Stephen Carlson reviews my list of top 20 literary hoaxes on Hypotyposeis. We continue to quibble over terminology. He prefers distinguishing between forgeries and hoaxes, the former involving cheating in order to get ahead (whether for money or fame), the latter involving the testing of others for amusement’s sake.
We need to be careful in redefining words. Generally speaking, a forgery involves false authorship, while a hoax is even more general — something false passed off as genuine. Forgeries can easily be hoaxes and often are. Where Stephen uses “hoax” to refer to something more specific, I would use the term “prank”. He writes:
Of the list of twenty literary fakes [on Rosson’s list], I would classify the following as a hoax proper:
• No. 2, The Secret Gospel of Mark, by Morton Smith
• No. 6, Parthenopaeus, by Dioynisius the Renegade
• No. 11, The Malley Poems, by James McAuley and Harold Stewart
• No. 15, Transgressing the Boundaries, by Alan Sokol
• No. 20, An Amusing Agraphon, by Paul Coleman-Norton
I say these are pranks. Here the hoaxers wanted to have a good laugh and assess the critical acumen of their peers. (And, as I noted in my blogpost, one of them is not a forgery: Alan Sokol’s postmodern hoax, since he signed his own name to it.) Smith fabricated a gospel out of intellectual disdain for his colleagues. Dionysius invented a play to make a fool out of Heraclides. McAuley & Stewart wrote some god-awful poetry just to see if randomly plagiarized lines would be accepted as artistic. Sokol wanted to fool the postmodernist crowd with an essay of nonsense. And Coleman-Norton just loved his own joke a little too much.
Other hoaxes are done for attention or fame (#s 3, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17), to justify an ideology (#s 1, 5, 9, 13, 18), or for profit (#s 4, 7, 16, and 19). There’s overlap in some cases. Mark Hofmann forged his Salamander Letter (and other anti-Mormon tracts) out of ideological hatred, but mostly he did it for money. Pierre Plantard was also motivated by profit and ideology, but more the latter in his case. But these are all hoaxes, even if they involve cheating or getting ahead as opposed to just “having a good laugh”.
Carlson also mentions the unidentified forger from the fifth century who wrote books and epistles in the name of Dionysius the Areopagite (in Acts 17:34). This actually made my original list but I ended up omitting, because I wanted to avoid any hoaxes that edge into the “forgery out of respect” territory (otherwise many of the NT authors would be eligible). But Stephen makes a good point. In terms of lasting influence, pseudo-Dionysius could well deserve a place on the list, and I originally placed him at #14, where Thomas Chatterton now resides (and who, coincidentally, just happens to be the one Carlson would oust in order to make room for pseudo-Dionysius).
Stephen has great observations, as always, and I have added his recommendation of Joseph Rosenblum’s Practice to Deceive to my reading list.