Thursday, October 5, 2006

Imagined Histories: A Grand Hoax

I am simply dying to read An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin. Those who know me personally will find nothing unusual about this. I love unusual subjects. The history of the Spanish-American cochineal trade? I'm dye-ing to read it! The history of corn? I'm all ears! Class and gender hierarchy as seen in Victorian-era American furniture? I'm positively beside myshelf with anticipation. And don't even get me started on 20th Century crime scene photography...

A history of an obscure yet morbid trend in popular music sounds right up my nonfiction alley. Except, it's not - nonfiction, that is. Despite it's title, An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin is no history at all, but rather a flight of fancy, an imagined history of people, events and music that never really existed.

It is, in short, a hoax. Which is why I'm desperate to read it. There's something fascinating about historical hoaxes. From the Masons to the Mormons, historical hoaxes usually purport to reveal the mysteries of the past on a grand scale. An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin seems so minor, so low key, I doubt anyone other than historians of 19th century popular violin music (all two of them) would care whether it was true or not. I wonder what motivated the author to write it.

I have always wanted to write fiction, to entertain people with improbable yarns spun out of my woolgathering and daydreams. But someone who writes a fictive history and then tries to pass it off as fact must want more. He doesn't just want the goodwill of his audience, he wants their belief. And that is a much more intimate, and dangerous thing.