Why my head hurts right now

Alex Mindlin recounts an apparently real dispute about what constitutes fiction between the writers Michael Chabon and Paul Maliszewski in the New York Times. The highlights: It was the kind of headline that sells. “Michael Chabon’s Holocaust Hoax,” read the cover of the April-May issue of Bookforum. Inside, the article, by Paul Maliszewski, suggested that ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Alex Mindlin recounts an apparently real dispute about what constitutes fiction between the writers Michael Chabon and Paul Maliszewski in the New York Times. The highlights:

Alex Mindlin recounts an apparently real dispute about what constitutes fiction between the writers Michael Chabon and Paul Maliszewski in the New York Times. The highlights:

It was the kind of headline that sells. “Michael Chabon’s Holocaust Hoax,” read the cover of the April-May issue of Bookforum. Inside, the article, by Paul Maliszewski, suggested that Mr. Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, had exceeded the bounds of poetic license in a lecture that he has given perhaps half a dozen times since 2003. In the lecture, titled “Golems I Have Known, or, Why My Eldest Son’s Name Is Napoleon,” Mr. Chabon recounts a version of his childhood, laced with some tall tales (saying, for instance, that he has encountered several golems, the clay monsters of Jewish lore), and tells the story of a counterfeit Holocaust survivor he’d once met who turns out to be an ex-Nazi in hiding. Mr. Maliszewski pointed out that the Nazi character was entirely fictional, and contended that Mr. Chabon had misled his listeners into believing it was real. He suggested that Mr. Chabon had “fashioned a Jewish identity for himself that incorporates – through an utter fiction – the Holocaust.” The lecture’s organizers have said the lecture was clearly advertised as a series of yarns. In a letter that will be printed in the next issue of Bookforum, Matthew Brogan, program director for the Jewish literary nonprofit organization Nextbook, which sponsored some of the performances, wrote that Mr. Chabon had “signaled to the audience at every turn that the narrator is not to be completely trusted.” Mr. Maliszewski, he added, had “deliberately misread these signs in the hope of stirring up a scandal.” In the Bookforum article, Mr. Maliszewski admits that, as a reporter at a Syracuse business newspaper, he besieged his own paper with parodic letters to the editor. Later, he became the Web editor of McSweeney’s Quarterly, a job that his editor said ended when Mr. Maliszewski sent McSweeney’s subscribers an anonymous e-mail newsletter full of invented gossip about other writers.

So if I understand this correctly: A writer that has frequently fudged facts for fun has fingered a fellow fabulist for fictionalizing facts for fortune, even though that fabulist foretold his fictions before his oration. [Now my head hurts–ed. If I’m going down, I’m taking people with me!] Seriously, it seems like Maliszewski is off his rocker.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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