Public and Private: Hunger Artists

Words have once again become subversive. LastFebruary, when Helene Hegemann, the 17-year-old German author of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll "novel" Axolotl Roadkill, was said to have plagiarized portions of this 2010 book from a blogger, she responded by hurling a grenade of a sentence back at her accusers.

"There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity," the Berlin-based writer said, ironically issuing this subversive statement through her venerable publisher Ullstein-Verlag, a business which, for nearly 140 years, has been predicated upon selling copies of its authors' original words. 

Note that Hegemann didn't just place authenticity above originality within her pantheon of creative values. The teenage writer's statement actually denies that originality—a central assumption of the creative economy for the past 150 years—exists.

 "There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity."

In Hegemann's creative universe, where it's impossible to be original because everything has been said before, all that is left for the author to cultivate is the virtue of individual authenticity by, it seems, transparently reorganizing other people's work. But in the shadow of the death sentence Hegemann imposes upon originality, what distinguishes authentic from inauthentic writing?....