Bordeaux Montaigne University, 9-10 November 2017
If you look up the word “lie” in the Oxford dictionary, it is defined as an intentionally false statement, meant to deceive. Like irony, lying is a matter of intention and interpretation, and it exists in a virtual space. Indeed, if it is not reported or simply detected by somebody else, a lie never exists as such, and in a way never reaches its potential. However, unlike irony, it is not regarded as a figure of speech. It does not refer to the particular position or strategy of a speaker with regard to his/her own words, but instead to the deceitful nature of these words.
Lying challenges facts and truth and distorts them. It either works in the interests of the liar or, when it becomes compulsive or pathological, against them. It can thus designate fundamentally different purposes or strategies: defense mechanisms (for the self or other), games (with various degrees of depravity), pathological patterns, political agendas, hyperbolical effects, protective or chaste omissions, or even the refusal to comply with the tyranny of truth or transparency.
But lying is not the only way to deviate from truth or facts. While a lie is deliberate, erroneous statements often are not; they simply stem from ignorance or incomplete knowledge. As for fabulation, it is the crucial precondition to the creation of fiction and to our daily and necessary confabulations. The difference between lying and fabulating can be found both in the speaker’s intersubjective intention and in the level of verisimilitude, or the apparent veracity of his/her words.
More specifically, lying destabilizes both truth-telling and referential narratives, but it does not play the same role from one literary genre (or one literary movement to another). In the realist novel, for instance, lying is often meant to be exposed so that the logic of stability and truth will eventually prevail. In the modernist novel, on the other hand, lying represents a loss of confidence in such traditional references as truth and reality after WW1. More than any other literary genre, autobiography is regularly tainted with the indignity of dishonesty—as confirmed by recent scandals (Frey, Defonseca, Mortenson…). “Dishonest memoirists” draw a personal interest, often big money, from their untruthfulness. Even “illness memoirs” can be affected by the same dishonesty—though it is called “metaphor”—as Lauren Slater’s Lying. A Metaphorical Memoir (2000) proves.
Dishonest practices can be either subtle and sophisticated—in Fait et Fiction Françoise Lavocat speaks of “imperfect fictionality and abusive factuality”—but recent political events like the Brexit campaign and the American presidential campaign prove that dishonesty can also be blatant and can reveal agonistic speech practices. Deliberate lying, which makes no attempt to disguise itself, becomes a glorious, modern version of outright dishonesty, and a disarmingly violent rhetorical weapon. Lying, in such cases no longer bears any relationship to truth or reality. It becomes disembodied and nothing more than an ideological or discursive strategy. As long ago as 2004, Raph Keynes claimed in his book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life that we had entered a new era of prevailing relativity, involving a new, uninhibited relationship to lying.
In this conference, we will therefore examine different occurrences of lying in Anglophone literature, films and comics, but also in the media or the political life of Anglophone countries. We will analyse the various intentions and strategies, as well as the artistic interest and pertinence of the phenomenon. We will consider to what extent lying occurs differently in different contexts, and why this should be so, whether certain historical periods, genres, geographical, social, political or personal contexts are more favourable to lying. We will focus on iconic lies, important historical lies, and the flamboyant and pitiful liars who exist in Anglophone culture and politics, but we will also examine lying characters in fiction. We will analyse lying as an increasingly common communication strategy. We will also examine how it can be used as a disqualifying argument, and can become a tool for revisionism, the fantasized basis of a paranoid counter-discourse—the Americans did not walk on the moon in 1969, for example. And finally, in the wake of the conference organized by CLIMAS in 2012 on “Mad Narrators,” we would like to continue working on the non-reliability of narrators of fiction, and study the narrators who lie to us, as well as the way in which the authors who create them use their lying to establish with the reader what Wayne Booth has called “a secret communion of the author and reader behind the narrator’s back », a phenomenon Jim Phelan studied extensively in Living to Tell About It.
ou Nathalie Jaëck, email@example.com by January, 31 2017.