Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two kinds of pseudonymity

Consider two examples of pseudonymity:

  • Samuel Clemens writes Life on the Mississippi, signing it “Mark Twain”.

  • Konrad Kujau writes The Hitler Diaries, signing them “Adolf Hitler”.

There is a crucial literary difference here: tokens of “Mark Twain” in Life on the Mississippi (say, on the title page) refer to Samuel Clemens, while any tokens of “Adolf Hitler” in The Hitler Diaries would refer to Adolf Hitler. We can correctly say that Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens and wrote Life on the Mississippi, but we cannot say that Adolf Hitler is Konrad Kujau or that Adolf Hitler wrote The Hitler Diaries. On the other hand, when Clemens’ text speaks in the first person about life on the Mississippi, the text tells us about Clemens’ life. But when Kujau’s text speaks in the first person about life in Berlin, the text tells us about Hitler’s life.

In fact, strictly speaking a pen name like “Samuel Clemens” is not pseudonymous in the etymological sense of the word—“falsely naming”—but just an additional name adopted by the author for certain purposes.

Note that the distinction is not due to the fact that Adolf Hitler is a historical person distinct from Konrad Kujau. A fake diary of a fictitious serial killer would be pseudonymous in the same sense that The Hitler Diaries are: the purported author’s name fails to refer to the real author. Of course there is this difference: in the The Hitler Diaries there is a real mass murderer to whom the text refers, while in the diary of the fictitious serial killer, the purported author’s name does not refer. (This, I think, is true even if fictional characters have existence, as a fictitious character is not a fictional character.) But in both cases the author’s name is truly false.

No comments: