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Truth and Lies in Literature and Film

ENGL 259.401
crosslisted as: COML 140, GRMN 249
TR 12-1:30pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

Eng 259 Fall 2021 Course description

Jean-Michel Rabaté Fall 2021
ENGL 259 “Truth and Lies in Literature and Film” TR 12 :00 – 1 :30 pm.

What do we mean when we say that we live in a « post-truth » era or are told that we are fed fake news? Should this imply that the ancient distinction between truth and interpretation has been abolished? This class will attempt to provideananswerbylookingatbooksthatdealwithpolitics,likeEric Alterman’sWhenPresidentsLie,andatliterature, film and philosophy. Lying is a widespread social manifestation fraught with contradictions: we lie frequently but hate liars; above all, we detest being lied to, which is verified in everyday life and in politics as well in amorous relationships. The paradox has important consequences in politics; if we expect politicians to lie, we hope that they will lie reasonably. In an attempt to find a common root to these phenomena, we will begin with philosophical discussions from Plato to Hannah Arendt that explore the basic paradox of the pseudomai: I am lying but I tell the truth when I say that I am lying. From this point, we will examine the impossibility of living in a society without lies, as shown by Ricky Gervais’s film “The Invention of Lying.” We will also assess the terrible consequences of lies on other people’s lives. The prevalence of social lying can trigger skepticism about sharing truths, an issue that we will address via Stanley Cavell’s philosophy of social reconciliation. We will analyze its logic in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Molière’s The Misanthrope. We will then read four novels, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart, Emmanuel Carrère’s The Adversary, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Next to these six literary texts, we will discuss four films, three being their adaptations.

One oral presentation (10%)
Four film journals (3 p. max, 10% each) One short paper (5 p. max, 20%)
One final paper (8 p. max, 30%)