Plagiarism or Literary Remix?
February 12, 2010 2:27 PM   Subscribe

17 year old prodigy Helene Hegemann admits that her bestseller "Axolotl Roadkill" is not as original as previously assumed. "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", writes the New York Times. Unfortunately, parts of it were lifted. "It's not plagiarism", says the author.

(Links are to German original sources, translations, including iffy ones, mine. Apologies in advance, this is my first post.)

According to Media Consulter Deef Pirmasens, who uncovered it all on his blog, a fair bit of the book is actually copied off and only marginally changed from several different sources, most notably the book Strobo by a blogger called Airen. Strobo never received a lot of attention when it was published.

For comparison's sake, Deef Pirmasens, and later the newspaper FAZ, list the passages that have been lifted. Example: (I'll translate these in a comment if required):
Axolotl Roadkill:
“Ich habe Fieber, Koordinantionsschwierigkeiten, ein Promille im überhitzten Blut…”
Strobo:
“Ich habe ein Grad Fieber sowie ein knappes Promill Alkohol im überhitzten Blut.”


Deef outs one particularly lauded part, a letter by the protagonist's mother, to be merely a German translation of the song Fuck U by Archive.

Helene Hegemann admitted to having taken and assimilated other people's writing without crediting. However: "I didn't just copy this stuff. It's not about plagiarism but intertextuality", she says. "Very many artists use this technique (...) by organically including parts in my text, I am entering into a dialogue with the author".

In the meantime, publisher Ullstein has acquired the rights to the necessary sections of Airen's book, and both books seem to have profited from the drama. Hegemann has still been nominated for a prize at the Leipzig book fair. Hegemann told the German press agency DPA: "This is a century old debate that is being fought out over me. If that's how we're going to handle it, we might as well just shut down the literary industry."

Unrelated to this, author Jeff Noon asks:
"Film-makers use jump cuts, freeze frames, slow motion. Musicians remix, scratch, sample. Can't we writers have some fun as well?"
posted by Omnomnom (111 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
by organically including parts in my text, I am entering into a dialogue with the author

As a bonus, you get to enter a dialogue with the author's lawyers!
posted by troybob at 2:32 PM on February 12, 2010 [99 favorites]


You know another German who was always taking over people's stuff?
posted by Joe Beese at 2:34 PM on February 12, 2010 [18 favorites]


Wait, wait, I feel a Doctorow attack coming on. Let's get the puffer before we seize up!
posted by bicyclefish at 2:35 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


...Repeated, as Farce.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:35 PM on February 12, 2010


It's not about plagiarism but intertextuality"

This from a 16 year old? I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to bandy about that crap until you at least get to freshmen comparative lit.
posted by Think_Long at 2:36 PM on February 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


Strangely, I'd respect the author more if she just came out and admitted her plagiarization without couching in terms like "intertextuality"; there's something to be said for pulling a fast one on the entire German publishing industry when you're only 17.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 2:37 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Toby, she is the daughter of a well known literary personage Carl Hegemann, so the idea that she may have gotten some help along the way adds to the bitterness.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:39 PM on February 12, 2010


You know another German who was always taking over people's stuff?

Fritz Kleptomann?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2010 [33 favorites]


For some reason, I immediately thought of the TV show Californication.
posted by willnot at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Regardless, I can't help but admire a good con game, at least when the suckers are publishing execs, critics and other arbiters of taste.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2010


Well now this is confusing. She appears to be a fraud and a thief, but on the other hand, copyright is a silly relic of the dinosaur old-media era and the sooner all that crap is eradicated the better and hahahahafuckthepublishingindustry, so... what's the correct line to take here?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


But is it a good book?
posted by empath at 2:45 PM on February 12, 2010


My opinion on this matter depends on if she "copy" and "pasted" the text or did she retype it herself. Because that would count for something, right?
posted by yeti at 2:45 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wandered lonely as a clod
Just picking up old rags and bottles,
when on the lonely road I trod
I came upon some axolotls.
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
A sight to make a man's blood freeze.

Some had handles, some were plain-
they were orange, pink, and green, in the main.
My hair stood up, my blood ran cold.
I fled with fear upon my soul.
I find my solace now in bottles,
and I forget them axolotls.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:46 PM on February 12, 2010 [49 favorites]


It's this weird intersection of the Venn Diagram of Snark where we want something for free, but we don't want anyone else to profit from it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:48 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah I don't care what the era or the current thinking is, ripping off someone else and not giving them credit is wrong, regardless of field. Intertextuality, my ass.
posted by m0nm0n at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was going to make a jokey comment about this by copying and pasting other people's comments and posting it. I had things pasted and rearranged to make a coherent flow. Ten seconds afterwards I deleted the whole thing it disgust. I guess I'm no good at intercommenterality. Sorry I couldn't enter into a dialog with ya'll.
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Though I'd find this whole thing a lot more forgiveable if she'd had come out with this theory before she was busted, as I walked to work this morning listening to this story (thanks Audible), I was tempted to side with her.

