a different kind of peer review

[W]ho but a fictional character could be better qualified to review … well, new fiction? Isn’t that the very essence of peer reviewing?
– Lawrence S. Rainey and Nicole Devarenne, Modernism/Modernity

The story of a literary hoax/inside joke in Modernism/Modernity suggests some tantalizing possibilities for a new literary (meta)genre: critical essays by fictional characters.

In 2004, Modernism/Modernity ran a review of David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion written by Jay Murray Siskind. Jay Murray Siskind is not, however, an associate professor at the (equally fictional) Blacksmith College: he’s a character in Don DeLillo’s White Noise. The essay is very much in character, with musings about “what fun it is to talk to an intelligent woman wearing nylon stockings as she crosses her legs.” It took five years for the whistle to be blown on this review, at Mark Sample’s blog; whether the delay was due to the deftness of the hoax or the fact that no one reads reviews in critical journals is an open question.

If Siskind can review Wallace, what other missives from across the fictional divide might be possible? I can imagine a whole unread journal dedicated to the genre.

  • What would Holden Caulfied make of On the Road? Would he be inspired by Saul Paradise’s wild ride, or see through him as just another phony in a phony world?
  • How about Adolf Verloc on Against the Day? What would a “real” anarchist make of Pynchon’s balloonist communards?
  • The Wife of Bath finds Fear of Flying delightfully bawdy.
  • Hamlet wishes Chris Van Eenanam, protagonist of What I’m Going to Do, I Think, would just make up his mind.

The inside joke possibilities are just endless! There’s nothing quite so fun as literary types laughing up their sleeves.

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