August 6th, 2009 / 11:48 am

Emails from ‘The Littlest Literary Hoax’

243836982_c3025b2bd5The Chronicle of Higher Education recently posted an article about a few years old DFW/Delillo-related prank authored by a Jay Murray Siskind and published in Volume 11, Issue 4 of Modernism/Modernity, a scholarly literary critical quarterly review. According to the ChronicleMark Sample, an assistant professor of English at George Mason University, discovered the article, a review of Oblivion, in 2005 when one of his graduate students cited it in an essay. He forgot about it, time passed, then he got curious and dug some more to discover a good bit of humor behind the whole thing. I won’t go on to summarize all of the details, as plenty of information is out there already and many other blogs have covered it – see the following links:

Mark Sample’s original post regarding the ‘hoax.’

Sample’s follow-up post in response to an open letter written by the editor and former editor of Modernism/Modernity.

The Chronicle of Higher Education article, written by Peter Monaghan.

However, I do have this to add. I’ve got the email exchange between the graduate student, who asked to remain anonymous, and Sample, who kindly gave me permission to share it with you here. It’s a great little exchange, pretty funny. Enjoy after the break.

On 12/16/05, Mark Sample <********> wrote:


I was reading your paper on David Foster Wallace and I wondered if you had wondered about the Jay Murray Siskind article you quote. Did you notice that that’s the same name as the Jay Murray Siskind character in White Noise? I was intrigued so I read the entire article in Modernism/Modernity, and the whole thing seems to be some kind of hoax! Consider the endnote for the article, which contain all sorts of allusions to the college in White Noise, as if the characters there were real scholars:

1. Here and elsewhere Wallace displays his impressive familiarity with recent studies that have examined the implications of subverting hegemonic transference in the psychoanalytic relationship. See Hal Incandenza, How I Conquered Analysis: Ten Ways to Dupe Your Therapist (Elsingborg: Yorick Press, 1998).

2. See Jay Murray Siskind and J.A.K. Gladney, eds., Adolf and Elvis: Two Twentieth-Century Men and Their Mothers (Blacksmith: Oedipuskomplex Press, 2002).

3. See, for example, J.A.K. Gladney, Learning German for Fun and Profit (I Did It My Way) (Madison, WI: Wahrscheinlich Press, 2003).

4. See, for example, chapter three (“The Sex Appeal of the Organic”) in Alfonse Stompanato, Crunching Granola: the Semiology of the Cereal Box (Secaucus, NJ: Beadsman University Press, 2003).

I wonder if the editors of Modernism/Modernity were in on the prank, or if they were victims! And of course the whole thing is complicated by the fact that what “Jay Murray Siskind” says about Wallace is dead-on. Maybe Wallace himself even wrote the article?

Professor Sample

The student’s response:

On 12/17/2005 12:59 AM, ******** wrote:

Wow. I’m. . . beside myself.

The name actually DID seem familiar, but honestly, I just figured it was a critic I had read before, and my headspace was so far from White Noise that I didn’t give it a second thought! I was just so keyed in on figuring out Adult World. And now, that my embarrassment has floored me, I’m looking at another essay I cited from, Wallace’s own E Unibus Pluram, which itself cites the “most photographed barn” passage from White Noise, so I should have completely caught on to this throughout the process for many reasons.  But I just didn’t key on the footnotes while I read the “Siskind” piece, which, if you consider I was writing a DFW research piece after all, was a dumb, dumb move on my part. That piece was actually very helpful, regardless who wrote it. I’d like to think it seems a little too self-involved for even Wallace, but it probably was him.

I feel like I’ve been punk’ed in some weird, literary way. This will haunt my graduate career.

Well, it wasn’t intentional, but I guess the paper is now itself an exercise in the postmodern condition, rather than a critique of it.  Feel free to use this as a cautionary tale for future students writing about DFW. Ugh.

Sample’s response:

I think “punked” is a good way to describe it! Don’t worry–I’m not counting this against you at all in terms of the grade for the final paper. I might not have caught it either, except Jay Murray’s been on my mind for other reasons (he crops up in another book pseudonymously written by DeLillo, which I think I mentioned in class, and which I’ve been reading again).

Professor Sample

And what’s really great is this: you can search through Google Scholar and see the book review listed in many bibliographies/works cited and consulted pages.

And finally, the graduate student tells me that he received an A on the essay.

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