Faking Literature

It’s been ages since I wrote about any of the books I’ve read, so I’m going back just a little way in time to comment on some of them.

This book, Faking Literature, I picked up at Readings from the cheapo academic table, partly because hoaxes/fakes fascinate me, but also because the author, Ken Ruthven, was the lecturer of a couple of subjects I did at uni. He was pretty hard to handle in first year – I really didn’t get it – but in second year I thought he was fantastic. I guess I’d grown up enough to understand him and his humour, not to mention lit crit.

This book is, of course, all about fakes and hoaxes in the literary world, and I learnt an awful lot about Great Scams in Literature. It was good to see that he included those few great Aussie ones, too – Helen “Demidenko” and Ern Malley; as well as Milli Vanilli, which was pretty funny. But given that he included that last, I was a bit surprised that he did not include Elizabeth Durack, a white female artist, and her great scam posing as Eddie Burrup, an Aboriginal male artist. The only reason I know about it, of course, is that it’s one of the family’s great stories. Anyway.

Aside from the historical pointof view, the book is also about the reactions of the ‘legit’ literary community to the deception – particularly when they have at first embraced the hoax/fake as itself being legit. His contention, I think, is that the legit vilifies the so-called illegit to stop people from questioning the legitimacy of the legit itself, and also becuase it is only legit by defining itself against the illegit. I love it… dichotomies only exist by defining what each side isn’t, which can only be done with reference to their opposite.

It was a great book. Quite easy to read, which was refreshing, and with some quite witty parts as well. And I’m sure Ken would be gratified to hear that I think so.

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