According to The New York Times, 17-year-old Helene Hegemann whose first novel is in contention for a $20,000 prize, defends herself from charges of plagiarism by saying, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.”
I fail to see how something can be “authentic” when it’s been lifted word for word from someone else’s book, without any attribution (much less payment), but apparently my lack of understanding is because I’m too old. The Times says she defends herself by saying she’s of a new generation, one that mixes different works as a matter of course.
It appears the prize jurors — who I assume are somewhat older than 17 — agree with her, because they put her on the prize list even though they knew that she’d taken material from someone else’s novel. Maybe it’s just old fashioned of me to think that using the exact words of another writer to tell a similar story is a form of theft.
Maybe, but I don’t think so. Mixing may be an art form these days, but that doesn’t mean using someone else’s work without permission is right. Besides if she feels so strongly that there’s no originality and everything is a mix, why didn’t she just publish the work for free and anonymously, instead of letting herself be praised as a young genius and being put in competition for a substantial prize. (I suspect she also got an advance and will earn royalties, but I’m not privy to her contract.)
The bottom line is simple: she’s getting rewarded for work done by someone else. Her remix might be better art, for all I know — more on that in a minute — but that doesn’t mean the original author doesn’t deserve some credit. After all, she couldn’t have done it without him. And he just happens to have a novel out using that same material, one that hasn’t attracted the same level of attention.
I have to say, if I found my work in something being listed for a big prize, I’d be pissed. Very, very pissed. Pissed enough to call a lawyer.
The sort of “fresh, radical culture” you expect to see celebrated in the online world these days is a petty mashup of preweb culture. … It’s as if culture froze just before it became digitally open, and all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking over a garbage dump.
I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I do know that I’m really bored by movies based on old television shows, not to mention new TV shows made from old ones. (Battlestar Gallactica stands out as a rare exception — someone approaching an old idea with actual creativity.) The TV show people are getting paid, so this isn’t theft. But it isn’t art, either.
Yeah, it’s hard to do something creative and original. But I don’t think it’s impossible, especially since we’re standing on the cusp of a lot change these days.
Laura Miller on Salon (that’s attribution, folks) makes an even better point about the quality of this novel:
And — please! — how much longer can very young writers publish novels depicting anomie, drug use and casual sex among their peers and still provoke wonder among their elders?
Given that the grandparents of children like Helene laid the groundwork for this genre in the 1960s, it might be time to recognize that there’s very damn little left to say on the subject.
Nancy Jane has stories in both of the anthologies recently published by Book View Press: “The Savage and the Monster” in The Shadow Conspiracy and “Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars” in Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls.
Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty (plus one new one) of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available for free here.