Lying and storytelling with words and pictures

You should only say what you believe to be true, and if you violate this maxim, you’re guilty of lying. This extends to pictorial or gestural representations. Semantically, a picture can convey propositional information, much like a linguistic utterance. Pragmatically, pictorially expressed propositions come with similar default commitments as assertions, e.g. typing “on my way to Berlin 🚆<train-emoji>” from an airplane makes me a liar, and tweeting photoshopped or deepfaked footage of Russian soldiers celebrating in the streets of Kiev is “fake news”. But for some apparent linguistic or pictorial assertions thIs default commitment to truth doesn’t apply. When Tolkien writes a novel, or Peter Jackson makes a movie, about hobbits and dragons, they are never held accountable for expressing obviously false propositions. Why not? I’ll sketch a very traditional answer: their representations are formally assertive, but it’s not the author/director who does the asserting and hence bears the commitment, but a fictional counterpart (the narrator) reporting from inside the world of the fiction. In my talk I explore the consequences of such a view when applied to unreliable narration in both novels and film.


Emar Maier

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Digital Humanities Tilburg