The latest German literary sensation is 17-year-old Helene Hegemann, whose debut novel, Axolotl Roadkill, has sold more than 100,000 copies in just two weeks and is nominated for a major literary award. Hegemann’s novel is a chronicle of Berlin’s sex-and-drug-fueled techno scene and according to Der Spiegel, “many consider it to be a generation-defining novel.”
Unfortunately for Hegemann, she now finds herself at the center of a growing literary scandal, accused of plagiarism by a writer who claims she lifted whole passages from his techno blog and his novel, Strobo. She has been accused of plagiarizing from other sources as well. What is Hegemann’s response to these serious charges? She says: “I can’t understand what all the fuss is about.”
From the Independent:
In an artful attempt to steal their critics’ thunder Ms Hegemann and her publishers have gone on the offensive. They have managed, in part, to turn what at face value appeared to be a clearcut case of stealing somebody else’s words into a wide-ranging debate about the meaning of plagiarism in the online era. They argue that Axolotl Roadkill is merely an example of modern “intertextual mixing”.
While she acknowledges that she used numerous “sources” for her book, she also claims that she is a member of a different generation of writers which is used to adapting and using the abundance of information available online for its own creative purposes…[Hegemann says] “There is no such thing as originality anyway, there is just authenticity”.
Now, however, Hegemann and her representatives may be backing away from this position. Again from the Independent:
Yesterday, however, Ms Hegemann’s and her publishers clearly thought it was time to modify their stance. Ullstein published a statement admitting that Ms Hegemann had lifted some 20 excerpts from Strobo virtually word for word. It acknowledged that a further 20 passages came from other texts or were inspired by them. A list of Ms Hegemann’s “sources” will be published in the fourth edition of her book. However the plagiarism question was neatly side-stepped: “This novel follows the aesthetic principle of intertextuality and may contain further excerpts,” the statement concluded. Whether the reading public will accept that explanation remains to be seen.
It’s unclear whether Hegemann actually has personal experience of the techno scene she writes about in her novel or whether she relied solely on other first-hand accounts, which is perhaps how she got herself into trouble.
In discussing Hegemann on the Guardian’s Books Blog, Robert McCrum writes, “When everything is available free online, what is the meaning of copyright?” He closes with this: “…plagiarism is just one part of the literary contract that may now be up for renegotiation in Google-world. Some will say, with Cavafy, that ‘The barbarians are coming.’ I don’t take that line, but I think the renegotiation is increasingly urgent.”
Is the controversy surrounding Axolotl Roadkill a sign of things to come? [SW]