Posthumography: a response and review

Davis Schneiderman
Lake Forest College

Posthumography: A Collection of Dead Writings. Ed., Craig Saper. 2006. Manuscript.

[1] That Craig Saper's infamous Posthumography crossed my desk at all may be the sort of event at the intersection of the human body and the landscape, reserved, and perhaps best kept, for the novels of one of our most dystopic chroniclers: J.G. Ballard. In Ballard's novels, especially his unpublished You and Me and the Continuum (1956), the issues of a lost work by a significant writer become charged by the death of the same author. Long before Jim Ballard's passing on April 19, 2009, David Pringle asked him about this unpublished and presumably lost manuscript in a 1981 interview:

That was a long time ago, I can't really remember. I suppose it was fiction of an impressionistic nature, no attempt at straightforward narrative or storytelling—a highly stylized mixture of dramatic dialogue, in some ways rather like a film script, with interludes of prose poetry, a very hot steaming confection with bits and pieces from all quarters. (Pringle 1993)

Ballard's answer points the way, as perhaps an automobile suggests a space station, to the odd events of my involvement in Saper's manuscript, which came to me as a similar melange of items and circumstances gathered from all quarters.

[2] Let me explain.

[3] On July 27, 2006, rumours of Saper's death spread over Twitter, in a 2007 version of quickly, across the social networking and academic nodes of the Internet. Twitter had gone public just weeks before, and both Saper and I were earlier adopters. I thus found myself in the unenviable position of needing Saper's final comments and approval on his essay "Academia's Exquisite Corpse: An Ethnology of the Application Process" for my co-edited collection The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism's Parlor Game (Nebraska 2009).

[4] I received, oddly enough, a package of what I though to be proofs in early August 2006, containing not the changes to his work on the artist Jesse Reklaw and Reklaw's perhaps faked zine Applicant, but, instead, the corrected galley proofs to a manuscript titled Posthumography: A Collection of Dead Writings. What makes this event typically Ballardian is that the envelope contained, beyond the manuscript, a selection of other objects which I would ultimately come to identify with a desire, an inkling perhaps, of a future where the origins of all texts would become as opaque as an oil slick.

[5] The contents: a manuscript of 228 pages for the text Posthumography (1); feathers from a hooded crow embedded with small microchips (2); strip of melted plastic made to perhaps appear as a snake (1); business cards, clearly Saper's from the University of Central Florida, although with typewritten "X" marks obscuring his title and replaced immediately above with these names: Pierce Longman, Dominique-Cécile Desmarais, Henri d'Mescan, and George Bernard Shaw written in what appears to be blood, respectively (4).

[6] I laboured with this strange envelope as one might investigate an archaeological site through a television screen; I was removed, not only from the shock of Saper's passing, but also from the feeling that despite my request to Saper for unrelated academic documents, this package, with its strange objects, distanced itself from me with each investigation. I showed the crow feathers to various colleagues (one of whom identified the species of Corvus cornix, or Hooded Crow, and one who, in looking at the microchips deftly woven into the fluting of the feathers, retired wordlessly to the darkness of his office in Lake Forest College's computer science annex.

[7] Naturally, one name reinforced my role, however muted, in the posthumous life of the package: Henri d'Mescan. As Saper well knew, I had spent the previous decade engaged in research on a purported French collaborationist and theorist—sentenced to death by the post-war courts, only to escape via impersonation to America, where he adopted the pseudonym Henry Mescaline and continued to produce works now associated with the Beat Generation (in the process befriending figures such as Hettie Jones, Gregory Corso, and for a short time, Jack Kerouac). Clearly, this is the "posthumous Beat poet" to whom Saper refers in his introduction. Later, d'Mescan reasserted his identity in the mid-1970s, and began working on an unpublished manuscript over a 20-year Post-America.

[8] My co-edited collection, published in a limited edition by Spuyten Duyvil (NY), Multifesto: A Henri d'Mescan Reader (2006), and then stopped at the crux of commercial publication due to conflicts with the d'Mescan estate and my co-editor, Phonelia Yeer, offered a long section of the Post-America epic. These sections, I was to learn, became unintended posthumous publications. d'Mescan died in ____, France, in the summer of 2006. My final correspondence with d'Mescan from summer through the end of the year in 2006 had been actually with Phonelia Yeer impersonating d'Mescan, a situation I have attempted to prove and remedy, so far without success, in a series of expensive lawsuits.

