View Full Version : Literary remix

12-02-2010, 06:43 PM
i can see using/mixing influences, but copying entire pages??


Author, 17, Says It’s ‘Mixing,’ Not Plagiarism

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.”

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.

In the beginning, her agent, Petra Eggers, said that the critics could not distinguish between the novel’s 16-year-old protagonist and the author. “It’s the other way around now, there’s nothing left,” Ms. Eggers said. “They say that none of these are her own words even.”

Deef Pirmasens, the blogger who discovered the passages taken from “Strobo,” said that he could understand a few words or phrases seeping into the work through inspiration, but that he quickly noticed that there were too many for it to be a coincidence. “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,” Mr. Pirmasens said.

The controversy did not appear to be hurting book sales. On Thursday afternoon “Axolotl Roadkill” was ninth over all among books on the German Amazon site, albeit with many nasty postings about the plagiarism controversy. “It’s a reissue of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ ” wrote one commenter, who gave the book one star. Under the heading “Customers who bought this item also bought” was “Strobo” by Airen.

john eden
12-02-2010, 07:10 PM
Interesting! Been going on since at least Burroughs afaik.

Lots of experimental fiction does that, I guess this is the move into the mainstream. Which happened to music in the mid 80s. (see the NME "steal it" issue on uncarved.org)

like gysin saying writing was fifty years behind painting innit...

12-02-2010, 09:57 PM
yeah, i guess. it's common for songs to get sampled/covered and films to be remade, maybe writing is heading in the same direction.

btw, loved that nme article on that crazy new thing called breakbeats by "housemartin norman cook." little did the world know at the time what was in store.

13-02-2010, 05:25 PM
Martin Amis reports that this goes as far back as 12th century monks practicing 'the art of the scissors'

slim jenkins
14-02-2010, 07:33 AM
Good artists borrow, great artists steal?
Writing is 30 years (at least) behind sampling.
Lawrence Sterne said that new books were made 'as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another'.

14-02-2010, 08:03 PM
It's common for songs to get sampled/covered and films to be remade, maybe writing is heading in the same direction.

Been going on since at least Burroughs afaik.

15-02-2010, 01:57 AM
Good artists borrow, great artists steal?

15-02-2010, 03:15 PM
Isidore Ducasse aka Le Comte de Lautreamont was also up to this in the 1860s.
Burroughs got the idea off Brion Gysin.


Ness Rowlah
21-03-2010, 07:26 PM
Two links picked from Twitter feeds, both reviews from NY Times

The Fiction of Memory http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/books/review/Sante-t.html

One way in which the book expresses its thesis is in its organization: it is made up of 618 numbered paragraphs, more than half of them drawn from other sources, attributed only at the end of the book.
Among its hallmarks are the incorporation of “seemingly unprocessed” material; “randomness, openness to accident and serendipity; . . . criticism as autobiography; self-reflexivity; . . . a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction.”

and a tangent (Lanier recently played at the Vortex, didn't go, now wish I did)

A Rebel in Cyberspace, Fighting Collectivism http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/books/15book.html

“An impenetrable tone deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web.

21-03-2010, 07:54 PM
I think this is true. I used to lift information and sound bites from magazines to write pieces of fiction. It was a starting point, a matrix of ideas. By the time I'd got through with it, it was my own. For example (http://cittaviolenta.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_archive.html). A lot of that's me wanting to write from an investment banker's point of view, and I lifted a lot of words from The Economist, International Herald Tribune etc; it wouldn't hold up as a record of a Banker's life obviously, but after reworking the whole thing I like to think it ended up with a certain poetry and resonance. Nothing comes from scratch. It ended up being an odd mix of my own experience + my original idea and reading. That's pretty much what writing is. (Didn't up even being an investment banker, mind, though my first stab at it did (http://cittaviolenta.blogspot.com/2004_03_01_archive.html).)

slim jenkins
25-03-2010, 07:15 AM
Good work Craner.
I'd like to read it in old-fashioned book form.

25-03-2010, 07:02 PM
Thanks! So would I.

22-04-2010, 12:12 PM
Since Anthony Powell was mentioned in another thread recently maybe I can mention that he plotted a lot of his work by making a collage in his basement which included the different characters and what have you suggesting connections which were worked into the plot.
So not full-on cut ups but soemthing like.