Then I got to her saying this:

“There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,”


And I stood at the intersection, literally laughing out loud.

But I guess I can't argue with the point -- because there's certainly no originality there: teenagers have been justifying their artistic weaknesses by spewing pretentious bullshit like that since I was that age.

(And I know -- because I was doing it.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:51 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you want "intertextuality" then use some fucking end notes.

copyright is a silly relic of the dinosaur old-media era and the sooner all that crap is eradicated the better and hahahahafuckthepublishingindustry, so... what's the correct line to take here?


Although I agree with your sentiment, how would you like it if I said you getting paid for doing your job is a relic of a bygone era?
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:53 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


In the picture, she looks like a barista who writes poetry in a fabric-covered journal. That should be a warning.
posted by jonmc at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2010


Think_Long: "It's not about plagiarism but intertextuality"

This from a 16 year old? I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to bandy about that crap until you at least get to freshmen comparative lit.
"

Hah, I though "oh, that's a novel argument. Wonder who she lifted it from."
posted by boo_radley at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


A nearly identical scenario was played out in 2006 when Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore, wrote How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. The book was tipped to be a chick-lit hit and had even landed Ms. Viswanathan a movie deal before she fell out of favor when she was accused of plagiarising two books by Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, as well as The Princess Diaries and works by Sophie Kinsella and Salman Rushdie. Ms. Viswanathan lost both the book and movie deal. On The Today Show with Katie Couric, Ms. Viswanathan claimed that she was innocent of plagiarism and had simply "internalized" details of the other author's books and that similiarites were "completely unintentional."

It's always the same old story - people with no originality ripping off those who do - and then claiming some "right" to do so.
posted by three blind mice at 3:00 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Dance music is full of plagiarists and uncleared samples from both popular and obscure songs -- all that really matters is whether the song moves people, IMO. Let the lawyers figure out the legal issues.

OTOH a song that sampled as egregiously as this book seems to have would have been released as a bootleg white label, and probably wouldn't have been nominated for any awards.
posted by empath at 3:01 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, that's what I get from my first year students all the time. It's just, *you know* so like *lame* to have to write your own stuff, especially cuz like it's *hard*, and what you really want is all that lovely praise.

Oh, and the money. And the prizes. And the A.

I'm sure, you know, that the people who really wrote this little fuckwit's stuff don't mind at all, at all.
posted by jrochest at 3:03 PM on February 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don't know who thinks it is possible to get away with plagiarism in the digital age. When everything is digitized, it's getting more and more trivial to do searches for matches against what's already in the collective, cultural memory banks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unrelated to this, author Jeff Noon asks:
"Film-makers use jump cuts, freeze frames, slow motion. Musicians remix, scratch, sample. Can't we writers have some fun as well?"


Sure. But when people hear musician remix/sample, they're aware that the musician may not be the creator of the remixed/sampled portion. This isn't the case in writing when you sneakily lift stuff from apparently obscure works.

However: "I didn't just copy this stuff. It's not about plagiarism but intertextuality", she says. "Very many artists use this technique (...) by organically including parts in my text, I am entering into a dialogue with the author".

There must be a long German word that captures how much it pisses me off when authors try to cover up their misbehaviour with pretentious wankery like this. The same long German word would have applied to the other 17-year-old but-actually-40-something literary wunderkind but-really-more-of-a-stunty-hack JT Leroy Laura Albert.
posted by CKmtl at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2010


If you want "intertextuality" then use some fucking end notes.

This is a brilliant idea and I'm glad I thought of it without any help.
posted by Sparx at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


There's a difference between "Plagiarism" and "Copyright infringement". When you plagiarize something, you pass on other people's work as your own. Even if you get their permission (so, for example if you paid someone to write your paper). On the other hand, copyright infringement is when you take someone else's work without their permission, whether your cite it or not.

This seems to be a case of both. But if she had cited the stuff she'd copied, she'd at least not be a plagiarist. On the other hand, it's unlikely her book could have been published, given the difficulty of acquiring rights.
posted by delmoi at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Although I agree with your sentiment, how would you like it if I said you getting paid for doing your job is a relic of a bygone era?

Don't worry, nestor_makhno: game warden to the events rhino is taking the piss, I assure you.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2010


Yeah, I'm really hoping someone (Google or otherwise) gets a searchable corpus of all books online, so we can search for the vast masses of plagiarized text, or intertextual whatever, just to shut down the assholes who think all text must be purely original. It would be damn near impossible, I'd guess, to find a book with no lifted passages in it, or no passages that are at least substantially similar to others.
posted by fake at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


by organically including parts in my text, I am entering into a dialogue with the author

As a reward, you may begin a conversation with the writer's attorneys!
posted by stavrogin at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


In my mind it's okay for a writer to "sample" other works, but they have to do it right. For instance, when a musician samples a piece of music, it's meant to inform and add meaning to a song - they're not just taking a chorus because they need a chorus. There's a ton of cultural baggage associated with it - the source matters when Jay-Z lifts "a hard-knock life". Similarly, if an author were to have their intro paragraph intentionally reflect, say, the intro to Odysseus, that choice would purposefully color that author's original work.
posted by Think_Long at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm really hoping someone (Google or otherwise) gets a searchable corpus of all books online, so we can search for the vast masses of plagiarized text, or intertextual whatever, just to shut down the assholes who think all text must be purely original. It would be damn near impossible, I'd guess, to find a book with no lifted passages in it, or no passages that are at least substantially similar to others.
posted by found missing at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


It would be damn near impossible, I'd guess, to find a book with no lifted passages in it, or no passages that are at least substantially similar to others.

