Here’s my course description for the seminar I’ll be teaching in Columbia’s writing MFA program this coming semester:
In the Preface to Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe presents the book as a completely true story, one for which he is merely serving as editor and publisher. He believes, he writes, “the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it.” Nabokov’s Pale Fire is a novel in the form of a 999-line poem, plus its editor’s foreword, commentary, and index. Both are well-known examples of what E. L. Doctorow refers to in his essay “False Documents”: a text that mimics the shape of an accepted not-fictional form, presented as, or in the context of, a work of fiction—potentially adding to the perceived legitimacy or seeming truthfulness of that text by the reader through the subconscious recognition of the realness, and therefore trustworthiness, of the textual form itself. How do we, as readers, perceive truth? How do we, as writers, fake it? This class will read, as our principal text, David Shields and Matthew Vollmer’s new anthology Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts (W. W. Norton, 2012), but we will also examine other instances of “false documents,” undependable texts, literary frauds, and other fakery, including Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Michael Martone’s Michael Martone, and Q. R. Markham’s Assassin of Secrets. Although the class will focus on examples of fakery achieved with words alone, contemporary and historical examples of non-literary fakery (e.g., the culture jamming movement) and their cultural and political import will be discussed. Students will be expected to write four short (2- to 5-page) pieces over the course of the semester: all will be original, new texts, of the students’ exclusive authorship, although they may (or even should) not be presented as such.
At least, I believe I will be teaching this seminar; perhaps it is the other one, the one called Hopkins, who is the one adjuncting appointments happen to. I see his name on a list of professors… I’m the one with a car, though, so I’m hoping he can come up with some valid pages while I’m down in New York City on Thursdays this fall!