Half-truths

  • On the manipulation of reality
  • Nicola Gess
  • Literature

Whether fake news, conspiracy narratives or populist propaganda: they all cannot do without half-truths and their manipulation of reality.

At the same time, half-truths are among the most powerful instruments of the so-called “post-factual” political discourse: a discourse for which the transformation of facts into mere opinions is just as typical as the striving for attention and authoritarian settling, which often vacillates between relativism and cynicism.

Nicola Gess relates half-truth to the concept of ideology. She formulates a theory of half-truth as a narrative small form that does not function according to the code “true/false” but according to “credible/uncredible”.
Using the examples of fallen journalist Claas Relotius, conspiracy theorist Ken Jebsen, and writer Uwe Tellkamp, she examines how a rhetoric of half-truths works and why it can be better countered with a “fiction check” than a “fact check.”

Nicola Gess teaches Modern German and General Literature at the University of Basel. She is head of the research project Half-Truths. Truth, Fiction and Conspiracy in the ‘Postfactual Age’ and co-leader of the Sinergia research group The Power of Wonder, also funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Her publications include: Astonishment. A Poetics (2019), and Primitive Thinking. Children, Savages and Madmen in Literary Modernity (2013).

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