Saturday, August 18, 2012

Guttenbergs Ghostwriter

I've just finished a novel that has been lying around for months. Ich war Guttenbergs Ghost - Eine Satire (I was Guttenbergs Ghost - A Satire), by Norbert Hoppe (a pseudonym). The idea that zu Guttenberg, the German defense minister whose plagiarized dissertation set off a long-running discussion of plagiarism, had hired a ghostwriter was hotly disputed last year.

The GuttenPlag Wiki has a number of pages that discusses all angles of this notion: The Ghostwriter Forum - The Stylistic Forum - The Stylistic Analysis. The variation used in this book is that a the author, Hoppe, who had known zu Guttenberg since third grade, had been helping shape the media figure zu Guttenberg for a number of years. When zu Guttenberg finds that he doesn't have the time to finish the thesis, he dumps the box of diskettes on Hoppe and asks him to finish it up for him.

The story is a bit long at times, and Hoppe professes a puppy love for zu Guttenberg's wife as one of the reasons he went along with everything through all the years. But the story does present a plausible explanation for the extensive patchwork quilt plagiarism in zu Guttenberg's thesis. It is also interesting to see how things change from when zu Guttenberg is just a member of parliament to when he becomes a minister. Everything is now focused on his media presence, and he get new "handlers" who organize his day.

I begin to understand why politicians don't actually seem to get things done. They are so absorbed in presenting themselves and making sure not to make public gaffes that there is little time left to be thinking about the actual politics. Hoppe gives a shockingly plausible reason for zu Guttenberg getting rid of conscription. He meets a recruit at a bus stop, the soldier is sitting sloppily with his feet on the seat. zu Guttenberg is shocked, tells him to sit up straight, and gets a snippy answer. "Do you know who I am?", zu Guttenberg demands. "Nö" the soldier answers.  When zu Guttenberg tells him that his is actually his top boss, the soldier doesn't care. His tour of duty ends in a month. So on the spur of the moment, zu Guttenberg decides to only have a volunteer army of people who want to be there.

The book is not great literature, and probably does not make much sense for people who do not know the zu Guttenberg case. But if you do and you read German, it is an amusing read.


  1. Well, someone who has a 'reliable' ghostwriter at hand does not need to ask the Parliament's Academic Service for authoring sections of 'his' work, does he?

  2. After all, his ghostwriter didn't occur to be that reliable.


Please note that I moderate comments. Any comments that I consider unscientific will not be published.