I too have suffered from being an homonymous author. There is a Mark Scroggins out there who is the author of a biography of Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln's first running mate. For a while the Library of Congress was convinced we were the same person, & apparently the other MS's publisher has no better idea of where he is than I do, since they've been sending me correspondence relating to Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln's First Vice President. & this is not to mention the Mark Scrogginses out there who are lawyers, professional bowlers, Baptist ministers, & deer hunters.
My discomfort is nothing compared to that of my old friend Norman Finkelstein, poet, literary scholar, and professor of English at Xavier University in Cinncinnati. Norman's sorrow is that he is always in danger of being mistaken for Norman G. Finkelstein, the ragingly controversial political scientist who until recently has taught at DePaul University in Chicago. My Norman Finkelstein – henceforward "the uncontroversial NF" – and I have been friends & co-conspirators for many years now, & in the days to come I will blog his newest book of poems, the limpid Passing Over. (Please go buy it, nu?)
[On the left: the poet Norman Finkelstein]
I don't want to cause my NF – the "uncontroversial NF" – any further discomfort (he's gone so far as to post a "disambiguation page" on A Big Jewish Blog, the wonderful conversation on matters Jewish & poetic that Eric Selinger started some time ago). But the latest turn in Norman G.'s tenure battle at DePaul has gotten me so riled up this morning that I'm unable to concentrate on my syllabi, to answer my e-mails, to do anything but splenetically blog.
The story is long and complex – Wikipedia has a not unfair summary of its earlier twists & turns on its NF page, & here, & a comprehensive collection of documents from both sides can be bound on Norman G's own website. Suffice it to say that Norman G. has written forcefully & at length about Palestinean/Israeli relations, about what he sees as the "exploitation" of the Holocaust for self-serving reasons by various groups, & about the Israel lobby in Washington. His work is controversial in its arguments & premises, & even moreso in its modes of argument, which combine withering sarcasm, angry invective, & even occasional ad hominem attacks.
His first four books drew accusations of Holocaust denial & anti-Semitism (both rather silly, I think); his critics were more accurate in finding Finkelstein a fair representative of a kind of left-leaning anti-Zionism. The fat truly hit the flame, however, when Norman G. tangled with Alan Dershowitz, who, when he's not defending celebrity clients like OJ Simpson & Claus von Bulow or figuring out circumstances under which torture is actually okay ("get a warrant"), is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Norman G. attacked Dershowitz's 2003 book The Case for Israel, calling it "a collection of fraud, falsification, plagiarism and nonsense." Dershowitz responded by attempting to stop the publication of Finkelstein's next book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (Dershowitz went so far as to send a letter to Arnold "the Governator" Schwartzenegger asking him to intervene & get the University of California Press to kill the book).
This past academic year Norman G. went up for tenure in the Poly Sci department at DePaul. In September 2006, Dershowitz sent a weighty "dossier" of anti-Finkelstein material to DePaul poly sci & law faculty members & DePaul administrators (and, by some accounts, to DePaul boosters), urging them to deny Finkelstein tenure. The case bounced back &amp; forth; his department voted 9-3 in favor of tenuring NGF; the college personnel committee voted 5-0 in favor of tenuring him; this past June, by a 4-3 vote, a university committee voted to deny him tenure. The University's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, affirmed the decision, & held out no possibility of appeal.
In one of the more spectacular displays of disingenuousness I've encountered, Holtschneider & others in the DePaul administration have repeatedly denied that Dershowitz's campaign against Finkelstein had anything to do with his denial of tenure. (The stated reason was that Finkelstein's scholarly work, while largely unimpeachable in terms of content and scholarly methodology, was just plain not very nice to those who disagreed with him – a violation of "Vincentian ethics," whatever those may be.) Let's be serious: Finkelstein is right on the money when he notes wearily that the validity of his work has nothing to do with the tenure decision: since he's become a target of one of the most prominent "centrist" talking heads in the country, he's become a liability to DePaul, someone who's unfortunately apt to get in the way of the University President's primary job – fundraising.
The final indignity has just come down the pike: After one is denied tenure, one usually has what's known as a "terminal year," a final academic year in which to teach, to wind up one's affairs, & to look for work. DePaul is paying Norman G. for a terminal year – but they've cancelled his classes & locked him out of his office. Shame on DePaul; shame on Fr. Holtschneider. Of all of the shabby tenure tales I've heard over the years, this is the shabbiest.
[On the right, Norman G. Finkelstein, man without an office]