Co-alignment of the Meta-Fictitious Ruins
Apparently it is considered bad form to pass off the work of another as your own; the world is full of sexed-up dossiers, where mediocre individuals have produced brilliant pieces of work. Consider the report which claimed that Saddam Hussein was poised to strike the UK with weapons of mass destruction, which could be deployed at only forty-five minutes’ notice (so at least we would have time to listen to Schubert 9 before annihilation). Or the marvellous doctoral thesis composed by the lovely Elena Ceaucescu, for which she was awarded Fellowship of the RSC.
But then again, it is equally appalling to claim that a piece of work – created by oneself – is actually part of the output of another, more famous artist. Fake Vermeers; long-lost Beatles recordings; an alternative version of Hamlet’s soliloquy.
A few years ago I sent a copy of a published technical report to a potential employer. The work was succinct and accurate; it made a few reasonable claims and provided supporting evidence. However, because the authors’ names were followed by the phrase ‘Oxford Polytechnic’ the report was dismissed as being irrelevant and unreliable.
In his book The Conclave Michael Bracewell describes an exchange between the public schoolboy (having failed his exams) and the House Master:
“His house master, telephoning the former pupil, suggested resits. ‘It’s either that or polytechnic’ (he spoke the word ‘polytechnic’ as though it was the punchline to a tasteless joke). ‘I hope you understand that?”
Recently, as a possible solution to this problem, I considered re-casting my research work, having it typed on some elderly foolscap paper using an ancient Olivetti and presenting it as a damaged document which had been ‘retrieved’ from the waste bins at a major chemical plant. With a suitable German-sounding author, and the word ‘confidential’ stamped on each page, this might appear to be a valuable piece of purloined research.
But then, some clever person might uncover the likeness between this fake vintage creation and my own published work, and conclude that my original report was in fact a masterpiece of plagiarism. And, like those urban myths about the ‘Apple’ logo or the word nylon or the development of superglue, the idea would take root and no amount of arguing would convince people that the old battered typescript was an impostor, and the real report was in fact original.
And eventually, even I would end up not quite sure which account of events was actually true….