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Continental Psychoanalysis Module VI

March '23

Truth, Fact, Fiction

Truth, Fact, Fiction

If you do an internet search for 'blurring the line between fact and fiction’, or some version of that, you’ll be sure to find millions of hits on independent cinema and photography; ‘inspired by a true story’ (typically crime) films and television series; as well as academic articles and books on trauma and injustice (especially from disciplines inclined to ‘postmodern’ theory and cultural studies). This course asks why, in the face of our crisis-ridden reality, artists and scholars tend to relativize truth — conflate fact and fiction — rather than pursue truth through their work.

We’ll read fiction and non-fiction, watch documentary and scripted films, see ‘realist’, ‘figurative’, and ‘abstract’ modern and contemporary art, understand cultural studies accounts of the past and present, primarily through the lens of psychoanalytically-inclined philosophy.  We'll analyse how the current trend to ‘blur fact and fiction’ is confusing because it operates in opposing directions: on the one hand, the actual powers that be are so crazy that reality must be a dream, fictional, while, on the other hand, if we only imagined, dreamed, we could escape the very real apocalypse we currently inhabit.

The class will learn how psychoanalytic thought and art clears this fog not by building a wall between fact and fiction (positivism), but by showing how the blurred line is an unexceptional fact of human being. Why? Because we speak, we're born into language. We’ll consider, for instance, how the so-called ‘impossible statement’ that some philosophers debate endlessly, ‘I’m lying’ — if I say 'I’m lying' and am telling the truth I’m lying; if I say ‘I’m lying’ and am actually lying I’m telling the truth  — is actually all too possible, in fact true of every statement we make in language. Freud captured this well in one of his jokes:

Two Jews meet in a railway carriage at a station in Galicia.

'Where are you going’?, asks one.

'To Cracow’, was the answer.

'What a liar you are'!, broke out the other. 'If you say you are going to Cracow, you want me to believe you are going to Lemberg. But I know you are going to Cracow. So why are you lying to me’?

The very fact that we speak invites suspicion; we always already ‘blur the line between fact and fiction’. Our contemporary art, thought, politics, ethics that repeats this fact doesn’t actually create anything. The more difficult and necessary task is to make truth in our unavoidably factual/fictitious world. What does creating truth look and feel like? How might we think differently? What can we accomplish?

About the professor

Rohit Goel

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