NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No. 135 | March 18, 2008
Oh Brendan, Oh Brother, Oh My–“Who is he?” (Oh, No!)
I was a little startled too concerning yesterday’s dispatch on Irish writer, Brendan Behan and a few readers who responded: Who?
Bear in mind these dispatches go out to an extensive list of recipients…not all of them writers…some of them students, beginning writers, writers stuck-in-time, editors, publishers, newspaper people, radio-TV people, friends. family, readers with all kinds of interests (beyond and including literary interests), teachers, clergy, librarians, doctors, business owners, lawyers, musicians, etc.) Including a few folks who may open a dispatch simply because there’s no other mail, possibly wondering: “What the hell is he up to today?”
I was also taken to task yesterday by responses from a few readers and veteran writers who opined: “I thought your audience was on the high-end of literate?” (“It shows how old we’re getting,” said another.)
I pondered the matter a bit more last night and into this morning:
How many college students, English majors/college grads these days would know who Behan was? (Let’s not even consider high school English classes, where he would be banned for all kinds of reasons.) How many librarians have ever heard of him? (How many of Behan’s books are in your public library?) How many clerks in any Barnes & Noble store would know who you were asking about–without a computer in front of them? How many men and women sitting on editorial committees (manuscript acquisitions) of major New York publishing houses could say they knew Behan, his life, his work? How many people with MFA’s in Creative Writing could say they had read BORSTAL BOY, saw “The Hostage” or “The Quare Fellow” on stage?
The topic for today is directly related to #217 Poetry Dispatch of last week concerning “Celebrity” and the false memoir.
(Please, no questions as to Who was Franz….) Norbert Blei
A Bug’s Life, Really by Mark Leyner
In a scandal that’s sending shock waves through both the publishing industry and academia, the author Franz Kafka has been revealed to be a fraud.
“ ‘The Metamorphosis’—purported to be the fictional account of a man who turns into a large cockroach—is actually non-fiction,” according to a statement released by Mr. Kafka’s editor, who spoke only on the condition that he be identified as E.
“The story is true. Kafka simply wrote a completely verifiable, journalistic account of a neighbor by the name of Gregor Samsa who because of some bizarre medical condition, turned into a “monstrous vermin.” Kafka assured us that he’d made the whole thing up. We now know that to be completely false. The account is 100 percent true.”
In the wake of recent revelations concerning Margaret B. Jones’ memoir LOVE AND CONSEQUENCES and Misha Defonseca’s, MISHA: A MÉMOIRE OF THE HOLOCAUST YEARS, the disclosure that Mr. Kafka’s work was based on reality has embarrassed editors and scholars.
“I’ve been teaching “The Metamorphosis” for years, said a professor of literature at Princeton, who insisted that he be identified as P. “I’ve called it one of the most sublime pieces of literature ever written. Elias Canetti called it ‘one of the few great and perfect poetic works written during this century,’ To find out that it’s actually true is devastating.”
The actual condition of Kafka’s neighbor, a Prague salesman who didn’t return our calls or e-mail messages requesting comment, is known as entomological dysplasia, and is somewhat rare. It results in the development over a period of time of a hard carapace, a segmented body and antennas.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Kafka was contrite and tearful. “I know what I did was wrong,” he said. “I’m very alienated from myself, but that’s no excuse to lie. I took someone’s life and selfishly turned it into an enigmatic literary parable.”
“I’m not sure how this happened,” said Mr. Kafka’s brother, B., of Oxnard, Calif. “My brother is weird, but he doesn’t have that good an imagination. A man who becomes a big bug…my brother couldn’t make that up if his life depended on it. As soon as I read ‘The Metamorphosis” I knew it was true. Don’t they fact-check fiction?”
Mr. Kafka’s publishers are now reviewing all his works if fiction—stories about singing mice, “hunger artists” and men on trial for crimes they’re not aware of having committed—to determine whether they are true,
“We were duped,” said E., Mr. Kafka’s editor. “The whole story is pure, unadulterated non-fiction. This guy’s a complete con man.”
from The New York Times, March 9, 2008