English 165

Special Topics: On Lies, Lying, and Post-Truths--A Reading- and Writing-Intensive Investigation

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2020 Nadaff, Ramona
W 3-6 230 Mulford

Book List

Carrere: Adversary; Davis: The Return of Martin Guerre; Samuels: The Runner


Read a newspaper, listen to the news or a podcast, scan social media—lies are everywhere. The subject of much intellectual debate, social and political anxiety, and ethical and psychological consternation, lies are hard to grasp and capture, contain and constrain, slippery speech acts that they are. Many are the voices that identify the present epoch as that of the lie, of the death of the fact, and of the advent of the reign of post-truths. Whether this be true or false, propaganda or ideology, normal or catastrophic, contemporary writing on the regime of lies forgets that lies—like truth—have a history, and a long one at that. The history of lying is at the very center of the rhetorical, political, philosophical, and literary tradition.

This course will examine the histories of lies from Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli, Nietzsche to Derrida and beyond. In-depth readings from canonical philosophical, literary, political and historical works will be interwoven with case-studies on particular (and often peculiar) liars—be they con artists, plaguerers, financiers, or artists. We will concentrate especially on how lies are distinguished—or not—from truth, error, falsehood and deception. While most writings on lies and lying tend to take seriously only the moral dimensions of lying—"Is it good or bad to lie?" "Under what conditions is a lie morally permissible?"—we will attempt to understand what is at stake for individuals when and if they choose mendacity. Guest lecturers, experts on lying from the arts, sciences, politics, and literary world, will also enlighten us about liars' rhetorical strategies and performances.

This course is not only a reading-intensive course. It is also writing-intensive, designed to teach students how to write clear, critical, and persuasive prose across a broad range of genres. While we will concentrate on the art of writing an essay, we will also experiment with other modes of writing, such as the book review, the memoir, the op-ed, the blog post, and the email. Each week, we will study readings on the essential elements of composition, analyzing the art of the sentence and the paragraph.

Students enrolling in this class should expect to write at least 2-4 pages per week. Writing exercises will be attentively reviewed and copy-edited.

This section of English 165 is cross-listed with Rhetoric 189 section 1.

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