by Spartacus

"I sign anonymous." —Sleater-Kinney

The most shocking thing about l'affaire Joe Klein isn't that he lied about his authorship of Primary Colors, or that he made coy non-denial denials and then backed off from them. Nor is it that when Vassar Professor Donald Foster correctly identified him as the author in New York Magazine (February 26, 1996), Klein publicly attacked Foster's methodology, or even that Newsweek (Klein's employer) published an item about Primary Colors that it knew to be false. It was that he'd tried to pass off his political novel as the work of the venerable author Anonymous—and worse, that he intends to continue to write political novels under that name.

Informing the news media that you intend to use "Anonymous" as a pseudonym is like one of those brain-teasers where you're supposed to prove that you're your own grandfather. Using a name that means "having no name at all" to protect somebody with a perfectly good real name that everybody knows is the name behind the false one—well, even typing it into my computer produces floating-point errors.

There are, of course, a few different flavors of anonymity. The word literally means "no-name-ness," which is what happens when you're being plain old anonymous, that is, when you don't sign something. This is different from actually signing "Anonymous," which is in turn different from using a pseudonym like George Eliot or TRB or Pauline Reage. A pseudonym is a constructed identity. "Anonymous" is not—it's an expression of blankness and coyness, inviting you to construct an identity for its user. Lower-case "anonymous" is no identity at all.

The capitalized Anonymous, the name-that-is-not-a-name, is an advertisement: it says "this is so hot that I have to alert you to the fact that I couldn't sign my name to it." And, really, there are only two reasons you can't sign your name to something: sex and politics. (Religion was once a reason but it's basically not any more.) In the past, people were anonymous or pseudonymous to protect themselves from the church or the state. Now they're anonymous to protect themselves from the state or from their own employers, "Anonymous" to be provocative, and pseudonymous to be cute.

If you find your mouth going dry right about now, well, these are all pretty academic distinctions. Anonymity, pseudonymity, whatever—it's like a blind date; you never know what you're really getting. And since the best way to get to know somebody is to go out with them, let's look behind the doors at your dates for the evening. Remember, just because somebody's wearing a bag over their head doesn't mean they're ugly underneath it...


BACHELOR #1 is the notorious "Anonymous," a writer so well-known as a dashing, rakish provocateur that Joe Klein tried to impersonate as him. If you think he's making bedroom eyes at you, you're probably right—he has a notoriously filthy mind, and has written countless dirty novels, the kind found in the back corners of airport newsstands. A silver-haired gentleman, he's been writing underground erotica as far back as the Victorian era, when the Anonymous imprimatur appeared on the numbing but best-selling eleven-volume sexual autobiography My Secret Life. Recently, though, he's moved into the political arena: he just published Primary Whites: A Novel Look At Right-Wing Politics, a parody of Klein's book, as well as a not-very-funny quickie, You Know You're Anonymous In Washington When...: An Unknown Person's Guide To Obscurity.

Our experts' handwriting analysis of the author's signature on one of Anonymous' recent manuscripts reveals that he's got a certain sense of false modesty: a huge, slashing "A" in front of a set of small, neatly formed letters, like a gaudy logo. Be warned, though— Anonymous is the kind of guy who claims he doesn't like to talk about himself, but somehow manages to steer every conversation into a discussion of his identity.

His favorite makeout records are by No Man and Brand X, and in his spare time he likes to scribble his name all over copies of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

BACHELOR #2 is anonymous with a lower-case "a," and if that suggests the pretensions of e.e. cummings or bell hooks, he (or maybe she—we really don't know) has the literary firepower to back it up. Besides uncountable scads of poems, anonymous has written books, articles and more (including a good long run doing the "Talk Of The Town" section in The New Yorker). These days, he concentrates mostly on newspaper editorials, government documents and short instructional pieces (that piece you see in restaurants on how to do the Heimlich maneuver? His!) He claims that he doesn't need to sign his pieces, that they speak for themselves. Indeed, his writing has an unmistakable sense of authority to it, an aura of class and respectability. But he's also a mysterious type, and it can be hard to get close to him.

Unlike his capital-A counterpart, he doesn't like to talk about himself or his background, or for anyone else to speculate about them. Nonetheless, pursuing him can pay off—quite a few people will tell you that the best sex is anonymous sex. His favorite makeout music is recordings of old folk ballads(many of which were written by his cousin Trad..) In his spare time, anonymous enjoys leaving messages on bathroom walls.

BACHELOR #3 goes by the name "Pseudonymous," and comes from a long line of people using names that they've made up, often with a fully constructed personality attached. Again, if you're hung up on gender, you might want to check very carefully: there's a line of pseudonymous drag that runs from the Bronte sisters writing as the Bell brothers to 1870s science fiction author Alice Sheldon, who bamboozled everyone as James Tiptree, Jr.

"Pseudonymous" puts up a front that's very different from his inner self, but that's okay: the front is usually more fun, since the made-up personality lets him say some bold things that he otherwise wouldn't. He has all sorts of stories to tell you about his cousins in pseudonymity, and how most of them were clever enough to come up with names that told you right off who they wanted to be (e.g., Norma Jean "Marilyn Monroe" Baker, and Marion "John Wayne" Morrison.)

His favorite makeout song is the Fall's "Mere Pseud Mag Ed," but he likes anything by groups that use band names instead of their own. In his spare time, "Pseudonymous" likes to hang out in AOL chat rooms, using a variety of screen names like "HotBabe4U."   </end>

Douglas Wolk is the Managing Editor of CMJ New Music Monthly. He lives in Queens, NY.
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