In the British satirical magazine Private Eye, there is a regular column entitled “Pseuds Corner.” What, exactly, it means for a writer to be a pseud in Private Eye’s terms it is not easy to explain. Certainly it may involve pretension, pomposity, vanity, circumlocution, name-dropping, fashionable thinking, fine writing, and, above all, self-importance, although none of these qualities by itself may be enough. There must also be an obvious disproportion, sometimes comic, sometimes pathetic, between the writer’s ambition and his achievement, between largeness of theme and smallness of material.

It helps if there is also an ad hominem element. Any painter, for example, who said “Some artists paint flowers; I paint what the flower is thinking” would be a pseud, but pseudery in this case is raised to a higher power since the painter is Sylvester Stallone. It would be...

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