Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Heteronyms, some hetero, some not

Some thirty years ago I began to edit and publish a small scholarly quarterly. As we were just getting started, I had few submissions to chose from, so I wrote much of the material myself. Since I wanted to avoid the impression that it was a one-man band, I assigned some of my productions to pseudonymous alter egos. Among these surrogates, my favorite was Vladimir Cervantes, ostensibly the offspring of an international encounter during the Spanish Civil War (possibly reflecting an unpublished chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls).

The most extraordinary case known to me of this phenomenon of authorship dispersal is that of the great Portuguese modernist poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). According to his editor Teresa Rita Lopes, Pessoa invented at least seventy alternative identities, or “heteronyms” as he preferred to call them. Heteronyms differ from mere pen names (or noms de plume) in that the latter are simply false names generally chosen for some expedient reason. In Pessoa’s conception the heteronyms are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies, and writing styles. Some of them know each other, criticizing and translating each other's works. As one who dabbled in astrology, Pessoa cast horoscopes for some of them.

Pessoa's best-known heteronyms are the poets Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos, each with a substantial oeuvre; the latter two consider the former their master. There are also two significant prose writers, Bernardo Soares and the Baron of Teive. All of these wrote in Portuguese; however, some of the others wrote in English and French. Finally, there is an “orthonym”: Fernando Pessoa, the namesake of the author, who also regards Caeiro as his master.

Why did Fernando Pessoa undertake this extraordinary enterprise of self-fragmentation? The most obvious explanation is that he wrote in various styles, which he wished to keep separate. After a time, though, he seemed simply to revel in the game for its own sake. There may have been deeper reasons. Having been educated as a child in South Africa, Pessoa was bilingual in English and Portuguese, so that early on he experienced a sense of divided consciousness. It is generally thought that he was a closeted homosexual, and may have cultivated the arts of concealment for this reason. Finally, since he had occult interests, he may have been acquainted with the Buddhist doctrine of the dispersal of the personality. In this view we have no core personality, but simply manage as best we can with an aggregate of island-like centers which are loosely connected.

In a previous posting I wrote about the art historian and connoisseur Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891). Even today the adjective “Morellian” honors the distinctive method of art analysis he pioneered.

Educated mainly in Swiss and German schools, Morelli preferred to write in the German language.
For a time, Morelli was active in Italian politics, urging reform in the administration of the fine arts. Eventually he headed a commission to bring under government control all works of art which could be considered public property. He appointed as his secretary G. B. Cavalcaselle, who was then engaged in collecting materials for a work on Italian art.

Morelli’s next move in the realm of the fine arts was produce a series of articles in German, which he subsequently gathered into books. His first contributions, a cluster of articles on the Borghese Gallery in Rome, were published in Lützow's Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, 1874-76. Posing as an art-loving Russian, he adopted the pseudonym "Ivan Lermolieff." The surname is an anagram of his own family name with a Russian suffix, while Ivan corresponds to Giovanni. Further complicating matters, the essays were purportedly translated by Johannes Schwarze, another ruse (Moro = Schwarze). Why Morelli should adopt these devices has not been explained. It may be, as some have speculated, because he was a closeted homosexual, who had become accustomed to habits of secrecy and disguise.

In earlier times the sense of connection between literary works and personality ("authorship") was less firmly established than it is today. This was particularly true with religious writers. Thus the lengthy Hellenistic Jewish text known as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs purports to be a set of writings left behind by those worthies. “Dionysius the Areopagite” was an anonymous Syrian Christian writing about 500 CE who chose a convert of St. Paul for his pen name.

Recent years have witnessed a somewhat similar, though less holy version of this practice. The contemporary economic journalist Adam Smith has chosen to write under the name of his great 18th-century predecessor. And the pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck has adopted the name of the composer of Hansel and Gretel.

At a more serious level, leaders of insurgent political movements have found the use of pseudonyms expedient. Take late Tsarist Russia, for example, where Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Stalin’s great adversary Leon Trotsky had been born Lev Davidovich Bronstein. The use of these pseudonyms continued into the Soviet era, though the practice seems uncommon in Russia today. In Vietnam, the person behind the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh was Nguyễn Sinh Cung. So Ho Chi Minh City, the major center of southern Vietnam, is actually named after a pseudonym.

In my own small way, I employed this strategy as a teenager. Not wishing to get my parents in trouble when I sent away for some subversive pamphlets as a teenager, I used the pseudonym of J. Wolfgang Bizoler (presumably a German immigrant). In fact the name combined the monikers of two of my idols at the time, J. Wolfgang von Goethe and Hector Berlioz.

Some early leaders of the gay movement found it necessary to resort to pseudonyms. These figures include Karl Hermann Ulrichs, who wrote the first truly scholarly studies of homosexuality under the name of Numa Numantius. The distinguished classical scholar Paul Brandt published his fundamental studies of Greek homosexuality under the nom de plume of Hans Licht. However, the greatest leader of the German movement, Magnus Hirschfeld, usually employed his own real name.

As the modern American gay movement got started after World War II some of the pioneers used pseudonyms. In 1947 Edythe Eyde launched her short-lived periodical “Vice Versa” under the name of Lisa Ben (an anagram of “lesbian”). Three years later Harry Hay, the founder of the American movement, produced his seminal “Preliminary Concepts” for a group called Bachelors Anonymous, “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority” (July 7, 1950), This manifesto, a typescript for private circulation, was signed by “Eann MacDonald,” a pseudonym Hay dropped soon after.

Another early pioneer was William Lambert, a professor of architecture who abandoned this career to run the gay rights organization ONE, which he dominated from its inception in 1952 until his death in 1994. Lambert was almost always known as W. Dorr Legg, a composite he made up of some old family names.

Legg's contemporary Jim Kepner used a variety of pen names, including Frank Golovitz, J. K. Long, Lyn Pedersen, J. K. Symes-Horvath, and the satirical Dr. Fécal de Chevaux. His purpose seems to have been not so much concealment, but as a vehicle for his prolific journalistic activity.

This last instance shows that the motives for such disguises can be various, and were not always (as some have alleged) simply because homophobic pressures required strategies for concealment.



Blogger Thomas Kraemer said...

For years I have been curious if W. Dorr Legg ever used the name William Lambert while he was an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Oregon State University between 1935 and 1942. I finally got around to checking the OSU personnel records, which only recently became public when several historians got the pre-computerized paper records donated to the OSU Archives and the records became old enough to be made public without violating any state or federal privacy laws.

An OSU archivist walked me back to the archaic metal file cabinet and he was pleasantly surprised to find a file for William Dorr Legg because I had warned him that this professor might be filed under the name William Lambert or some other pseudonym. There was no file for a William Lambert. The Oregon State University personnel file for W. Dorr Legg was many pages long and it spanned from his original job application in 1935 and starting salary compensation proration calculations, all the way up to his application for a sabbatical in 1942 to do religious counseling at Camp Adair, north of the Corvallis, Oregon OSU campus. Given a letter in the file that tried to justify his deferment from being drafted into the military, his Camp Adair service might have been an additional excuse to dodge the military draft on religious grounds.

Due to my recent loss of vision, I was unable to scan through other resources in the archives, which were not low vision accessible, in which "William Lambert" might have appeared, such as in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, college yearbooks or other publications from that period. Perhaps an energetic student can do this in the future.

Several years before Vern L. Bullough died he warned me that there was some controversy over whether W. Dorr Legg was a professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon or Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. At the time, Bullough was unable to cite he root sources of this controversy. Only recently did I find the origins of this controversy.

At least one page in the FBI reports on W. Dorr Legg refers to him as being a professor at the University of Oregon. Most of the FBI reports refer to Oregon State College, the name of Oregon State University at the time. However, when I recently got to read the FBI report that mentioned the U of O, it was clear the street addresses of houses mentioned in the report were all streets in Corvallis and not Eugene. The FBI reports were erroneous. W. Dorr Legg was actually a professor at Oregon State University. (See my blog posts FBI files on gay OSU professor 1956 (7/7/10) and W. Dorr Legg OSU archives records 1935-1942 (7/31/10))

1:29 PM  

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