Thursday, February 18, 2010

On Originality and Authenticity

A 17-year-old author, Helene Hegemann, in plagiarizing blog posts for her breakout novel Axolotl Roadkill, reveals the shortcuts some people think they can take on the road to success.

To defend her plagiarism – and there’s no other word or concept for it, despite her insistence on “intertextuality” (Read here at Time magazine lest I be accused of plagiarism myself) – she said this:

True originality doesn't exist anyway, only authenticity

She also defends her “’right to copy and transform’ other people's work, taking a stand against what she called the ‘copyright excesses’ of the past decade.'"

Who is this kid, and why is her ethical compass so broken?

Originality and authenticity exist. To say otherwise denies the limitless expanse of the human imagination and is a terrible, crippling crutch for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.

Miss Hegemann, let me tell you what’s authentic: My own writing. Your own writing. Writing that comes out of the imagination of an author, writing original prose for what may be, yes a familiar genre. Or a familiar story. Or a familiar type of story. Stealing someone else’s writing and passing it off as your own is not authenticity, nor is it intertextuality, nor is it a battle against the “copyright excesses” of the past decade, century, or millennia.

It’s plagiarism, plain and simple. It’s not authentic. It’s not original. It’s not yours. It’s theft. You’re a thief, Miss Hegemann, not a writer. Or a writer-thief. The thing is, you have to learn how to seperate the two. choose to be a writer, please.

You’d do well to listen to the writerly ambitions of another writer, one Cyrano Savinien Hercule de Bergarac, who said in Edmond Rostand’s classic play:

Be thou content with flowers,--fruit,--nay, leaves,
But pluck them from no garden but thine own!'
And then, if glory come by chance your way,
To pay no tribute unto Caesar, none,
But keep the merit all your own! In short,
Disdaining tendrils of the parasite,
To be content, if neither oak nor elm--
Not to mount high, perchance, but mount alone!

That’s true authenticity. You ain’t got it, Miss Hegemann. And your defense of your plagiarism tells me you’ve got a lot to learn about authenticity before it’s actually yours to possess.

Go to 2:32 for the start of the whole monologue.

Here it is in the original French. Exactly Rostand’s text and, I have to say it, delivered with much more passion than Jose Ferrer in the first.

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