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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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From: Danuta Borchardt
To: Jamey Hecht
Re: Donald Wiley

Dear James Hecht,

Your letter has indeed not been pleasant to read because it draws attention to implications that were not at all in my mind when I wrote the piece. I am terribly sorry to have hurt anyone's feelings. I was horrified by the way this case was handled and that (to my knowledge) it is still unsolved. My intention was (although I now see how ineptly) to bring attention to the case.

To answer your questions: the event was indeed fictionalized and:
1. I was not on the De Soto bridge that tragic night.
2. I have no other information regarding Dr. Wiley's death.
3. I am forwarding this mailing to the editor and will immediately ask his advice what to do in this situation. I am open to either option you suggest.


Danuta Borchardt

Original Message:
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2004 19:42:06 EST
Subject: Your "Exquisite Corpse" piece on Donald Wiley

Dear Danuta Borchardt,

I've recently come across your brief piece about the disappearance and death of Harvard molecular biologist Donald C. Wiley. Although your piece doesn't mention him by name, it does unmistakably describe the general outline of the circumstances of his disappearance.

I am writing an investigative piece about this case for a journal of political critique to which I have contributed in the past (see:

Your "Exquisite Corpse" posting is unclear about its level of fictionality. I recognize that your intention seems to have been a Borges-style layering of incompatible narrative outcomes. Yet you begin the piece with a first-person claim to have visited the de Soto Bridge on the night of Wiley's disappearance. That didn't actually happen, did it? I can't tell. Also, you talk about the smell of putrefaction from "the body," but the body had vanished from the scene and was only recovered 35 days later, 300 miles away in Louisiana.

You also ask the reader to imagine, in one of your scenarios, "That [sic], the scientist was subject to depression, alcoholism, homosexuality, drug addiction and an obsession with pornography, especially child pornography." This is plagiarized from Wyne Madsen's article of April 8, 2002 on the Counterpunch website (to which I've also contributed a number of articles in the past): Madsen's article contains a number of highly dubious assertions, but the one you use is sound: "It is a classic intelligence agency ploy to spread disinformation about 'suicide' victims after their murders. The favorite rumors spread include those about purported alcoholism, depression, homosexuality, auto-erotic asphyxia, drug addiction, and an obsession with pornography, especially child pornography."

The only element of this truism that might apply to the handling of Dr. Wiley's case is the imputation of "alcoholism." Wiley was not a drinker; he had enjoyed what appears to have been a single glass of port several hours before he left the Peabody Hotel that night. Nobody ever attributed any of the other above-listed characteristics and habits to Dr. Wiley at any time, and there is no evidence for any of them in his life.

Don Wiley is survived by family members, students, and colleagues who cherish his memory. Doesn't it seem a bit irresponsible (shitty, even) of you to write "he has flashbacks of masturbating in front of photos of little boys plastered on the walls of his bedroom," even as part of a fictional and/or hypothetical scenario? All writers make errors of judgment, but I'm just wondering if you regard this story as such an error.

Thanks for your time. Once again, I'm asking:

1. Were you in fact on the de Soto Bridge that night?
2. Do you have any other information regarding Wiley's death?
3. Would you consider removing the posting from Exquisite Corpse or providing the standard disclaimer stating that "any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely accidental"?

This letter can't have been pleasant for you. Thanks for reading it. I look forward to hearing from you.


Jamey Hecht, Ph.D
(translator, Sophocles and Plato)


Clearly, we've got our lines tangled here, and I am sorry for the unpleasantness. Our genre-bending policy does occasionally lead to such a farrago, but we're not the latter-day Truman Capote (we wouldn't mind being the earlier). Dr. Hecht graciously gives Dr. Borchardt good arguments for her story, and suggests quite sensibly, adding a disclaimer. We agree. It's done. We have hosted Danuta Borchardt's writing on many occasions; she is a splendid fiction-writer, the translator of Witold Gombrowicz, and an exquisite memoirist. We hope to publish more of her work in the future, but we are also taking the opportunity here of inviting Dr. Hecht to contribute. We like his civilized firmness and his prose.

Andrei Codrescu




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