This post got triggered by the author of one of the websites I’m following who purposely broke up an ordinary text in pieces and presented it as a poem while illustrating this with a couple of pictures of some stupid gadgets in beautiful frames that were labeled as art. It was intended as a hoax, so no bad blood there.
Let’s start by admitting that all fiction has a little bit of a hoax into it; all of it a ruse, a trick, a mirage, a lie, a swindle, a fabrication, a forgery. It’s an art who lies in the hope of revealing some truths. So what sets the literary hoax separate from the rest of fiction?
The oldest hoaxes are those who falsely attribute a certain text to an imaginative or real deceased author. What grates me is that some of them are pulled off by scholars, thus polluting the pond of literary research. Like James Macpherson of the University of Edinburgh who published in 1760 The Poems of Osian, supposedly the son of the mythic Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhail. Ossian inspired figures as varied as Goethe, Berlioz, Thoreau, and Mendelssohn. In 1894, a well-respected avant-garde poet, Pierre Louÿs faked the discovery of some old Greek texts to explore erotic themes that were largely off-limits in Victorian society in a book called The Songs of Bilitis.
Then you have the texts who pretend to contain some aesthetically, scientifically or artistically value but are nothing else than some meaningless word salad. Like Conrad Kujau who sold in 1982 a fake Hitler diary to Rupert Murdoch for millions of dollars, who enthusiastically published it. Or the way Alan Sokal revealed in 1966 the vanity of intellectual emptiness in contemporary scholarship by purposefully writing a ridiculous paper that was accepted at one of the leading journals of post-modern cultural studies.
However, the kind of hoaxes that irritate me the most, are the novels who’re exclusively written from a commercial perspective. This was illustrated by Newsday reporters Mike McGrady and Others, who wrote purposely a book so trashy and full of smut to prove that a work could become popular just because of that. They wrote Naked Came the Stranger by “Penelope Ashe” and today the book has sold almost a half million copies. 50 Shades of Grey has in the meanwhile beaten them.
To round up this post, here you have a list of the top 10 literary hoaxes;
1. Jonathan Swift – Predictions for the Year 1708 (1708)
2. James MacPherson – The Works of Ossian (1765)
3. Edgar Allan Poe – The Balloon-Hoax (1844)
4. Witter Bynner and Arthur Davidson Ficke – Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (1916)
5. Theodore Sturgeon – I, Libertine (1956)
6. JG Ballard – Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan (1969)
7. Clifford Irving – Autobiography of Howard Hughes (1971)
8. Binjamin Wilkomirski – Fragments: Memories of a Childhood, 1939-1948 (1996)
9. Stewart Home – Confusion Incorporated (1999)
10. Laura Albert – Sarah (1999)