"Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." -- Samuel Johnson, author, 1777
"... in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original...." -- C.S. Lewis, author, 1942
A lot of people on forums (Mr. Nathan Poe of Poe's Law fame for example) have charged that I have no original thoughts. I agree. Others have charged that all I do is cut and paste. I agree. James Joyce was the "original" [sic] Mr. Cutnpaste followed by William S. Burroughs. My favorite author Cormac McCarthy says "The ugly fact is books are made of books." When I announced to my friend my ambition to write a novel using plagiarized lines from Homer, one friend pointed me to Jonathan's Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism and another pointed out that Matthew had plagiarized the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" directly from Homer. And now I have discovered Helene Hegemann.
Kulich, N., Author 17 Says It's 'Mixing' Not Plagiarism, The New York Times, Feb 2010
BERLIN — It usually takes an author decades to win fawning reviews, march up the best-seller list and become a finalist for a major book prize. Helene Hegemann, just 17, did it with her first book, all in the space of a few weeks, and despite a savaging from critics over plagiarism.
The publication last month of her novel about a 16-year-old exploring Berlin’s drug and club scene after the death of her mother, called “Axolotl Roadkill,” was heralded far and wide in German newspapers and magazines as a tremendous debut, particularly for such a young author. The book shot to No. 5 this week on the magazine Spiegel’s hardcover best-seller list.
For the obviously gifted Ms. Hegemann, who already had a play (written and staged) and a movie (written, directed and released in theaters) to her credit, it was an early ascension to the ranks of artistic stardom. That is, until a blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.
As other unattributed sources came to light, outsize praise quickly turned to a torrent of outrage, reminiscent of the uproar in 2006 over a Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was caught plagiarizing numerous passages in her much praised debut novel. But Ms. Hegemann’s story took a very different turn.
On Thursday, Ms. Hegemann’s book was announced as one of the finalists for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category. And a member of the jury said Thursday that the panel had been aware of the plagiarism charges before they made their final selection.
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.”
“Obviously, it isn’t completely clean but, for me, it doesn’t change my appraisal of the text,” said Volker Weidermann, the jury member and a book critic for the Sunday edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, a strong supporter. “I believe it’s part of the concept of the book.”