August 17th, 2006


Author Authenticity

I've been reading the Gunter Grass debate lately with a bit of interest. In case you've missed it, Grass, the Germany born, Nobel Prize Winning author of novels such as the Tin Drum and My Century, has revealed that in the second World War he was conscripted to a tank division of the Waffen SS. The Waffen SS units were, from what I understand, responsible for the guarding of concentration camps. The problem rises from that fact that Grass has, for the last sixty years, claimed that he was conscripted to an anti-aircraft unit.

It is interesting to watch the responses. Some people have called for Grass to be charged as a war criminal, which is a bit of an over reaction, I feel. Others have said that he should return his Nobel Prize. I don't really see much of a point in that, either. Others have accused him of simply using the story to drum up business for his war memoirs, which are being released in Germany shortly (or have been, already). Certainly it has worked on me, but then I've always liked Grass, so I'm an easy touch. Likewise, since I do like his work, and I am not German, and have not had to listen to Grass lecture me about the cultural morals and responsibilities of Germans, I am less bothered by his deceptions than others might be.

What interests me, however, is how bent out of shape people get when they find out an author has misrepresented him or herself. It's especially of interest because I examine a whole lot of author hoaxes in Twenty-Lies/One Truth, and let me just say, the list is somewhat endless. It stretches across gender. It stretches across ethnicity. Across genre. Fuck, authors have been lying about themselves since they started writing, it seems, and people have been getting bent out of shape about it since they first figured it. It is as if they feel that they have been conned, lured into a trick, and have been personally insulted.

Yet, for much of the cases, the work in question have related to fiction. Grass is a bad example of this, simply because he has used his fiction to be a moral, outraged voice, but there are other examples. What interests me about the author hoaxes, however, is how they are connected to what appears to be an undercurrent in literature over what is taken seriously, and what is important, that this element of the work is somehow related to truth--either through the author's life, or cultural heritage. If you can hit that truth button, suddenly you are lifted out of you genre, out of your imperfections as an author, and given a larger, and more important place in literature. Should you never have it, you will not be given the seriousness that your work, even if it is of a high quality, even if it might deserve; and should you be found out to be lying, then you'll be crucified.

It's the kind of thing I could get easily obsessed about.

At any rate, consider this: Gunter Grass is being attacked in the media because he lied about where his conscription landed him, but yet, he still did not fire a shot, and reportedly made himself ill to get out of service. Anne Perry, on the other hand, is the author of historical murder mysteries. In truth, she is Juliet Hulme, who, along with Pauline Parker, planned and executed, the murder of Parker's mother in 1954. This resulted in Parker hitting her mother in the head with a brick forty-five times. Since 1979, Hulme has published over 50 novels detailing fictional murders. She continues still.
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