Ah, the "but EVERYTHING has been written before, so EVERYTHING is plagiarism" defense. Glad to see it rear its slightly grotesque, mostly-clueless head in this conversation.
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on February 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Film-makers use jump cuts, freeze frames, slow motion. Musicians remix, scratch, sample. Can't we writers have some fun as well?"

It's one thing to remix Alice in Wonderland and Martin Gardner into a new book, because there actually is a "dialog" with the previous work and hoobity-blah.

If Hegemann was doing anything similar to this, then she would have been more upfront about it, and she would have spoken about it before she was caught. It is very obviously just plagiarism of a lesser-known work to create a new work. I don't doubt that she sincerely thinks there's nothing wrong with this, but most teenagers are narcissists on some level, so.

Not sure what this has to do with Doctorow's various screeds about copyright.

Also, wtf is with the Times declaring that she's "obviously" gifted. Really? Obviously? If so, then it hardly needs to be said; if not, then it's not true.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:17 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


fake,

Not really. English has about 1.3 bits of entropy per character, meaning across a 1000 character paragraph, there's about 1300 bits of randomness.

2^1300 is an *absurdly* large number.

That's why plagiarism detection is reasonably feasible. Having a character "like" Harry Potter or Gandalf or whatever doesn't actually represent nearly the same amount of entropy match as massive textual lifting. It is actually far easier to copy stories in your own words, than it is to sufficiently randomize out all the entropy from a textual lift.

So that's why we refer to one thing as "being influenced by, making reference to, making allusions to, etc" which is considered fair use, and the other as outright theft.

Things get really interesting in music, actually, because you're always hearing multiple streams at once. That's really the sort of thing that only our auditory system deals with.
posted by effugas at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


What a deutsch bag.
posted by Consonants Without Vowels at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


I like to imagine a world where some corporation, google or not, evil or not, compiles a searchable canon of all books online so we can compare the world's literary output for cases of plagiarism or intertextual phlogistan, just to convince the spicy rectums of the world that not all text need be original. It would be a sisyphean task, I'd hazard, to locate a text with no stolen sentences within, or no passages than resemble another in some significant way.
posted by stavrogin at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


jrochest: I'm sure, you know, that the people who really wrote this little fuckwit's stuff don't mind at all, at all.

fake: just to shut down the assholes who think all text must be purely original.

Not hard to see who has tried to do some original writing and who has not.
posted by three blind mice at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


What a German tote.
posted by stavrogin at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Axlotl tanks were used to create perfect copies of Duncan Idaho over and over for 10,000 years.
posted by Babblesort at 3:25 PM on February 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


convince the spicy rectums of the world

good luck
posted by found missing at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2010


There's a newspaper named FAZ ? They stol my nam !
posted by Faze at 3:27 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


by organically including parts in my text, I am entering into a dialogue with the author

As a reward, you may begin a conversation with the writer's attorneys!


Way to dialogue with troybob!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:29 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, you are all missing an important and potentially very profitable angle here:

...she has pretty clearly laid her work open for your re-use. Time to crank out a few derivative works.

So, steal away lads*, steal away!

(*and ladies; it's just that I wanted to allude to sea shanties, and "lads/ladies" wasn't working so well. Dammit. Really blew that one, didn't I? Harrumph. Harrumph, I say.)
posted by aramaic at 3:29 PM on February 12, 2010


Once again, fiction anticipates reality: P.D. James' latest is about the murder of a pitiless investigative journalist whose history includes exposing the (partial) plagiarism of a first book by a talented young author. Only that young character was so stricken at her exposure that she killed herself. Oh, the healing powers of chutzpah.
posted by bearwife at 3:35 PM on February 12, 2010


Ah, the "but EVERYTHING has been written before, so EVERYTHING is plagiarism" defense. Glad to see it rear its slightly grotesque, mostly-clueless head in this conversation.
posted by muddgirl at 5:16 PM on February 12 [+] [!]


Umm, that's pretty rude and a straw-man misinterpretation of what I was saying. Talk about clueful.

A lot more authors use each others' work than is immediately apparent. Being able to search all works will make that a lot more apparent.
posted by fake at 3:35 PM on February 12, 2010


There must be a long German word that captures how much it pisses me off when authors try to cover up their misbehaviour with pretentious wankery like this.

