Hot Teenage Writer + Plagiarism = 2006 All Over Again


There's another angel in Teenage Plagiarism Heaven today. Helene Hegemann, author/curator of the German party-generation novel Axolotl Roadkill, has been busted lifting passages from several sources, including another German party-generation novel.

Plagiarism checklist:

Helene Hegemann under arrest for plagiarism.

Underage plagiarist? Check. The 17-year-old Hegemann is the daughter of Carl Hegemann, a prominent writer, academic and theater manager.

Author branding? Check. While not in the top rank of beauties, Hegemann comes with skanky club-kid charm to spare. Her tale of wild sex and copious drug use among teenagers has predictably excited the old farts of Germany's literary establishment, and she has been lauded for her searing authenticity.

Passages stolen from less-fortunate author? Check. The primary target in this case has been the blogger Airen, who at 29 is old enough to be a great-grandparent, and whose club-generation novel Strobo was published by the small Berlin house SuKuLTuR.

Me-no-remember defense? No check! Unlike Gerald Posner, who recently used the never-believable argument that he could not recall lifting sentences for a Daily Beast column, Hegemann merely regretted not having acknowledged all the contributors.

Author confession? Better than most. Hegemann made no effort to cover up her lifts, and her publisher did the same, putting the blame on these kids and their "sharing" culture, leading to…

Internet-made-me-do-it defense? Partial. In comments to Buchmarkt, Hegemann cops to "ruthlessly robbing my friends, filmmakers, other writers, and myself," but only in the context of a collaborative-creation model (leaving out the vexatious details about who gets paid when the collaboration is done).

Philosofuturistic mallarkey? Check. In addition to the publisher's comments above, Hegemann extemporizes about being "only a tenant in my own head," and offers, "There's no such thing as originality anyway, there's only authenticity."

Potential for plagiarism to add to author's cred? Most definitely. I've never met a club kid who was shy about taking the five-finger discount.

My question: When is a plagiarist going to use the ReTweeting defense?

Back in '06, when Harvard was still a breeding-ground for literary ripoff artists rather than for homicidal academics, everybody wanted to throw the hastily-withdrawn-and-pulped book at sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan, for the copious stolen pasages in her book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. But I loved her so much I wanted to change my name to Kaavyanaugh. Viswanathan and that year's bumper crop of book crooks provided important lessons about efficient literary arbitrage, the pointlessness of authenticity, and the importance of craft and invention even (or especially) in autobiographical literature.