Donogoo-Tonka or the Miracles of Science: A Cinematographic Tale is a 1920 novel by Jules Romains (French edition); the complete review gives a nice summary:

A depressed Lamendin, complaining that his “soul is failing”, seeks the advice of a psychotherapist (and “suicide specialist”), whose proposed remedy leads Lamendin to professor Yves le Trouhadec, who has his own troubles. Le Trouhadec’s great ambition is to be named a member of the French Institute, but his election is in doubt, his rivals having spread the word that le Trouhadec’s study of the city of Donogoo-Tonka, in deepest Brazil, is all a fraud (as, in fact, it is).
Lamendin is inspired:

I could, from here, try to found the city of Donogoo-Tonka, since I believe I’ve understood that it doesn’t yet exist.

A staged film purporting to show the distant city, “a heavy-duty scientific lecture”, and soon enough even a prospectus for potential investors: the ruse becomes ever more convincing. So too does the investment-opportunity — helped by some cinematic-novelistic trickery:

The maid brings in the mail. The first envelope, when opened, lets out the prospectus for Donogoo-Tonka. The man skims it, without ceasing to eat his bread and butter. But watch how the twelve letters Donogoo-Tonka rise up, tear themselves free, escape from the paper and start scurrying, one after another, on the table, like a band of little mice.

The reality of Donogoo-Tonka poses something of a problem — there’s nothing to it, after all — yet all those rushing to it, and the capital involved, lead inevitably to the only solution: to create what was supposedly already there. A real Donogoo-Tonka rises on the imagined Donogoo-Tonka. It’s farcical, of course — and sensibly, then, it is decreed, when all is said and done, that: “The worship of Scientific Error is obligatory throughout” the territory.

I love the whole idea, I love the worship of Scientific Error, and I especially love the word Donogoo-Tonka. I discovered it because Viktor Shklovsky referred to it in his supposed recantation “Monument to a Scientific Error.” And I note its possible relevance to deepfake geography.


  1. “A depressed Lamendin…”

    This already sounds exciting:)

  2. January First-of-May says

    And I note its possible relevance to deepfake geography.

    Compare the (slightly) similar case of Agloe, New York (not mentioned in the deepfake geography article).

  3. That’s a great story.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    The imaginary city motif puts me in mind of Felix Gilman’s The Rise of Ransom City, which I would heartily recommend, along with its predecessor The Half-Made World. The eponymous Ransom is a sort of confidence man, except that he’s weirdly sincere about it all, to the extent that he may not be altogether a confidence man at all. And he lives in a world so grim that it may be a public service to provide even illusory hopes …

  5. Krippendorf’s Tribe (1998)

    An anthropologist creates a fictitious lost New Guinea tribe using his family members to cover-up for his mis-use of grant moneys.

    I mentioned this movie when we discussed an interesting question of how many fake languages did linguists invent to cover up their misuse of grant funds.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    This already sounds exciting:)

    More exciting than “Call me Ishmael” at any rate.

  7. Jeffry House says

    I had never heard of paper towns until today. But as the Agloe, New York link, above, mentions, there is a book, Paper Towns, and a movie by the same name, both 21st century. I’m told that the book is on the grade nine required reading list here in Ontario, so “every kid these days knows what a paper town is”. I wonder if we could get them to read Donagoo-Tonka instead.

  8. A fake copyright trap planet features prominently in “The Annihilation of Angkor Aperion,” a Berserker story by Fred Saberhagen.

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