Question: When does remixing become second-hand living?

Germany has been rocked by scandal this past week, as Helene Hegemann, the 17-year old writer of an astonishing novel called Axolotl Roadkill, has been shown up by Munich blogger Deef Pirmasens (Gefühlskonserve) to have lifted whole passages of her book from the writings of one Airen, a blogger in Berlin. Her publisher had asked her whether she’d quoted anything, and she’d said “no”. So she made a stupid mistake, and she’s being called a liar and a thief and all sorts of other nice things. The book is hot, sold out, second printing in the works. I only read the first 20 pages at my sister-in-law’s. It’s fast and savvy, a head trip full of adult experiences you’d sleep better knowing a 16 or 17 year old hasn’t had yet. So you really can’t help but be relieved that she actually did copy some of the episodes from an urbane blogger. Anyhow, she’s saying that her whole book is a remix anyway, and a totally legitimate new literary art form at that. Of course she’s right about remixing being a movement and an art form, and she can talk the talk, so she’ll be in the literary supplements for a while to come. Once the copyright issue  is settled in the second edition, a minor issue, and she shares the limelight with Airen, she’ll survive just fine as a writer.

But let’s just go back one step. So her book is pieced together almost completely from second-hand experiences. In music, remixing can create something sophisticated that reflects the artist’s skill and vision. But words are by their very nature unoriginal. Putting them together in a way that makes them your own is a helluva job. Remixing writing to make a novel? Why write one at all if you’re producing a product that just reproduces what other people have written? What’s the point?

This also makes me think of my own work as a teacher. In essay writing I preach: Put yourself into your writing. Make it real. Live, and live to talk about it. That’s especially hard to do in “English as a foreign language”, which is basically a large collection of the handiest, most frequently used phrases, so it’s full of linguistic clichés. It can drive a language lover to drink. So it’s hard enough to help language learners find their own voice. Do they plagiarize? All the time. And I give them hell for it.

Here’s what I think: Plagiarizing is not the same thing as remixing. Plagiarizing isn’t “borrowing” from others.  All it is, is stealing from yourself.

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What could be prettier

J.D.Salinger died yesterday.

“I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just the opposite. Don’t you see that? I’m afraid I will compete that’s what scares me. That’s why I quit the Theater Department. Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.”

– Franny, in Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger (1957)

Towards the end, as Franny and Zooey talk things through, Zooey tells her the only thing that counts is detachment. He says, the only thing you can do for God is to act. And he says: What could be prettier?

Not beautiful, pretty. Human-sized, Humanistic. Will do my best to be pretty today. And make this weekend, meeting family, a pretty one, too.

S is for Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991) is pronounced “Zeus” in English, like the Greek god. And he is a, if not the, godhead in the pantheon of English literacy. In a hilarious reading of Green Eggs and Ham, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called him a “latter-day saint”. He was a third-generation German-American who grew up speaking both languages, with German being spoken at home. Words fascinated him from an early age. His zany drawings and poems are unmatched.

In his first book, The Cat in the Hat, Dick and Sally are latchkey children alone at home with their fish. The Cat in the Hat comes, causing chaos with his two sidekicks, Thing One and Thing Two. In the end, the kids get the Cat in the Hat and (the) Things under control, and the Cat in The Hat tidies everything up… just in time, before Dick and Sally’s parents come home!

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do. And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” – Dr. Seuss

“…adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.” – Dr. Seuss (quoted in his obituary in Time Magazine)

Dr. Seuss (Image: Wikipedia)
Dr. Seuss

To read them is to learn them by heart. Ten quotes:

Hop on pop: “We like to hop. We like to hop on top of pop. / Stop! You must not hop on pop.”

One fish two fish red fish blue fish

Fox in Socks: “New socks. Two socks. Whose socks? Sue’s socks.”

The Cat in the Hat: “I will pick up the hook. / You will see something new. / Two things. And I call them Thing One and Thing Two.”

Horton Hears a Who: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Horton Hatches the Egg: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant./ An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”

Green Eggs and Ham: “I will not eat them, Sam I Am!”
Video: The Reverend Jesse Jackson reads Green Eggs and Ham

Put me in the Zoo: “They should not put you in the zoo. / The circus is the place for you!”

Oh, the places you will go! “You have brains in your head. / You have feet in your shoes. / You can steer yourself / any direction you choose.”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! / Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”

E is for eating

Nobody spotted the dwarf yesterday, eh? Pity, such a sweet little one, I wonder where George found him. Now for advent calendar day 5:

“Eat your words!” (Nimm alles zurück!) ... and Milo does. The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) takes him into a parallel world where you have to eat words to use them. — I’m always nibbling on mine.

Highlights from the book: Milo meets the Whether Man (“for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be”),  and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). Milo and Tock then set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason. In jail, they meet a Which named Faintly Macabre, who used to pick which words were used for which purpose. But she was a very bad which, because she decided to keep all the good words for herself.

