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Facts/Fictions: The Question of Truth and the Post-Factual Society


DozentIn: Prof. Dr. phil. Peter Schneck , Jatin Wagle, M.A.

Veranstaltungstyp: Seminar

Ort: 41/E08

Zeiten: Di. 12:00 - 16:00 (wöchentlich)

Beschreibung: In the wake of Donald Trump’s campaign for the American presidency and his eventual ascendancy to that office, but also following the evident insouciance displayed by him and many of his political advocates on conventional as well as social media towards matters of truthfulness, expressions, such as, “the post-factual society” and “the post-truth era” have become somewhat of a staple in our public discourse. Cognate terms have also been employed to discuss and even analyze the results of the so-called Brexit referendum and the rise in support for the far-right political organizations in Europe. The contemporary preponderance of authoritarian politics and its adroit exploitation of public modes of communication appear to correspond rather strikingly to Hannah Arendt’s insightful reflections on the subject from _The Origins of Totalitarianism_ (1958): “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses have reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything was possible and that nothing was true…Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held each statement to be a lie anyhow. The…leaders based their propaganda on the assumption that one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism [and] they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire their leaders for their superior tactical cleverness”.
This course in American Studies focuses on questions of facticity and objectivity, their beginnings and, as it were, their stubborn persistence in modern discourses and narratives. The major perspective of the course is historical in that it tries to trace prevalent concepts of ‘the factual’ from their emergence in early modern practices and models of knowledge and credibility, as well as debates in legal, social and political philosophy about evidence, truth and probability. These debates are also connected to the parallel emergence and further development of specific forms of prose fictions (the novel) and news media. Thus, the seminar seeks to explore and comprehend the historical construction of facticity on the mutually constitutive terrains of evidence-based knowledge and fictional narratives.
In order to take and enjoy this class, you should be willing to read, analyze, and discuss critical, analytical, theoretical, and fictional texts. The required readings with a tentative schedule will be made available online on Stud.IP before our first class. Please check the course webpages regularly for updates, announcements, and changes.
PLEASE NOTE that this course is being offered jointly by Peter Schneck and Jatin Wagle and serves as one part of the modules indicated above. We have booked an extended time slot to have longer sessions with flexible schedules so that all of us get an opportunity to discuss complex issues at depth and with nuance. However, in order to offset these long sessions, we will have reading weeks, i.e. weeks without classes. Further details in this regard will be discussed in our first session.
General requirements:
1. Read and prepare a selection from the mandatory readings before the course begins.
2. Regular attendance and active participation in classroom discussions and group work.
3. Please note that all course participants will need to read each of the texts being discussed in the class carefully and prepare their notes, queries, or responses diligently.
Requirements for grade: All of the above, and a seminar paper (approx. 6000 words).


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