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. …
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.
“Freely mix[ing] and match[ing]” is a pretty euphemism for plagiarizing, but it’s a euphemism nonetheless. Is the acceptance of plagiarism one of the tenets of our new “remix culture”? Is there a difference between homage — as the series of videos by a pack of twee hipsters recreating brat pack scenes that Julian highlights appear to be — and appropriating wholesale without giving credit? Is it really in society’s best interest to evolve into a hive-voice that lacks originality and refuses to protect the few original voices remaining? I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I’m honestly curious. Fair use is one thing; stealing someone else’s thoughts and passing them off as your own is something else entirely.
At least, it used to be.