May 08, 2004

Unspoken Interrogatories

Evidence that today's youth are still firmly moored to the mother ship of culture: Peter Nguyen's Biography of Walt Whitman.

Walt would have been amused:

Down-hearted doubters, dull and excluded,
Frivolous, sullen, moping, angry, affected, disheartened, atheistical,
I know every one of you---I know the unspoken interrogatories,
By experience I know them.

        [Leaves of Grass, 1860-61]

Assuming that this was really some kid's high school English composition submitted in June of 2000, and that it was scanned and posted by the teacher rather than the student, it was probably illegal, but I'm happy to have been able to read it. I hope that Peter got a book contract or a Hollywood screenwriting job out of the deal. Though he does need to work on his punctuation, and lose the faggotry jokes.

I recall writing an essay in a similar spirit about Yeats when I was 14 or so, for an English teacher who had been giving me C's all year. To my immense surprise, he gave me an A, with the comment that I should tell the truth more often. I've tried to keep that lesson in mind ever since. The results haven't always been so well received, but on balance it works out more often than it doesn't.

[via incoming signals]

[Update: Daniel Ezra Johnson emailed:

I did a small amount of research into this peter nguyen. on the whole I think these essays / teacher comments are a form of fiction, and there's something pretty deep about it, actually. It reminds me of nabokov's "pale fire" almost.

you can see some more examples of the genre, among other things, at:
and here's a great thread on a message board devoted to whether the things are "real" or "fake" (people are agreed that they don't belong in that particular forum):
"If this was real, will he marry me? If not, as is my guess, what the fuck?"
"you are a moron if you dont find these funny. They are drastically less funny if they werent really turned in as papers but even so, they are still worthy of a chuckle."
"COME ON! Its so FAKE it looks like it is made by FAKEMAN from the street of FAKESTREET in the town of FAKETOWN in the land of FAKELAND (FK)"


Posted by Mark Liberman at May 8, 2004 11:30 AM