"Klugscheißer"
posted by Omnomnom at 3:36 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I begin to wonder about these "plagiarism" cases when they involve young "prodigy" authors. I think no matter how smart you are or how gifted with words, at 17 or 18 you really don't have as clear a sense of the boundary between your own experience and others' rights as you do when you're more mature (this assuming a western, middle-to-upper class context). As a college professor, I see this all the time -- a category that lies somewhere south of intentional plagiarism and north of a clearly individuated writing voice. You have to teach respect for sources even to well educated college students these days, and I'm sure that's always been somewhat true.

And although I'm not an internet alarmist (as are some of my colleagues), I do think that younger generations are developing a more intertextual relationship to literature (taken to mean all written discourse). This is not to excuse the plagiarist, nor in this case the media machine that hypes child prodigy authors as a way to save a dying industry. But it is to wonder whether this is in part a developmental issue that should cause us to be wary of authors lauded as early prodigies, and publishers to be more cautious about these issues.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:38 PM on February 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


In a slightly more serious vein, to take off from other comments above, Noon is either surprisingly ignorant or disingenuous. Writers do sample each others' work all the time. It's called pastiche, parody, homage. Howard Waldrop riffed on Lovecraft riffing on Poe who was, no doubt, riffing on someone else. Done well, it is a dialogue with previous authors, works, and traditions. Done poorly, it's embarrassing genre writing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:41 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


No, officer, despite the black cat suit, face mask, climbing harness, and bag full of gemstones, this is not technically a robbery, but merely performance art. I'm not misappropriating these jewels, but merely re-purposing them as a part of a cultural critique relating to class mobility. In a sense, I'm only utilizing their cultural significance, as a sort of Jungian archetype of loot or treasure. Their real world value is immaterial to the statement I'm making as an artist, and therefore shouldn't count toward any statutory definition of larceny.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2010 [17 favorites]


Umm, that's pretty rude and a straw-man misinterpretation of what I was saying. Talk about clueful.

A lot more authors use each others' work than is immediately apparent. Being able to search all works will make that a lot more apparent.


I apologize for (apparently) misinterpreting your use of the word "impossible" in the sentence I quoted:
It would be damn near impossible, I'd guess, to find a book with no lifted passages in it, or no passages that are at least substantially similar to others.
I can't see any other way of interpreting this sentence than "every author, intentionally or unintentionally, engages in plagiarism", which is a statement I clearly disagree with, and disagree with every time it is brought up in a discussion on plagiarism.
posted by muddgirl at 3:47 PM on February 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


Or perhaps I am misunderstanding your use of "lifted"?

Do you consider an aphorism "lifted"? Do you consider an intentional reference that is either attributed (or so common that attribution is unnecessary) "lifted"?

What about similar metaphors, but used in different contexts with different language? Are those "lifted"?
posted by muddgirl at 3:50 PM on February 12, 2010


What an amateur. Where would we be if Joyce admitted to ripping off other writers?
posted by Elmore at 3:51 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hold your horses, people. Let's wait and see what Cory Doctorow has to say about this.
posted by Ratio at 3:55 PM on February 12, 2010


Eh, nobody complained when Burroughs did it. Quentin Tarantino's entire body of work is built around theft and reuse.* If she's got the self-appointed literati fooled, I say, good for her. I'd probably be a lot more up-in-arms about the whole thing were it not (as noted in the article) that this incident has driven up sales of the novel she stole from, which was evidently not selling at all.

*In Peter Straub's new novel, A Dark Matter, a traumatized character with a photographic memory is able to communicate only by speaking in repurposed passages from the novels, stories and poems he's read throughout his life. This is so effective that he often seems to be speaking completely original verbiage, but he never is. I feel like a very similar happening takes place whenever Quentin Tarantino writes a script.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:07 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wandered lonely as a clod

Are you waiting for someone to catch the plagiarism? It's from Mad magazine 1958. Are you entering into a dialog with Alfred E. Newman?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:07 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


but on the other hand, copyright is a silly relic of the dinosaur old-media era and the sooner all that crap is eradicated the better and hahahahafuckthepublishingindustry,

You totally plagiarized this off the strawman in Wizard of Oz.
posted by inigo2 at 4:12 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


which is a statement I clearly disagree with, and disagree with every time it is brought up in a discussion on plagiarism.

Well, "disagree" all you want, I certainly don't mind, and I'm not interested in making personal attacks, name calling, or getting upset about what you say on the 'tubes. I disagree with a lot of stuff I disagree with, too.

From my side of the screen, it looks like you thought I was defending the author in the article, on the basis of some facile "million monkeys write Shakespeare/it's all been done" argument. That is not the case. I am not defending the author, and your interpretation was not my intention. If you've read my comments anywhere else on the site, you know I'm an advocate of fair use, attribution, and all forms of cultural commons.

What I am saying, pretty clearly, I think, is that search will enable us to see just how much authors rely on the work of other authors in various ways, ranging from paragraph structure, ideas, to metaphor, aphorism, and reference. And furthermore, it will reveal many, many plagiarists, and it has the potential to reveal much more than that as we get better and better at language processing.

