Today’s New York Times article “Author, 17, Says It’s ‘Mixing,’ Not Plagiarism,” tells the perhaps not-so-surprising story of Helene Hegemann a 17 year-old German author who’s debut novel “Axolotl Roadkill,” shot to bestseller status in the span of just a few weeks. The Times states that German newspapers and magazines “heralded the novel far and wide as a tremendous debut, particularly for such a young author.” So hey, it must be a good read.
The interesting thing about it is that Hegemann admits to lifting material from a lesser-known novel, “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Arien.
Ah, the plot thickens. Says the Times:
Ms. Hegemann finds herself in the middle of a collision — if not road kill exactly — between the staid, literary establishment in a country that venerates writers from Goethe to Mann to Grass, and the Berlin youth culture of D.J.’s and artists that sample freely and thereby breathe creativity into old forms. Or as one character, Edmond, puts it in the book, “Berlin is here to mix everything with everything.”
A powerful statement, but the line originally was written by Airen, on his blog. The plot thickens, however, and shows that perhaps more than simple cribbing is at work. When another character asks Edmond if he came up with that line himself, he replies, “I help myself everywhere I find inspiration.”
In a final “gotcha,” the controversy does not at all seem to be hurting book sales – for either Hegemann’s “Axolotl Roadkill,” or Arien’s “Strobo.”
So here’s my question. In the era of “mixing everything,” of re-tweets and re-purposing content and blogging about bloggers and multichannel marketing and content aggregate sites and yours truly lifting a paragraph from the New York Times about plagiarism in order to make a point about plagiarism… is there any originality anymore? Perhaps not. A trendsetter for sure and perhaps wise beyond her years, Hegemann says “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.