We begin with a mini-essay from the editors to offer an angle on previous publications of works by Dallas Wiebe. Introductions to the current issue follow.
Washington Irving published The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1820, using the title to set up a fictional point of view not the author’s. In the same book, he again posed as editor of yet someone else’s writings in one of the sketches,
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) with the following subtitle, including these coy parentheses:
(Found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker.) This fictive Knickerbocker then went on to write a fiction posing as history, which also gained fame, but not always for its fictionality in Knickerbocker’s History of New York. His staging of fiction as edited versions of
real documents places Irving among the first American authors that European audiences recognized for high literary technique. Twenty years later, Nathaniel Hawthorne then presented himself in a similar fictional pose in his introduction to The Scarlet Letter:
This, in fact, a desire to put myself in my true position as editor, or very little more, of the most prolix among the tales that make up my volume,this, and no other, is my true reason for assuming a personal relation with the public.
In this tradition of American literature, three pieces of serial fiction by Dallas Wiebe were published in the December 2002, June 2004, and September 2004 issues of Mennonite Life. Some readers have reported perceiving the works as nonfiction. It is true that
The Sayings of Abraham Nofziger I, II, and III,
edited by Dallas Wiebe, had a fictional introduction describing
finding the sayings and included a picture of young Dallas Wiebe labeled with the name of the fictional author, Abraham Nofziger, setting up a playful reading of Abraham as a pseudonym for Dallas.
Dallas Wiebe may be the postmodern Mennonite American most comparable to early American writers such as Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne. All are known for drollery and probing commentary upon cultures’ community-based perceptions of their realities.
Perhaps we should have marked the articles as fiction more clearly. Yet, the sayings gain poignancy in a realistic frame, because the aphorisms range from profound pithy manifesto to the humorous barks of a cranky individualist no longer amused by others’ theology. They thus carry a sense of what would be unsayable in a local community; the
found papers are imagined as what might be lying around in people’s homes because the sayings need to be said but can’t be in many communities. The fictionality becomes more clear as the sayings stretch beyond realism. Our introduction to Wiebe’s works included the phrase
particularly literary form of archeology to indicate that even fiction can do the archeological work of revealing how communities organize kinship patterns. For example, when most female characters were named in the piece, an insistent reference to their maiden names came up, revealing a Mennonite pedigree fetish at the extreme. At the least, a sense of genealogical index and historical weight as bearing upon lives came forward.
We encourage readers to continue to inquire into matters of fiction and nonfiction and appreciate all letters received. The flexibility and hybridity of both genres have a long history and both qualities seem to be increasing.