Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Plagiarism and Axolotl Roadkill
Why do authors plagiarise?
Traditionally, there were two reasons:
1. They couldn't write but had a fantasy of being an author, and
2. They could write but writing is hard work and it is far easier, and quicker if you are chasing a deadline, to copy someone else's work.
Sometimes both reasons apply.
Then a few years ago in 2006, a new phenomena emerged. It started with a teen chick-lite book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life".
This was written by Kaavya Viswanathan, a daughter in a high-achieving Indian family. She was pushed very hard to go to an Ivy League University, attending various booster courses for gifted children, eventually ending up with IvyWise who apparently process children to get them into the aforesaid Ivy League. Ivywise passed her on to a book packager, Alloy Entertainment who helped her 'conceptualise' her novel in return for a 50% cut.
It was duly published but within three weeks accusations of plagiarism surfaced. Chunks were lifted from the work of Megan McCafferty, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, TD Hidier, and even Salman Rushdie.
Kaavya's book was a composite. This has become increasingly a problem in the academic world. The cut and paste generation seems to have trouble understanding that a quote must be a quote, not just lifted and incorporated in one's own work. The question arises whether Kaavya really understood what she was doing.
A similar situation has just arisen in Europe. Helene Hegemann, 17, has just published a novel, Axolotl Roadkill, about the debauchery of the Berlin club scene. And a cracking good read it is, resulting in it being shortlisted for the Leipzig Book Fair. Like Kaavya, Helene come from a high-achieving family - her father is professor of Dramaturgy (wot us plebs call playwriting) at, wait for it, Leipzig.
The problem is that chunks of the novel turn out to have been lifted without credit from a novel called Strobo.
Helene has an interesting new defence against a plagiarism charge. She was not plagiarising but 'mixing', 'entering into a dialogue with the original author', indulging in 'intertexuality' - after all, says Helene, there is no such thing as originality.
Strabos publishers disagree, as do their lawyers, who have extracted a fee.
However, the book is selling and she is still up for the Leipzig literary award, who apparently know all about the copying but discount it as a modern art form. In contrast, Kyaava's book was withdrawn - the poor girl has been forced to retrain as a lawyer.
Is this what the ancient Leipzig University (founded 1409) teaches its students? Is the East German rot that deep?
Am I a dinosaur? Is it just me or is this just plain wrong?