As large corpus textual search, like Google Book Search, progresses, there will be evidence for or against both of our arguments.
posted by fake at 4:14 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unrelated to this, author Jeff Noon asks:
"Film-makers use jump cuts, freeze frames, slow motion.


False analogy. The correct literary counterpart to this is that she probably used paragraphs, exclamation marks, and expository sections. No one would complain about this.

Conversely, if a significant portion of "my movie" was scenes cut from obscure indie films, with no attribution at all - that is analogous to what she did.

She's s plagiarist. I have no sympathy for such.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:15 PM on February 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


I find situations like this interesting because they reveal what various people consider valuable about things like novels and stories, and human qualities like genius, especially young genius. The identity of the author always plays a role in the story, that much is probably uncontroversial, and in this case, she's being praised in superlative terms for having produced this work at her age; being aware of and being capable of playing with authenticity is far less impressive to most people.

Also: Hegemann told the German press agency DPA: "This is a century old debate that is being fought out over me. If that's how we're going to handle it, we might as well just shut down the literary industry."

Yes, we might as well shut down the literary industry if everyone's going to be so mean to her.
posted by clockzero at 4:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Intertextual mashup?!
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:24 PM on February 12, 2010


how would you like it if I said you getting paid for doing your job is a relic of a bygone era?

I would greet the coming socialist utopia with open arms and a smile.
posted by DU at 4:28 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I am saying, pretty clearly, I think, is that search will enable us to see just how much authors rely on the work of other authors in various ways, ranging from paragraph structure, ideas, to metaphor, aphorism, and reference. And furthermore, it will reveal many, many plagiarists, and it has the potential to reveal much more than that as we get better and better at language processing.

My point, which has been made lucidly in my opinion, is that a comparison of different texts will illustrate the large degree to which writers draw from the efforts of other writers including such things as the organisation of paragraphs, thoughts, and analogies. Moreover it will show that there are a large number of copyists and it has the promise to illustrate a whole lot more as these tools are improved.

This is my (ahem) own original thought and expression which may have been influenced by something I read somewhere.
posted by three blind mice at 4:31 PM on February 12, 2010


That Jeff Noon quote appears to be as a part of a peice produced relating to his book Cobralingus. The main person he remixes and samples? Himself.

(Despite being a bit up itself Cobralingus is actually kind of fun, and the last decent thing he produced. Though TBH he'll never hit the heights of his first two novels again, having caught a nasty case of "I'm not a science fiction writer!" in the meantime. )
posted by Artw at 4:33 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also that's from 2001 - so WTF?
posted by Artw at 4:33 PM on February 12, 2010


just to shut down the assholes who think all text must be purely original. It would be damn near impossible, I'd guess, to find a book with no lifted passages in it, or no passages that are at least substantially similar to others.

We're not talking changing a word or two here and there, and refitting it into the work to make it her voice. She lifted whole pages without credit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:35 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're not talking changing a word or two here and there, and refitting it into the work to make it her voice. She lifted whole pages without credit.

In a comment above, I said I wasn't defending the author.
posted by fake at 4:37 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd also submit that this sounds bog-all like the cut-up work of Burroughs, or even what T.S. Elliot did in The Wasteland - those borrowed and manipulated to make a collage where the parts and sourcing were obvious, even if the creation was something new and strange - this sounds more like flat out passing off as anothers work as ones own. That doesn;t make you a dadaeque art-rebel, it makes you a grubby little parasite.
posted by Artw at 4:44 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


We're not talking changing a word or two here and there, and refitting it into the work to make it her voice. She lifted whole pages without credit.

Actually, I think that would be a lot worse. What you're describing is straight-up plagiarism, without even allowing for the intertextuality defense. I mean, yeah, her argument is kind of dubious, but it's not like "found" sources and collage are a new idea in postmodern literature.

Q: What do you consider the most important tool of the genius of today?
A: Rubber cement.

posted by revfitz at 4:44 PM on February 12, 2010


Artw, you might be right, but I couldn't really tell based on the linked stuff, especially not being a German speaker.
posted by revfitz at 4:47 PM on February 12, 2010


"this weird intersection of the Venn Diagram of Snark"
We're living inside the Vesica Piscis of irritability.
I wrote that myself.
posted by crazylegs at 4:48 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I now have my "response to an anti-publishing industry comment" rant written out, the one that I've been building up in my head over something like five publishing industry threads that I've never quite had the time to get written. It no longer seems appropriate for this thread, in light of this comment, but boy, you guys are in for it one of these days.
posted by Caduceus at 4:48 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw, you might be right, but I couldn't really tell based on the linked stuff, especially not being a German speaker.

Yeah, I guess it's fair to say that all the non-German speakers here are just guessing based on the provided English material.
posted by Artw at 4:50 PM on February 12, 2010


Caduceus - Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get to use it later.
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on February 12, 2010


fourcheesemac -- I think there's still a bright line between those who echo or follow (people who try their best to sound like "critic X") and those who cut-and-paste sections of the work of others (people who figure that they can sew several paragraphs of a paper by "critic X" together and no-one will notice). One is derivative style and the other is theft. One person actually wrote the thing and the other didn't bother.