Also see the review by Gregory McNamee


Far, far away is a beautiful island
of enchanting lakes and green, dreaming pastures.
In other lands, the houses were lonely
or crowded or crippled or else could not breathe.
The birds heard their sighs, and flew to them crying:
‘Travel with us to the isle of contentment.’
Three little towers first had the courage
…..then two sad memorials
…..and a lone mountain church.
From the east and the west
they excitedly hurried,
cathedrals and palaces, manors and cottages…..
bravely they travelled
through dark, winding passes,
over vast, windswept gorges
and sun-beaten deserts
where people and furniture…..
…..were sometimes mislaid.
The heavier houses lingered and rested
while others on rivers
drifted down to the sea. Then, alas!
the wind whipped the waves
and the sea became strewn with
the wreckage of houses.
So some crossed by tunnel…..
…..and some by baloon…..
…..till they came one by one
to the Beautiful Island,
where at last the houses found
sunshine and peace.
There on the island
they can float on the rivers,
there are bowers for lovers
or nooks for the shy…..
and for the sun-weary
the shade of cool caverns…..
and dancing and happiness and

This is only the text of the marvelous collage novella that gave this blog its name. Meg Rutherford created splendid collages of old black and white prints. Miraculously, her book is still on the market. Published in hard cover in London by George Allen and Unwin Ltd in 1969.

From the blurb: “Comparable only with the work of Max Ernst and René Magritte, THE BEAUTIFUL ISLAND is an unparalleled adventure in the use of collage. A story? A poem? An idyll? An allegory? It is a joyful, wistful architectural fantasy that will, it is hoped, capture the hearts of artists and dreamers, adults and children.
Meg Rutherford was born in Australia in 1932 and came to London in 1958 to study at the Slade School of Art. Principally a sculptress, her work was first exhibited in 1961 and since then has been shown in many galleries …”

Englischlernen mit Blogs is as easy as 1,2,3

If you are practicing English online by yourself, here are three lovely blogs written especially for you to start with. Each one is special in its own way:

1. Der Englisch-Blog

Dieser Blog von Markus Brendel ist auf Deutsch geschrieben und erklärt täglich entweder einen Ausdruck oder eine Frage aus der Grammatik. Gestern hat Markus beispielsweise das sehr aktuelle Thema “Dienstwagen” präsentiert, und ich habe mich total nach Washington, DC versetzt gefühlt, wo die dicken schwarzen “official cars” mit Tatü, Tata! durch die Straßen düsen. Nicht zu verwechseln mit dem “company car”, den Dolce fährt. Und heute geh’s um den Begriff “mad as a hatter” aus Alice in Wonderland.

2. Bite-Sized English

Toby features great topics of everyday life, like getting ready for a baby (which I think he is doing right now) as well as very practical, specialized business English topics. He provides a daily podcast and a worksheet to print out. Often he will feature the same topic several days in a row as a series, so you can really concentrate on it. Right now the topic is cars, or “Automotive English“. I wonder whether he’ll be doing something on having your car stolen?

3. Nik’s Daily English Activities

If you like gadgets and online tools and want to play with all of these fun things, Nik Peachey‘s blog is the place to go. He used to be a jazz guitarist, and I think it shows in his love for experiments. Nik’s very focussed on tools that really help you learn, and his blog for teachers is my main guidebook through this brave world of online learning. Learn to understand English accents, from America to India, using the best of the web, the Speech Accent Archive of George Mason University, in his latest post. Or, to stay on topic, play the eye-opening game in his post on “Driving and Listening to English“.

And those are just three to start with! There are so many, and I promise to feature more. Please have a look at my blogroll “englischlernen” for some of my favorites.

Wenn Sie etwas Spezielles suchen, kann ich Ihnen ja vielleicht einen Tipp geben. Auf Twitter ( folge ich vielen Lehrern mit tollen Blogs. Sie haben echt was zu bieten. Also: Fröhliches Surfen!

Question: What’s your summer read?

americangods_massmarketpaperback_1185415388I’m strapped for time this week, with lots to do before we take off for Drummond Island. Three weeks with my husband! I can’t remember when we last had a break like that. I think it was ten years ago when we last went to the States together, just before we moved here to Munich.  Anyway, things are pretty busy, so let me cut to the chase: I’d like to know what you’re reading this summer.

The book I’ve started and that is calling out to me is Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”. I’m going tell you about it and read you a short passage from it in this week’s podcast.

American Gods is a combination of Americana, fantasy, and ancient and modern mythology. The central idea is that the gods exist because we believe in them, and they thrive in traditional society. But when immigrants to the United States brought their dwarves and elves and spirits and gods with them, their power was diminished as people stopped believing in them. They were replaced by the New Gods of America, media and technology, celebrity and drugs.

As the story begins, Shadow, who is as moody as his name, is just getting out of prison and looking forward to seeing his beloved wife again. But then he hears that she has died in a car accident, and his dreams are shattered. On the plane to her funeral he has a “dream”… (reading from pages 19 and 20)

This book hooks an adult reader the way books on, say, dragon slayers won’t, because the world of magic is so near, just around the corner, in the next stranger you meet. Thank you very much to Katja for lending it to me.

So what’s your summer read? What genre is it? What do you like about it? Who is the author? Have you read anything else by him or her? How did you find out about the book and the author? Where and when do you plan to read it?

Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne!

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