This One Time, 13

This one time I was reading the Franz Kafka Quarterly and I was laughing my ass off. The FKQ is a peer-reviewed journal for the publication of papers analyzing the works of Franz Kafka and sometimes a few others in his chain of influence, but the Spring edition tends to focus on Kafka’s undeniable sense of humor and occasionally, once every few years, allows in something completely improbable — largely fiction in the form of an academic paper containing in-jokes that would only make sense to, let’s face it, the maybe two hundred people worldwide that have the stomach to be Kafka scholars.

It’s not that Kafka isn’t significant enough or intriguing enough to be studied academically. It’s that Kafka is enjoyable to read. And if you enjoy something, odds are you won’t enjoy studying it. It will suck the joy right out of it and coat all the juicy stuff with a hundred years of paper dust. I imagine it’s  like what the study of gynecology must do to the sex-life of gynecologists.

Those of us who really enjoy Kafka and also have what it takes to study Kafka are the ones that have some appreciation for how Kafkaesque the whole process is, which effectively creates a small club of academics of whom no one else who studies literature can stand to be in our presence. They think we can’t take the field seriously. It’s largely true. Any field of academic study is nine-tenths egos and politics and one-tenth rehash unless you’re studying someone who is still alive and writing. That latter case is like a crew of vultures trying to make a meal of an animal that is still alive and running, however. It’s much easier to dismember a body of work when it is dead, sun-ripened, and in no condition to contradict you in the press — despite how hard it is to elbow your way closer to the crowded dinner table.

We have to host our own parties since no one else will invite us. We make our own fun.

The past spring’s edition contained a piece comparing and contrasting the opening to The Metamorphosis with a recently discovered version of the same piece written by Marcel Proust, featuring a side-by-side comparison of the first page of both works, commentaries by contemporaries that survived them both as well as academic scholars of the early twentieth century, an apparent Borgesian knife-fight between the two versions of the story in the footnotes which retroactively ended Proust’s version with just the first page — and wrapped up with tragic odes to both versions encoded in the poetry of, firstly, Rilke and then, anonymous works ascribed to Pablo Neruda.

As I said, I was laughing my ass off. When I finished I went back to the first page to see who had perpetrated this, and that’s when it became a lot less funny and a lot more Kafka. See, it had my name on it.

I stopped laughing. Then I started back again, wondering who I had pissed off that would have submitted this under my name — then realized it was way too good to be any kind of attack. Hell, I don’t know any of the readership who wouldn’t have wanted to be gifted with full credit. Who would give such a thing away? Were they looking for the backhanded deflation of my standing that would come from me having to write in to claim that I had had nothing to do with it — or the later more serious damage to my career and reputation by claiming that I had plagiarized the whole thing from someone else’s work if I failed to set the FKQ straight?

That was a no-brainer for me. Still chuckling, I went to my computer and began to draft my combined praise for the piece and complete disavowal of any prior knowledge of the paper, much less authorship. As for who might have it out for me, I had no idea. I decided not to take it seriously regardless. It was way more likely to just be a joke instead of a trap. When I was done, I reread my email a couple of times to make sure it couldn’t be taken the wrong way, but I waited on sending it because I got distracted by thinking about whether I had any papers, either completed or in progress, that I should consider submitting.

And that’s when I found my copy of the paper. I found my original outline, dated last August. I found a draft of the fake bibliography from early September, and then maybe six different versions in various stages, not including an autosave from when my computer had crashed. So call it seven.

I checked my sent email from September through the end of last year, and sure enough, I found the submission, with attachments, to FKQ. As a bonus, I found an email to a Proust scholar I had met as an undergrad. And an email to an old girlfriend I had nearly broken up with because I was sick to the teeth of Rilke (but actually lost to a grad-school transfer).

Fractured memory aside, I had plenty of evidence in front of me with which I could fend off any accusations of plagiarism. However, I still had no memory of any of it. I read all the material in front of me, the emails and drafts, and it certainly sounded like my words, my verbal mannerisms, the horrendous grammar my first drafts always have.

Meanwhile, congratulations and praise from friends and colleagues was beginning to stack up in my inbox.

I had no idea what to do. Except expand my disavowal and these notes into a submission for next year’s Spring edition….


January 13, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


One Response to “This One Time, 13”

  1. almostjezebel on July 1st, 2011 11:02 pm

    ah, this was the one i was thinking of the other day, but couldn’t remember any of the names…

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