I've found that most of the most complex and interesting plagiarisms (involving multiple paper sources, sometimes up to 10 or 12, with carefully spliced paragraphs and sentences that ensure that there is less than a single original sentence per page) feel like Japanese plastic models of food: they look intelligent but actually have no content. And they're almost always purchased papers -- mostly because if you quiz the supposed author, they can't tell you anything about the argument, the sources they used and the ideas they supposedly explained.
posted by jrochest at 4:52 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


In an alternate universe, I have the time to cross-reference this thread with all those copyright is for loserz threads and expose hypocrites.
posted by incessant at 4:57 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


STEAL THIS DOCTROW JOKE ABOUT SELLING T-SHIRTS.
posted by Artw at 5:00 PM on February 12, 2010


(I still find the Jeff Noon link really puzling. I mean, it's in part a response to the New Puritans. Who the hell remembers the New Puritans now?)
posted by Artw at 5:02 PM on February 12, 2010


So is this book of hers out on bittorrent yet?


> If you want "intertextuality" then use some fucking end notes.

Index of sources I copied from old Vladivostok telephone directory. (Nb, I totally said that.)
posted by jfuller at 5:04 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I guess it's fair to say that all the non-German speakers here are just guessing based on the provided English material.

This is kind of the sticking point for me -- we're talking about a page of another book and the lyrics to a song in the context of what, exactly? Because either her entire novel is a patchwork of plagiarized sources -- which, if it works as a coherent novel, is actually kind of fascinating -- or, much more probably, it's however many hundreds of pages of original material with this other stuff folded into it, which maybe isn't great, but isn't exactly the worst literary theft I have ever heard of, either. I strongly suspect the "intertextuality" thing is some straight-up bullshit, but it's hard for me (from my perspective) to know exactly how much she stole, how she did or didn't repurpose it, etc. In the context of a complete novel, is borrowing a page or two from another work theft, or is it the equivalent of sampling a yelp from a James Brown song and placing its 0.5 seconds into your four-and-a-half-minute rap? I really don't think I've got the insight into a work I can't even read to make a call on it either way.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:07 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I sometimes get prickly when this topic comes up w/r/t college students, because I was once accused of plagiarism by a teacher. Accused of plagiarizing the Cliff Notes book, no less! Which I had not read. I'd have been offended if he had accused me of reading the Cliff Notes, much less plagiarizing them. That was 20 years ago, but I'm obviously still pissed.

That being said, "intertextual conversation" is when Tarantino riffs on Hong Kong action movies in Kill Bill. Whereas "plagiarism" is the relationship between Evil Dead II and Evil Dead 2. (Self-plagiarism in this case, but the point is still clear.)
posted by ErikaB at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2010


Thank you, delmoi. I'm a bit boggled at how many people in this thread can't seem to tell the difference.
posted by hattifattener at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2010


Well now this is confusing. She appears to be a fraud and a thief, but on the other hand, copyright is a silly relic of the dinosaur old-media era and the sooner all that crap is eradicated the better and hahahahafuckthepublishingindustry, so... what's the correct line to take here?

There's a pretty clear difference between providing a free copy of an extant work (e.g. sharing a song on demonoid) and trying to pass off an extant work as your own (e.g. plagiarizing a book).

For instance, as a software developer, I don't feel that it's especially bad to pirate my software under a number of circumstances--I'd prefer you don't, but you aren't scum if you do so. But, I get awfully fucking pissed when somebody claims my work as their own.
posted by Netzapper at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2010


fake: In a comment above, I said I wasn't defending the author.

There's what you said, and there's what you did.

Also, eponysterical.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:50 PM on February 12, 2010


I begin to wonder about these "plagiarism" cases when they involve young "prodigy" authors. I think no matter how smart you are or how gifted with words, at 17 or 18 you really don't have as clear a sense of the boundary between your own experience and others' rights as you do when you're more mature (this assuming a western, middle-to-upper class context). As a college professor, I see this all the time -- a category that lies somewhere south of intentional plagiarism and north of a clearly individuated writing voice. You have to teach respect for sources even to well educated college students these days, and I'm sure that's always been somewhat true.

Oh man, youth is such a silly excuse.

When I was fourteen, I was part of a fan-fiction writing club based around the TV show Space Cases. Along with four other fourteen and fifteen year olds, I was part of the "command crew" in charge of the club. Members would send stories out via e-mail. One day, I was reading through a story written by one of the better writers in the group and thought it sounded familiar. Picked up a book I'd been reading--Sword Dancer by Jennifer Roberson--and realized that she'd copied several pages nearly verbatim, with only the names changed. Even though we were all a bunch of barely-teenagers, we gave her a nice lecture about plagiarism. There might have even been some sort of repercussions for her (damned if I know what--clearly, we took ourselves very seriously). She was only fourteen, too, but she was at least smart enough not to claim she didn't realize what she was doing. "How the hell am I supposed to write about sword fighting?" she asked. "I've never been in a sword fight!"

