The biter bit: Mark Dery shows off his investigative chops!

Since Mark Dery put me on copy, I have this email that he sent his editor at the Chronicle Review today, urging him not to publish that terrific letter from “Arturo P. Bickerstaff,” on the grounds that there is no such person teaching English at South Dakota State. He’s certainly right about that, deserving kudos for his research skills as a reporter. (I wish he’d shown a bit more reportorial initiative in “The Professor of Paranoia,” by including some real news that I gave him vis-a-vis what’s happened to me here; but his doing so would have cast me in a more sympathetic light, and so he didn’t.)

However, while it is true that there is no “Arturo P. Bickerstaff” at South Dakota State, or, very likely, anywhere else, it’s not true that the letter per se is fake, as Dery triumphantly assured his editor. The letter is authentic satire, written by a living, breathing academic teaching at a small college whose administration might not like his entering this controversy; so he used that pseudonym and fictional affiliation. I think it’s very clever, as “Bickerstaff” comes from “Isaac Bickerstaff,” a satiric persona invented by Jonathan Swift—a hint that this “Arturo” isn’t real; and since that brilliant letter is satiric, the Swiftian touch is most appropriate. (South Dakota is appropriate as well, because its governor has been so sane throughout the coronavirus crisis.)

I think that Dery didn’t get the joke, since the reason why he put me on copy was that he apparently believed that his discovery of Arturo’s non-existence would persuade me to take down the latter’s letter, and send out a corrective, saying I’d been had, etc. I told him that I wouldn’t take it down, because it’s from somebody real, and is a very clever piece of work (as not a few of you have emailed me to say).

That’s the breaks, no? If you’re gonna dish it out, you’re gonna have to learn to take it, too—as I told him in reply.


Regarding the above letter to the Chron, touted by Professor Miller on his site as “brilliant,” you may be interested to know, if you’re considering running it, that the author and his institutional affiliation are, to use the preferred term of art, “fake news.” I called South Dakota State University and spoke to both the registrar, who found no record of any Professor Arturo P. Bickerstaff as full-time faculty or adjunct, and to the English Department secretary, who also came up snake eyes. To seal the deal, I checked Google Scholar (no hits) and Google Books (no hits). At the risk of overkill, his name, when Googled, turns up one hit, and one hit only:

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