Because you just can’t get enough

April 28, 2008

For those of you who just can’t get enough of literary fraud these days, have we got a treat for you. And by “we”, of course, I mean those of us who aren’t actually in southern California. How’s the weather these days, anyway? I forget to check sometimes. Nothing’s on fire right now? And, hell, if I chuckled at the thought of a midwest earthquake last week, y’all must have had yourselves a good ol’ guffaw.

And, no, I don’t know what’s with the folksy tone, except maybe I’m just trying to see how far you’ll follow me if I don’t ever come to the point. Except that would be unkind. To other people.

Because I said nary a word a couple weeks back when the sad and twisted tale of Misha Defonseca suddenly struck close to home. For those who need reminding, Ms. Defonseca, also known by her real name, Monique De Wael, recently confessed that her acclaimed, widely popular memoir of the Holocaust was, in fact, a fraud.

But, indeed, one of our good friends and SCWC contributor, Michael Thompkins, posted back on April 10 some insights from none other than Sharon Sergeant, the genealogical researcher whose work forced the Defonseca confession:

When our team began releasing evidence to the Belgian press on February 19, we had no idea that Misha Defonseca would actually confess. Her public denials, law suit threats and unwitting statements made by supporters of her iconic status allowed us to counter each claim with additional evidence. It was an usual 10 days as this story played out in Belgium. The US press broke the story on February 29 with Boston Globe, Slate.com and AP articles.

Dr. Serge Aroles, a researcher of fraudulent wolf child stories, consulted with Maxime Steinberg, and first brought the story to the public in Belgium through a Regards magazine newsletter publication of the baptismal certificate and school record images we provided. Journalists interviewed two of Defonseca’s childhood friends who had tried to expose the fraud since 1997, reporting accusations of anti-Semitism and jealousy by the French Laffont publishing house and various journalists. Marc Metdapenningen carried the story through the initial denials, Defonseca’s public confession and the ensuing firestorm in Le Soir, a national newspaper in Belgium. US journalists David Mehegan and Blake Eskin followed the breaking story in Europe, and contributed additional information when they broke the story in the Boston Globe and Slate.

And I suppose I should feel a little bit guilty because Michael even posted his thoughts a week later, and I still took absolutely no notice whatsoever:

You all know the myth of Narcissus and the concept of narcissism: look in the water, see your reflection, and fall in love with your reflection, substituting for the real you, the water and the world. As we develop personalities, a small measure of narcissism is part of the recipe for a healthy personality; a larger hit–too much of a good thing–helps contruct the narcissistic personality. Sandor Ferenczi’s work describes the development of this personality in detail, including the moment when wishing overcomes reason and the individual begins to believe that wanting something to be real makes it real. At this precise moment, the symbolic reflection of the self in the water transforms and generalizes to other symbols that the narcissistic individual identifies with the reflected self, ie, power, success (one’s novel published) sex, and money. Finally, this symbolic unembodied life is substituted for a real self.

Okay, so that’s my bad. You would think that with news like that—an international scandal treading into my sphere of experience, into our SCWC community—I should be lighting flares off in your front yard. But as with anything really cool, there’s always a surreal aspect about it, a pitch and cant, a warp and drift that makes it seem like it’s nothing big.

I wish I could say I was just high, and blame it on that. But, alas, I’m not nearly so lucky.

In the end, I’ve done just about everybody a disservice by slacking this one. After all, as Sergeant noted, “My team would be interested to know if there are psychological case studies, stories in fiction that explore similar patterns, and what writers feel about these events.” And who better for that discussion than, oh, I don’t know, our community of writers?



  1. I absolutely love Michael’s observation on the literary fraud that appears to be all around us. Narcissism, believing your own myth, it’s all laid out perfectly by Mr. Thompkins.

  2. BD,
    Thanks for the great follow-up.
    I hope to continue to find wonderful psycho-literary puzzles like this one for Shrinking Fiction.

    Please call me Michael.
    I will make sure that Sharon sees your comment and all comments left here and at http://www.shootingshrink.com

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