Indeed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:03 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


fake: In a comment above, I said I wasn't defending the author.

There's what you said, and there's what you did.

Also, eponysterical.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:50 PM on February 12 [+] [!]


WTF? Nowhere in my comment did I mention the author. If you want to continue to read things into it that aren't there, go right ahead.

Here's that comment again. Where does it talk about what this author did?

"Yeah, I'm really hoping someone (Google or otherwise) gets a searchable corpus of all books online, so we can search for the vast masses of plagiarized text, or intertextual whatever, just to shut down the assholes who think all text must be purely original. It would be damn near impossible, I'd guess, to find a book with no lifted passages in it, or no passages that are at least substantially similar to others."
posted by fake at 6:25 PM on February 12, 2010


My German's pretty rusty, but I'm dubious about Hegemann plagiarizing Airen.

Sure, the song translation used as part of character's letter should have been used with permission and credited. But rest of it? It's not cut and paste. She borrows turns of phrase and describes similar scenes in similar language, but not in exactly the same words.

They both use the phrase "overheated blood" in the same context. Hegemann had a character say "Fuck capitalism!" and there's a scene where one of Airen's characters said the same thing. They both have a part where the narrator says "We were talking about bisexuality" and uses the phrase "I moderated to myself." They both have characters doing lines of speed in a bathroom.

Yeah, reading the parallel passages, I'm pretty sure Hegemann read Airen and her work, or at least some of it, is derivative. But I'm pretty sure you could take any two detective stories and have a good chance of finding similar parallels.

Like I said, my German's really weak. Maybe a translation would help. But this seems a lot like normal genre fiction.
posted by nangar at 6:35 PM on February 12, 2010


Article: “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann

Yeah, authenticity is everything. If you can steal that, you've got it made.
posted by churl at 7:34 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pro tip: The time to admit that you're lifting work from other authors in order to "enter into a dialogue" with them is before someone else notes your plagiarism, not after they've caught you.

I've personally never plagiarized, but I've taken some basic-yet-shiny ideas from other authors, usually asking permission first, and always acknowledging from whom I've borrowed (see the acknowledgments pages at the back of my books for these). In my experience it's better to be upfront about what you're doing and why then to have someone later post on their blog "ZOMG SCALZI TOTALLY STOLE THIS."
posted by jscalzi at 7:36 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not about X but Y.
Ew.

There's no such thing as X, just Y.
Ew.

Terrible rhetoric.

I am not sure whether to be disgusted or sympathetic towards this minor.
posted by polymodus at 7:47 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Axlotl tanks were used to create perfect copies of Duncan Idaho over and over for 10,000 years.

thank you for saying this so I didn't have to plagiarize it.
posted by BillBishop at 10:16 PM on February 12, 2010


In Peter Straub's new novel, A Dark Matter, a traumatized character with a photographic memory is able to communicate only by speaking in repurposed passages from the novels, stories and poems he's read throughout his life.

I think he repurporsed this from a Star Trek episode, entering into an intertextual conversation with Patrick Stewart.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:43 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know another German who was always taking over people's stuff?

Fritz Kleptomann?


Hans Ohnstoff?

Kurt D. Stiehler?

Meinrad Istgestohlen?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 AM on February 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, from reading the plagiarized sections on the FAZ website, I'd say the problem is her trying to write about something she knows nothing about. She's lifted scenes from a life of drug-ridden decadence that Airen seems to have actually lived through, but that I doubt she would have very much experience with as a precocious 17-year-old.
posted by creasy boy at 12:47 AM on February 13, 2010


What makes the lifted sentences pretty obviously lifted is that the expressions in them are new and in part designed words - pretentious designer expressions, to my taste. Which is probably why she lifted them. They aren't the kinds of things anybody might at some point say.

Apologies for the Noon link - was just one of those vaguely related thoughts in my brain that made sense at the time. I was hung up on the remixing and sampling idea.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:44 AM on February 13, 2010


I read a review about "Axolotl Roadkill" about two weeks ago. Although it was intended to be a positive review, I was left with the impression that it was yet another mediocre example of the semi-pornographic "shock chick lit" genre (cf. Charlotte Roche, Melissa Panarello) that has become newly fashionable among European literatti by catering to the sexual fantasies of educated middle-aged men. They can read about the purported sexual perversions of teenage girls without having to wrap their lectures in brown paper. Instead they can pretend "social engagement" and a "concern for the life of young people", and it's certainly more socially acceptable than "Justine" or "Story of O.", never mind "Hustler".
So, a perfectly cynical literary marketing effort turns out to also involve plagiarism? Colour me shocked.
posted by Skeptic at 3:24 AM on February 13, 2010


