemann admitted to doing, with only slight changes and without asking the author, I consider that illegitimate.” Hegemann’s supporters, though, claim the MySpace Generation has no use for these silly old-timey morals.

Book critic Volker Weidermann says, “Obviously, it isn’t completely clean but, for me, it doesn’t change my appraisal of the text. I believe it’s part of the concept of the book.” And Kulish writes,

Although Ms. Hegemann has apologized for not being more open about her sources, she has also defended herself as the representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.

Hegemann’s statement isn’t so much morally wrong as it is vague and content-free and dumb. I don’t know German, but I do know that appealing to some nebulous higher “authenticity” is the go-to defense of the intellectually lazy faker. A truly creative word-thief could at least come up with entertaining excuse, but to redefine truth as “whatever I choose it to mean” (Lewis Carroll — see how easy citing is?) just turns language into a gross mixed-up soup of lies. Also, the “different generation” excuse for anything teenagers do isn’t as repugnant as Emmanuelle Seigner’s “crazy time” excuse for Roman Polanski, but it’s just as stupid. I know plenty of “millennials,” and they don’t all have iPods for fingers and MySpace for brains.

While Kulish’s article is generally rage-inducing, it did point me to Axolotl Roadkill‘s page at German Amazon, which provided a great opportunity for some Friday Fun With Google Translate. Google’s language robots tell us that one reviewer called the book “A ball lightning in the form of prose and prose language,” which sounds dangerous. Then there’s this reader review:

the industry and its vassals (sorry, of course, meant: the free, independent press) make themselves together their next hype – and then that .. Fantastic!

Which I think is a badly-translated way of saying what may be the most depressing line in Kulish’s piece, a one-sentence State of Publishing In the New Millennium: “The controversy did not appear to be hurting book sales.”

Author, 17, Says It’s ‘Mixing,’ Not Plagiarism [NYT]
Axolotl Roadkill (Paperback) []

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