Faking it: Liars, Imitators and Cheats in Literature and Film
Instructor: Oden Even Or
Deception and lies are a constant theme and a mechanism of narrative art. For a genre literally synonymous with falsehood, fiction has always been touchy about its relationship to truth: Does the novel neutrally represent reality or does it recreate it? Are characters like living, breathing real people, or are they mere simulations? And if they’re just words on a page (or images on a screen), why are we so moved by their adventures, loves and misfortunes? In this class, we will explore and expand on these questions by focusing on novels and films that deal explicitly and exclusively with fakers, shapeshifters and doppelgangers, lies of necessity and of opportunity, as well as with works that revel in exposing their own manipulative artificiality. We will read psychoanalysts, sociologists, philosophers, and postcolonial thinkers and ask, What does it mean to be authentic? How malleable are our individual identity, race, gender and sexuality? What forces shape it, and how constant is this shape? Are we the same selves when we have a conversation as when we give a presentation? Do we remain ourselves when we talk to customers at our service jobs, to teachers, to students? When we “pass” as a different race? When we speak in a different accent? How do we reconcile the conflicting demands of “be yourself” and “fake it till you make it”? What is the relation between our presentation of ourselves and our selves? Novels and shorts stories for discussion might include classics like Nella Larsen’s Passing, Vladimir Nabokov’s Despair and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, as well as movies like Gaslight, The Battle of Algiers, The Yes Men, and American Psycho. While much of the weekly work in this class will be reading-and-discussion based, oral presentations – keenly aware of their own artifice – will count toward half of the final grade. A final oral presentation will be based on a creative project in conversation with class materials. The course would satisfy those interested in fulfilling the Advanced Film and Literature and Global Literature and Film requirements. This is a CWiC course, Communication Within the Curriculum.