RH 189 | On Lies, Lying, and Post-Truths

2019 Spring

Ramona Naddaff

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 examines 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, plagiarists, financiers, or artists. Guest lecturers, experts on lying from the arts, sciences, politics, and literary world, will also enlighten us about liars’ rhetorical strategies and performances.

This is a writing-intensive course, designed to teach students how to write clear, critical, and persuasive prose across a broad range of genres.

This course is supported by a gift from Ellis Jones (BA Rhetoric ’76).