Dear Old Blood: Notes on a Wittgenstein Noir

This is my latest finished novella – a mixture of genre fiction (hard-boiled noir), literary hoax, and academic text.

The Wittgenstein noir Dear Old Blood is presented as the discovery of one Herbert Denk, a purported Wittgenstein scholar whose biography is scant. He publishes the notes, which form a noir detective story based on episodes in the philosopher’s life, with notes and commentaries in which Denk tries to prove the work is the authentic work of Wittgenstein. In the endnotes and Afterword, Denk repeatedly rebuts the arguments of another academic, Horace Murgatroyd, who has persistently doubted its authenticity ever since news of its discovery broke. Murgatroyd believes that Denk has created a literary hoax to advance his own career. What we are reading is his critical edition of Dear Old Blood, which presents both Denk’s work as it originally appeared followed by his own critical commentary, in which he highlights why he believes it to be a literary hoax. This is not the end of the story, though, and there is a final twist that casts further doubt on the authenticity of all that has come before.

I have been working on this book since 2009 and often it seemed impossible to finish. The work I submit is quite unrecognisable from how it began, but I am happy with its final form. The noir cannot exist on its own as it is built on the philosopher’s biography, so it requires some notes to explain the references. At the same time, a bunch of references on their own would be dry, so these notes and commentaries reveal Denk’s voice and his embattled position within the academy. I suppose its literary lineage lies in Nabokov’s Pale Fire or Borges’s approach to writing long books: ‘A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer a summary, a commentary.’

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