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Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 14, No. 5, 2015

literary hoax and



David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist (Random Walks) and author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity and Hear, O Israel! (Mantua Books). His editorials appear regularly in and PJ Media. His monograph, Global Warning: The Trials of an Unsettled Science (Freedom Press Canada) was launched at the National Archives in Ottawa in September, 2012. His debut album, Blood Guitar, is now available. "Identity Games" is the introductory essay in Reflections on Music.

Like a bird ona wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried in my way to be free.
Leonard Cohen

The phenomenon of the’ literary hoax’ or forgery has a long and prestigious history, going back at least to the 5th Century BC in Greece when the chresmologue Onamacritus ascribed a collection of his oracles and prophecies to the fabled poet Musaeus. It has continued through many incarnations, some obscure, some renowned, most of them notorious, to the present day. A few well-known examples include 18th Century forgers James Macpherson’s Ossian and Thomas Chatterton’s Rowley poems, prototypes of the ambition to inject a pseudo-past or native strain into a problematic national present. In modern times we note Pierre Louÿs’ The Songs of Bilitis, a fin-de-siècle prose-poem resuscitation of an ancient and scandalous passion; the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s progeny of alter-egos; Armand Schwerner’s The Tablets, with its focus on the reclamation of gross bodily experience via the medium of sham Sumero-Akkadian clay tablets; Australian hoaxers Harold Stewart and James McAuley’s Ern Malley; Kent Johnson’s Hiroshima poet, Araki Yasusada; and W.D.

The question is: what motivates the hoaxer? Some of these ostensible disreputables are spurred, no doubt, by pure mischief or playful hijinks. For others, the need to maintain secrecy in order to avoid unpleasant consequences is paramount. For others still, the intention is to establish a certain authority or cachet, a brevet of credentials that the forger, who wishes to be taken seriously in the larger literary or intellectual community, lacks in propria persona. But there are hoaxers for whom none of these considerations apply, or perhaps only in part. In this latter case, another incentive is at work, namely, a powerful, inward compulsion to discover and release aspects of the self that for one or another reason have remained suppressed or only dimly intuited.

Some time back, around the turn of the century, I decided that I needed to change the tone, stance and voice of my habitual poetics and prosody, which I felt had grown exhausted. To this end, I invented a fictional Greek poet by the name of Andreas Karavis, a fisherman by trade who lived on the little-known island of Lipsi in the northwestern Aegean, and set about writing a volume of ‘his’ poems, called Saracen Island, passing myself off as the translator. Karavis represented a deliberate and systematic effort to renew my poetic vocation and revitalize my language. Melissa Katsoulis has followed his career in a chapter of her 2009 book, Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds, though she failed to understand that Karavis was not, properly speaking, a hoax or a fraud but rather a projection that allowed me to reinvent myself, an extended trope or metaphor of the desire for transformation.

Karavis is totally unlike, for example, Paul Hiebert’s creation of the poet Sarah Binks in his comic eponymous classic puncturing Canadian literary self-importance. Some of my Canadian detractors have made a pejorative comparison between Sarah Binks and Andreas Karavis. But Binks is a deflationary joke, whereas Karavis, for all the levity and jubilation attending his parousia, is an aesthetic displacement extending the boundaries of disciplinary practice and customary usage.

Over the next ten years or so, I generated a series of poetic personae, each a heteronymic expression of the impulse to explore new dimensions of self, new subject material, and new possibilities of poetic main d’oeuvre. There was Karavis’s Turkish lover, the poet Nesmine Rifat (The Pallikari of Nesmine Rifat), the 13th Century Franciscan encyclopedist Bartholomew the Englishman (The Properties of Things), the Caribbean poet Rhys Savarin (Reaching for Clear) and the Moroccan lyricist Alim Maghrebi (Habibi), with several more still in manuscript, including the Israeli patriot Dov Ben-Zamir (New Wine, Old Bottles).

Each new poetic doppelgänger was accompanied by an element of revivifying strangeness in which I could still recognize myself while profiting from the frisson of novelty. Then came a more profound self-reinvention. As mentioned, I made a CD of my original songs, playing guitar and singing. Presenting myself thus as a singer-songwriter packing an axe left me oddly disoriented, as if my very name had become a kind of pseudonym to be written in scare quotes. Who was this rough-looking character wearing an Acubra hat, dark glasses, an IDF-style jacket and jeans, cigarette dangling from his lips, slouched over his instrument with an air of barely contained aggression? I didn’t think of him as simply another figure in the gallery of mythical improvisations until my friend, fellow poet and editor Carmine Starnino, perceptively remarked that I was obviously continuing in the same eclectic mode that began with Karavis. “Love the new bad ass ‘folk’ persona you’re developing,” he wrote. “Karavis would be jealous.”

Carmine was right, as I quickly realized. Recognizing the image I’d constructed as another form of existential photoshopping rescued me from what was becoming a full blown identity crisis that gave me months of sleepless nights. Was I really some sort of musician? Was the time I plowed into song-writing and practice sessions nothing but a colossal waste? Were the boundaries of my personality starting to waver and grow porous? Who the hell was I now? Yet I finally had to admit that this feeling of uncanniness, this state of ‘possession’ or dislocation, was essentially benign and restorative.

Writing, playing and singing songs, for all the self-doubt and hard work involved, was immensely exhilarating and no less valuable an expenditure of time and energy than writing poetry and books of polemical prose. As Carmine suggested, I was merely adding another heteronym to the almanac, someone who went by the nom de plume “David Solway.”

This was a great relief. And of course I had company in the pop music world, like rapper Eminem’s Slim Shady and Nicki Minaj (née Onika Tanya Minaj) who assumed a number of flamboyant masks in her showbiz pantheon -- Harajuku Barbie, Nicki Teresa, Rose, Roman Zolanski and his mother Martha. These are carnival dominos, masks worn mainly for the sake of performance buzz, not intrinsic facets of the self. In my case, the expedition into musical territory was on the one hand an attempt to find and elaborate a third creative discipline to coincide with or supplement the poetry and prose. But it was also a form of exploration and renewal, a discovery of possibilities for expression and experience that had lived in abeyance, a latency always ready to be manifested, given the opportunity to improbably emerge from the shadows.

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By David Solway:
The Hour Is Later Than We Think
Caveat Internettor
Why I Like Country Music
We Have Met the Enemy
The Obama Bomb
Don't Apologize Dude
Winners and Losers
Why I Write
Praying by the Rules
Age of Contradiction
Snob Factor Among Conservatives
Islam's Infidels
David Suzuki Down
Infirmative Action
The Education Mess We're In
The Intelligence Potential Factor
Gnostics of Our Time
Decline of Literate Thought
Galloping Agraphia
Socialist Transfer of Wealth
Deconstructing the State
Delectable Lie (Multiculturalism)
The Weakness of the West
When a Civilization Goes Mad
Deconstructing Chomsky
The Multiculti Tango
Utopiah: Good Place or No Place
Palin for President?
The Madness of Reactive Politics
Liberty or Tyranny
Shunning Our Friends
A Culture of Losers
Political Correctness and the Sunset of American Power
Talking Back to Talkbackers
Letting Iran Go Nuclear
Robespierre & Co.
The Reign of Mediacracy
Into the Heart of the United Nations
The Big Lie
As You Like It
Confronting Islam
Unveiling the Terrorist Mind






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