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The True History of Fake News By Robert Darnton

In the long history of misinformation, the current outbreak of fake news has already secured a special place, with the president’s personal adviser, Kellyanne Conway, going so far as to invent a Kentucky massacre in order to defend a ban on travelers from seven Muslim countries. But the concoction of alternative facts is hardly rare, and the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.

Procopius, the Byzantine historian of the sixth century AD churned out dubious information, known as Anecdota, which he kept secret until his death, in order to smear the reputation of the Emperor Justinian after lionizing the emperor in his official histories. Pietro Aretino tried to manipulate the pontifical election of 1522 by writing wicked sonnets about all the candidates (except the favorite of his Medici patrons) and pasting them for the public to admire on the bust of a figure known as Pasquino near the Piazza Navona in Rome. The “pasquinade” then developed into a common genre of diffusing nasty news, most of it fake, about public figures.

Although pasquinades never disappeared, they were succeeded in the seventeenth century by a more popular genre, the “canard,” a version of fake news that was hawked in the streets of Paris for the next two hundred years. Canards were printed broadsides, sometimes set off with an engraving designed to appeal to the credulous. A best-seller from the 1780s announced the capture of a monster in Chile that was supposedly being shipped to Spain. It had the head of a Fury, wings like a bat, a gigantic body covered in scales, and a dragon-like tail. During the French Revolution, the engravers inserted the face of Marie-Antoinette on the old copper plates, and the canard took on new life, this time as intentionally fake political propaganda. Although its impact cannot be measured, it certainly contributed to the pathological hatred of the queen, which led to her execution on October 16, 1793.

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Is My Novel Offensive? By Katy Waldman

When Becky Albertalli published her first young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, with the HarperCollins imprint Balzer and Bray in 2015, she never expected it to be controversial. She’d worked for years as a clinical psychologist specializing in gender nonconforming children and LGBTQ teens and adults.* Yet her book—about a closeted gay kid whose love notes to a classmate fall into the wrong hands—contained a moment that rubbed readers the wrong way: Simon, the sweet but clueless protagonist, muses that girls have an easier time coming out than boys, because their lesbianism strikes others as alluring. At a book signing, several people approached Albertalli to complain that the scene played too readily into a narrative they’d heard many times before. Online, commenters condemned the “fetishization of queer girls” in the book as “offensive.” Albertalli hadn’t originally given the passage a second thought: the character was obviously unworldly; elsewhere, he asserts that all Jews come from Israel. But in the latter exchange, readers pointed out, Simon’s Jewish friend immediately corrects him. The lesbian line, a snippet from the narrator’s interior monologue, receives no such rebuttal.

Tvetan Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov, Literary Theorist and Historian of Evil, Dies at 77

Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian-French literary theorist and historian of ideas whose concerns in dozens of books ranged from fantasy in fiction to the moral consequences of colonialism, fanaticism and the Holocaust, died on Tuesday in Paris. He was 77.

The cause was multiple system atrophy, a progressive brain disorder, his son Sacha said.

A disciple of Roland Barthes, Mr. Todorov became prominent in the 1970s for his work on structuralism, a method of interpretation — influenced by cultural anthropology — that focuses on recurring patterns of thought and behavior.

He developed his study of the formal processes of storytelling into a 1973 book, “The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre,” which examined the structural features in fantasy-based texts like “Arabian Nights” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.”

 

Jazzmen, one, two, three… (84)

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