My initial reaction went a bit like this:
1) Hooray! A successful teen author!
I have read very few books by a published teen author that are actually up to par. A lot of teens can write well for their age, but a very small percentage are actually writing at a level that merits publication. I'm lucky enough to know some of them, but truthfully--most books by teen authors aren't very good. I'm aware this is a generalization, but great teen authors are an exception to the rule. This is just my opinion, and feel free to disagree. But I do believe that teen authors that are actually ready for publication will be featured in bookstores in the years to come. This is why I was excited by Hegemann; she's written a book that people are praising.
2) Oh no, not again...
I was immediately reminded of the controversy surrounding Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year old debut novelist from Harvard who wrote a similarly acclaimed novel: How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Unfortunately, this book was plagiarized and the whole situation turned into a big, but very fascinating train wreck. In this situation, the accusations were spot-on: wikipedia has the instances of plagiarism clearly documented, and the publisher was forced to destroy all copies of the book and break off Viswanathan's publishing contract.
3) What the heck?
Unlike Viswanathan, Hegemann isn't trying to hide anything. Once the accusations that she plagiarized a whole page, phrases, and ideas from the little-known Strobo by surfaced, Hememann owned up to it . Only, she didn't.
And this is the truly fascinating part...
According to her, she's remixing literature. Wow, Hegemann, you genius! You pioneer of remixing!
Hegemann is so clearly not plagiarizing when she's lifting whole pages from another book without without crediting the original author, and taking lines from blog posts on the internet without crediting the author. Of course this isn't plagiarism.
I haven't read the book, but excuse when when I say OH YES YOU DID in response to her OH NO I DIDN'T.
To me, this "literary remixing" thing sounds like the perfect excuse. Under this oh-so-handy idea, Hegemann isn't copying and pasting into her writing, it's what she intended to do. Hegemann herself said, “I myself don’t feel it is stealing, because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context and from the outset consistently promoted the fact that none of that is actually by me,” according to the daily Berliner Morgenpost.
I wouldn't call not crediting your sources "promoting the fact the none of it is actually by me." To be fair, Hegemann's whole premise rests on the idea of remixing; the story revolves around Berlin teens who see remixing art as a way of expression. It's not the concept of remixing that bothers me; it does sound different in a interesting way--sort of like how authors include quotes at the beginning of chapters, poems from poets, etc to reinforce their own writings. Remixing sounds like several steps further than that, and don't get me wrong--I'm all for experimental literature. The only thing is, when you try to pass off other people's work for your own, it's plagiarism, pure and simple. And even the cloak of innovation isn't enough to make up for it.
Hegemann, didn't really apologize, either. I don't think she really thinks this whole plagiarizing thing is a problem; regarding the alleged copying, she said: "There’s no such thing as originality anyway, there’s only authenticity." Which I think is a pretty cool statement, only this seems to be inspired by her inability to face what she's done. I might give her some benefit of the doubt, only The Local has this in their article.
"For the first edition, she had not “fully understood” the process for acknowledging borrowed material and this had been changed for the second edition."
Somehow, I find it hard to believe that a published author isn't fully acquainted with the nuances of plagiarism. Or how, when her book was picked up by publishers, Hegemann didn't at least mention that some parts of her book had been remixed. I don't buy it that she didn't "fully understand", either. I think it takes the space of about one minute to explain to someone what asking permission to use a source means.
I mean, I know what plagiarizing is. Me, the 16-year-old girl who is about as far away from publishing an acclaimed, bestselling novel as it gets. The adults who are angry here are dismissing Hegemann as part of a generation where "cut-and-paste" is normal and where we just don't understand that copying without crediting is no bueno. And with this quote, Hegemann is trying to say that her failure to credit is due to her youth--due to her different view where remixing isn't anything bad.
And I say, stop making excuses and own up to it. It's not a generation thing; teens my age know copying is wrong, that plagiarizing is wrong. This fault here lies with Hegemann and nobody else--and please don't say it's because adults just don't understand your youthful artistry. I'm sorry, but plagiarizing is not art in any way or form.
And The Irish Times pretty much nailed her in their article:
Which to me, furthers my sense that Hegemann is not really pioneering anything; she's excusing herself from something she's to afraid to admit to.
"The young author admitted having glanced at the “Strobo” blog but denied having read a published volume of the texts.
Yesterday the publisher of the book based on the blog claimed it had sold Hegemann’s father a copy of the book via the internet."
And perhaps the most fascinating thing of all...
Axolotl Roadkill is in the running for a $20,000 award at the Leipzig Book Fair. The judges knew about the plagiarism controversy, and still nominated the book. So apparently, to some literary critics, this whole case of remixing is not only acceptable but worthy of acclaim as well.
And the worst part:
She's giving teen authors a bad name. So now there's Viswanathan and Hegemann, both in the spotlight. And that's what makes me angry; people aren't going to take teen authors, or teens trying to break into an adult-dominated industry seriously when instances like these are widespread.
So, what happens next?
I'll be watching out for this one to see whether the publishing deal falls through or not; somehow, I think not. And I'm curious to see if they're are other instances of plagiarism in her book as well. Read more about this brouhaha at the New York Times.
Helena Hegemann: teen plagiarist or wunderkid pioneer of literary remixing? What do you think?