Thursday 28 January 2010

Helene Hegemann: Axolotl Roadkill

What is it about January? Last year everyone was raving about Daniel Kehlmann's Ruhm. And this year it's Helene Hegemann's turn in the spotlight. It's like people need a bit of literary excitement in their lives to brighten up the cold, dull days.

And Axolotl Roadkill certainly gives us that. Just look at all the euphoric press reviews behind that link. So here's the hype: the writer is a 17-year-old filmmaker. It's about rich kids kicking around in today's Berlin. They take truckloads of drugs and go to clubs and parties and have dirty sex. Narrator Mifti is utterly fucked-up but refuses to get help. And there's no happy ending.

What's the big deal? The big deal is, it's really good. You can read it as a critique of a society that refuses to grow up - hence the axolotl of the title, which never emerges from adolescence. You can read it as a psychological portrait of an emotionally abused kid. You can take it as a pop-cultural definition of Berlin right now, Berghain and ketamin and all. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the language, which has already seeped into my vocabulary (sheetrock palace for a converted loft space, I'm loving it).

I've kind of shot my wad on the subject elsewhere, but I didn't want to ignore the book here. So this is just me saying: Watch the trailer. Believe the hype. Read the book.

Update: See this entry for more information and opinion on the plagiarism issue.

Update update: For my final word, go here.


David said...

But did she plagiarize?

kjd said...

Strictly speaking: yes, she did. But now it's out it doesn't take anything away from the book. Airen gets his credit and some extremely useful publicity and the whole collage still works just as well.

Still convinced,

Anonymous said...

yeah sure airen got credit but why only from the second circulation on?

she's just a dumb ass kid who uses other peoples ideas to get some fame.

how can u call it inspiration if zou just copz paste whole texts without making anything more of it?

kjd said...

But the book is over 200 pages long - of course she made more of it.

There are a lot of influences in there; if you ask me HH owes more to the techniques of Kathy Acker - who she did credit - than to Airen.

The issue, I suppose, is the disrespect her character shows to "some blogger" and her own disrespect. Because to name DFW and not Airen is in fact dumb-ass, if you want to put it that way.

I don't want to speculate on her motivation, Anonymous. I do want to give her credit for what I still believe is a good book. And I find Deef Pirmasens' idea that the editor ought to have googled every sentence rather ridiculous.

dap said...

"...What's the big deal? The big deal is, it's really good..." is an interesting observation,...along with Hegemann's own opinion that “...There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,...” (NYTimes today)

Today, the NYTimes reported that on Thursday, Ms. Hegemann’s book was announced as one of the finalists for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category, and that, regarding the plagiarism allegation, one of the jurists states: “I believe it’s part of the concept of the book.” It is certainly part of the concept of the times we live in that our artists are authentically unoriginal.

Anonymous said...

"There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann.
I once wrote something creative and I worked very hard to make it original. Without reading my work, Ms. Hegemman has declared me a failure!
Well, I have an original question for you, young lady. You will earn a lot of money from this book. Will you donate and give away the money as freely as you took the material?

Anonymous said...

She's a thief, and a poor excuse for a writer.

cyberfiction said...

To all those who are outraged at Helene Hegemann's "free-
appropriation" of passages from Airen's "Strobo," I ask you this:
Where would Jazz be without unattributed "quotes"? Where would hip-hop
be without "sampling"? In fact where would popular music be without "covers"?
And that's just for starters. Think of the visual arts, opera, you name it. In fact, intellectual property rights is a very recent (late 19th & 20th century phenomenon (a product of advanced capitalism as much as protection for the artists). Join in the conversation at the Cyberfiction Virtual Book Discussion Group on "Reality Hunger" and Axolotl Roadkill" (

C.G. said...

As I see it the criticism against Helene Hegemann results from three pervasive trends in contemporary society: jealousy, misogyny and sexual frustration. End debate.