Yeah, I also thought of Charlotte Roche, though I haven't read her book either. It sounds like Hegemann 1) decided to write a shocking book, and 2) cribbed the experiences of someone who actually led that life. Meanwhile Airen sounds like a stand-up guy -- he had some experiences, wrote about them, and is now doing his best just to remain anonymous and let his writing speak for itself.
posted by creasy boy at 4:05 AM on February 13, 2010


Metafilter has voted with its mouse on this issue. A poem parody posted without identifying its source (Mad magazine) got 38 favorites (so far) and a post reporting the "intertextuality" got but 3. Clearly the literary theft was approved.
For those few who might want to see the full original, it is available here.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:24 AM on February 13, 2010


The MAD magazine poem isn't the original either - which kind of figures, since it's MAD.
It's a take off of Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

posted by nangar at 9:03 AM on February 13, 2010


Mad didn't choose not to acknowledge Wordsworth when they ran this poem.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:49 AM on February 13, 2010


related note: Jeff Noon is a swell writer. Vurt and Pollen are highly recommended, later cyberpunkish with a unique style.
posted by ovvl at 10:02 AM on February 13, 2010


Seconding that - i'm not sold on his later works - they trend towards being too self consciously arty-but those two are fantastic, a couple of really unique and special books.
posted by Artw at 10:11 AM on February 13, 2010


Related: The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism by Jonathan Lethem
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:24 AM on February 13, 2010


I think it's appropriate to link here a text I've composed, entitled "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote."

The writing is some of my finest. I like to sign "Borges" to my work, on occasion, as an intertextual wink/nod to my contemporaries.
posted by damehex at 10:36 AM on February 13, 2010


What's interesting about this is that it's not clear-cut. What Hegemann took from Airen was not blocks of text, but knowledge of a subculture she didn't have direct experience with, details of situations and experiences, and, evidently, distinctively Airen ways of putting things.

The intertextuality defense is not as silly as it would be in a case of blatant copy-paste plagiarism. Writers do do this all the time. They do research to get into the heads of characters that aren't them, and to understand and imagine worlds they don't live in. They study other writers to learn how to write.

Did Hegemann cross a line here, from learning from others to something unethical? If she did, where did she cross it? Was it by using Airen's work both as a source of information and a literary model, rather than just one or the other? Is it OK to base a character on a real person and copy their manerisms, but not OK if the other person is also a writer? When is it not OK?

Should all fiction be autobiographical, then?

Is it possible to steal a writer's voice?

The FAZ interview focuses more on the issue of stolen authenticity than plagiarism per se - Das habe ich erlebt, nicht Helene Hegemann - "I lived through that, Helene Hegemann didn't" Airen's take on the authenticity issue in the interview is interesting:

To write authentically is a demand that can't be fulfilled. Music, movies, theater never quite get at the original experience. But what I tried to do (my demand/claim) was to get close to the feeling you have when you're on the dance floor ...

I wish we could have talked about that ...

(Note: None of these questions are intended to be sarcastic, and I'm not defending plagiarism. I think this dispute raises interesting questions.)
posted by nangar at 12:50 PM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Conversely, if a significant portion of "my movie" was scenes cut from obscure indie films, with no attribution at all - that is analogous to what she did.

I think this was meant for the Tarantino thread.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:46 PM on February 13, 2010


I've been trying to get into an
Axolotl's head ... Soooo I, uh, you know, did a little ...

A sexually mature
adult axolotl, at age
8–24 months, ranges
in length from 15–45
centimetres (5.9–18 in), although a
size close to 23 centimetres (9.1 in) is most
common and greater
than 30
centimetres (12 in) is rare. Axolotls
possess features typical of salamander larvae
, including external
gills and a caudal
fin extending from
behind the head
to the ASSHOLE.
Their heads are
wide, and their eyes
are lidless. Their limbs are under
developed and possess long, thin
digits. Males
are identified by their swollen COCKS lined
with papillae, while females are
noticeable for their wider
bodies full of EGGS.

... research and worked it up to, uh, make it, kinda work
for me.

Maybe? Hope you, you know, uh, liked it?
Buy my book?
posted by kneecapped at 10:43 PM on February 13, 2010


Is Airen's book online somewhere? i'd like to read it, even if it's a bad Google translation.
posted by empath at 9:53 AM on February 14, 2010


What's interesting about this is that it's not clear-cut. What Hegemann took from Airen was not blocks of text, but knowledge of a subculture she didn't have direct experience with, details of situations and experiences, and, evidently, distinctively Airen ways of putting things.

The intertextuality defense is not as silly as it would be in a case of blatant copy-paste plagiarism. Writers do do this all the time. They do research to get into the heads of characters that aren't them, and to understand and imagine worlds they don't live in. They study other writers to learn how to write.


...and then they thank those that helped them research. They are profusely, profoundly grateful for any shred of "authenticity" that helped them craft their book. They don't pretend that the book is 100% "authentic", and then bitch when they get caught.
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on February 15, 2010


...and then they thank those that helped them research.

Yup. I think you, fourcheesemac and jscalzi got this right.
posted by nangar at 8:55 AM on February 15, 2010


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