ImpostorsLiterary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity

ImpostorsLiterary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity

Christopher L. Miller

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226590950

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Impostors analyzes two national traditions of literary hoaxing: those in the United States and in France, arguing that the latter has not received the attention it merits. In a context of open identity politics in the US, intercultural imposture makes perfect sense. But in France, where a universalist Republican ideology holds sway, it is more paradoxical: is there any otherness to be stolen? This book argues that there is plenty, and that a long tradition of such theft exists. Imposture and literary hoaxing are situated in relation to impulses to both truth (Plato) and play (Aristotle); then in the general context of otherness in literature, and in relation to contemporary debates about cultural appropriation and the rise of a new identitarianism. The questions of benefit (cui bono) and harm (cui malo) are posed. American hoaxes discussed here include Forrest Carter, JT LeRoy, and Margaret B. Jones. The French and Francophone tradition of imposture is examined in part two, with examples coming from Denis Diderot, Prosper Mérimée, Elissa Rhaïs, Camara Laye, Romain Gary, and others. Part three is an in-depth study of the imposture of Jack-Alain Léger, who posed as Paul Smaïl, a Moroccan second-generation immigrant or Beur. One of the four Smaïl novels, Vivre me tue (Smile), is examined in detail, and questions of harm are discussed with reference to an essay by Azouz Begag and in the light of evidence from Léger’s papers. The conclusion is that hoaxing will continue as long as identity and authorship remain in place.