Wednesday, February 17, 2010

plagiarism or remix? -- here we go

Those familiar with the intriguing NFB documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto will know the music industry has been trying to find the line between the homage and the rip-off for just about as long as there has been a music industry. Bring out your tired pronouncements about nothing being original and a culture dependant on copying. Nevertheless, I think most people can instinctively tell when new artists are actually building on the past and when they're just faking it.

So, how about the book world? Where is the line between what kids these days seem to think is a brand new concept -- remixing, mashing up, etc. -- and good old fashioned plagiarism?

17 year-old German novelist Helene Hegemann is insistent she is practicing a new creativity when she reprints entire sections of other people's writing (without attribution). Her book, Axolotl Roadkill, is even up for an award despite plagiarism accusations. In her piece in Salon, writer Laura Miller may have just found that elusive line:

The daughter of an avant-garde dramatist, [Hegemann] says she practices "intertextuality" and explains, "Very many artists use this technique ... by organically including parts in my text, I am entering into a dialogue with the author."

This would be more plausible if Hegemann had acknowledged from the beginning that she'd included work from other writers in "Axolotl Roadkill," but by all indications, she did not.

...If Hegemann intended to enter into a dialogue with Airen, she took pains to make it look like a monologue. If she viewed the writing itself as collaborative, she suppressed any urge to share those handsome royalty checks.

Oh, brave new world...

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