[9] In Posthumography, which I received in August 2006, the now deceased Saper had somehow, without my knowing, procured an alternate version of d'Mescan's short story "Summary Execution," published in 2004 by Absinthe Literary Review. Among several inconsequential differences stood one of great significance. This is the close of the story as edited by me, from d'Mescan's supposedly definitive manuscript:

And covering the water, obscuring the gravesites, noxious lilies explode across every surface in an endless bloom of rifle shots, administering total evolution from the scales of the dead.

This became, in Saper's version:

And covering the water, obscuring the gravesites, noxious lilies explode across every surface in an endless bloom of rifle shots, administering total evolution from the scales of the dead.

To the casual reader these final sentences—so characteristic of early d'Mescan—may seem identical, yet the OCR technology used at the recognition point of the two "original" texts suggests a rather different story. First, the Schneiderman/d'Mescan version utilized a manuscript-turned-computer file presented to me in early 1996 that d'Mescan claims to have processed using descendent technology from the original 1929 Gustav Tauschek OCR machine, improved over the intervening years of the cold war by a small German lab with wartime ties to d'Mescan. The Saper/d'Mescan version, while seemingly identical, used a version of CuneiForm/OpenOCR from 2007, which could save text formatting and complex tables.

[10] This identification could be made by back-reading from the paper version of the text, which while having been transferred into a base Times New Roman font, left ink-based markers of its OCR origin. In other words, by magnifying the font several thousands times, particularly in this final sentence, the ink-distribution patterns suggest not only the printer used to make the document into hard copy, but the technology used to transform the text from manuscript into digital copy. Since the release of this particular CuneiForm software post-dates the Posthumography manuscript by almost a year, the inescapable conclusion was that the Posthumography manuscript has engaged in faked ink trails. Even so, the OCR link with CuneiForm was not a blind guess, but rather an over-ambitious mapping by Saper of the obvious directions of OCR ink trails with the current state of the art. Saper's error proved to offer too much prescience into the technological path of his own clearly adumbrated subject. Put even another way, the author of Posthumography post-dated the text in an attempt to execute its agenda.

[11] Leaving aside the greater implication of this OCR chicanery for the entire collection, the authors that Posthumography sample remain bound—and here is the collection's second primary flaw—by only their state as deceased subjects. In this sense, Saper's work is unnecessarily ghoulish and scattered.

[12] Take Saper's introduction to "Das Papier ist entscheidend": Gutenberg's Letters to Archbishop Adolph von Nassau, by Sir William H. Longfellow, Ed., minor cousin to the American poet of "Hiawatha" fame. In this obvious forgery, for Adolph von Nassau's death in 1298 predates Gutenberg's 1398 birth by a century, Saper has recourse to the most unwieldy sentences:

The editorial process is never simply allowing a window on to the text, but requires interpretation, transcription, annotations, formatting, and the usually invisible process of OCR (optical character recognition) or the process of scanning papers and documents into a digital portable document format (PDF).

Even worse is Saper's re-purposing of this sentence in his introduction to this special issue of Rhizomes.

[13] In the more interesting but equally problematic section of four posthumous works by Michel Foucault—1) Bondage and Bookbinding: A History of the Book, 2) Of Bookbinding, 3) The Book, Bound, and 4) Unbinding the Book—Saper's selection process perhaps makes more sense. Even slightly comatose readers will recognize Foucault's work on authorship as constitutive of the entire tradition in which Posthumograpy seeks to score its mark. Along with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, no other thinker has done more to call into question the notions of authorship and creative genius in the post-structural age. More fascinating is that each of these Foucault texts contains the following sentence, appearing in different sections of the four respective texts:

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is only related to objects, and not to individuals, or to life.

Since this phrase also appears in Foucault's essay "On the Genealogy of Ethics," the pall of suspicion—the same that falls on Saper's prose—passes over these interesting but probably patchworked texts.

[14] In short, this work is a séance of ungainly spirits—unified not by ties to a great hero as with Odysseus's conversation with the shades around Tiresias—but rather an uncurated sample of Modern and Postmodern loose ends wrapped into a bow progressively untying itself around the declining technology of the book.

[15] A final problem of this manuscript is Posthumography's ultimate instability as a complete text. After musing upon the various technical and philological problems I detail above, I spent considerable months in oblique conversation with what I thought to be the Saper estate. This occurred during the thickest final work on Multifesto, and my attention was necessarily divided between the projects, with the investigation of Posthumography suffering the more.  

[16] In early October 2006, I finally received word from Saper's heirs—via their attorney—that the document in my possession was not a copy, but an original, and that I was to send back at once this original manuscript, along with the odd, Ballardian contents. I considered copying the text before doing so, and perhaps photographing the crow feathers, et al, but I demurred at the last moment.

[17] The only step I took was to have my ambitious research assistant—Irene Ruiz Dacal—note a selection of the titles excerpted in the manuscript, which I reproduce at the close of this essay.

[18] I regret these actions all the more, not only because I foolishly let a manuscript of dubious provenance slip through my grasp, but also because—as revealed just a week or so after I sent the post—Saper's death had been little more than an internet hoax in the long line of those whose demise is prematurely echoed by the technological apparatus (Lou Reed, Miley Cyrus, Sinbad, etc).

[19] So, to whom did I send the manuscript and box of oddities? Good question. Saper denied all part in the recall of the text, and remained coy about its genesis in the first place. Despite his work duly appearing in The Exquisite Corpse, we have had little contact in the last years. Rather, when contacted by Rhizomes to write on this incident, I felt obligated for two reasons: 1) from my connection with the works of Henri d'Mescan, and 2) from a distant sense, when I recall the small details of the box and its contents, that I was receiving a set of morbid clues that would eventually frustrate puzzle-goers more keenly astute than I might ever make shift to become.


Pringle, David. "You and Me and the Continuum: In Search of a Lost JG Ballard Novel." 1993. Accessed. June 8, 2010. «».

Partial List of Works Excerpted, in Posthumography: A Collection of Dead Writings, by Irene Ruiz Dacal

"Summary Execution" and other texts. Henri'd Mescan.

"Awl or Nothing At All: A Luddite's Lament," by Franklin S. Caldecott, as appears in From OED to OCR: The War Between Print and Digital.

"Print Books: CPR or OCR?" by Stuart K. Holden.

The Author is Dead: A Practical Guide to Posthumography, by Aimée Lautremont.

From Gutenberg's Bible to Russell Brand's Booky Wook: A Story of the Book, by Thadeus Rosenberg.

OCR and its Discontents, by Pierce Longman.

"Nature and God? I'd follow the Platypus": The Lost Journals of Charles Darwin, by Francois Gourmandise, Ed.

Bondage and Bookbinding: A History of the Book– by Michel Foucault.

Of Bookbinding – by Michel Foucault.

The Book, Bound – by Michel Foucault.

Unbinding the Book – by Michel Foucault.

The Question of Decolonization: A Literary Approach, by Edward Said.

"Jungian Archetypes and the 'Other'," by Edward Said, as appears in Postcolonial Studies in Psychology, No. 15.

Derrida and the Problem of Language, by Klauski Schultz.

"Derrida and Spivak: Deconstructing the Other," by Klauski Schultz, as appears in Deconstruction and Culture: De-centering the West.

"Das Papier ist entscheidend": Gutenberg's Letters to Archbishop Adolph von Nassau, by Sir William H. Longfellow, Ed.

Vellum, Vernacular: Overlooked Elements of Gutenberg's Press, by Adelheid Y. Bäcker.

"Vellum, Vernacular, Spectacular! A Review of Bäcker's Newest Book on Gutenberg," by Samuel J. Isaacs, The London Telegraph.

The Hound of William of Baskerville: Literary Allusions in Eco's The Name of the Rose, by Marco Laureano.

"On Puns and Portmanteaus," by James Joyce, The Collected Essays of James Joyce, Vol. 4

Just Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist As a Man, by Louis Lecan.

"You've lost Alfred the Great": A Study of Cockney Rhyming Slang, by Harry Hardy.

"The Glottal Stop – Let us hear no more of it," by George Bernard Shaw from: "The Divine Gift of Articulate Speech": Shaw and Linguistics.

"A Note To Vivisectionists," by George Bernard Shaw, The Political Letters of George Bernard Shaw.

"Losto, Caradhras!": The Lord of the Rings and the Problem of Translation, by Bryn Dewey.

"Ethnolinguistics and Postmodernity," by Dominique-Cécile Desmarais, The Cambridge Lectures.