alternative narratives (teaching notes)


"It is an art to have so much judgment as to apparel a lie well, to give it a good dressing" Ben Jonson, Explorata: Mali Choragi Fuere "The grifter is back and he's gunning for chumps.So you'd better zip up those pocket, pal." Gibson op.cit. beneath.



TEXTS for study

Philip Kerr, The Penguin Book of Lies, Penguin London 1991; the basic collection of texts - Quintilian,How an orator should employ a lie; Niccolo Machiavelli, How Princes should honour their word; Michel Montaigne, A should have a good memory; Sir Richard Steele, On sustaining deceit; William Hazlitt, Puffing; R.L.Stevenson, Truth of intercourse; Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying; Hansard/Harold Nicholson, We lie Damnably; reference to the Piltdown Man, Chatterton and the account of how Rasputin was murdered.

Alexander Klein, Grand Deception ,The World's Most Spectacular and Successful Hoaxes , Impostures, Ruses and Frauds, Faber and Faber, London 1956; including The Abyssian Princess who outwitted the British Navy; Orson Welles and the Men from Mars and Van Meergren

Walter B.Gibson, The Bunco Book , the Bunco Man from the Carnival Worker, Sharpers, Confidence mana and schemer of the Get Rich Quick Variety, Citadel Press Seacaucus, NJ 1986 (1946) Gibson was the creator of the character The Shadow whom Orson Welles played on radio. Featured in this book include dexcription of The Gold Brick, The Automatic Bowling Alley, The Three Pin Game, The Wheels of Chance; How Gamblers win at Poker;

Gary Lindberg, The Confidence Man in American Literature ,OUP London 1982. "...the confidence man sees more opportunity in New World fluidity, not merely to improve his lot by cleverness and technical proficiency, but actually to recast the self through cunning imitation"

Tony Tanner, introduction to Melville's The Confidence Man, OUP Oxford 1989, an excellent analysis of the liar in a fluid social context.

R.L.Gregory and E.Gombrich, Illusion in Nature and Art, Duckworth London 1973, see "Illusion and Art"

Fiction Literature

Herman Melville, The Confidence Man ,

Thomas Mann Felix Krull, Confidence Man

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire,

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls,

Edgar Alan Poe, DiddlingConsidered as One of the Exact Sciences .1843

Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying.

P.T.Barnum, The Autobiography of a Showman.

N.Hawthorn, The House of the Seven Gables


Escher, the prints.

Jan Steen, pictures of rogues and cardsharps

Duchamp, the adoption of another personality, Rrose Selavy

Bosch, the Carnival Gulls.



The House of Games, 1987

The Big Parade

Ceaucescu documentary

Orson Welles, broadcast The War of the Worlds.

Excerpt: House of Games,

The Tell; Mike, "Now the guy from vegas (he points at the back room) has got a shitload of my money. He's got a `tell'. OK ? When he's bluffing, okay, he playe with his little gold ring. Now I caught him doing it. N'he knows I did, so he stopped. He's conscious of himself. I want you to do me this facvour. I want you to be my girlfriend for a while, come in the game, you stand behind me, watch me play. We get in a big hand okay ? I, uh, I go to pee you watch this guy, and tell me, does he play with his gold ring. I know he's bluffing. I win the big hand. I'll forget the eight hundred dollars your friend owes." David Mamet, House of Games, screenplay, Methuen London 1988.

Excerpt, The Big Parade

"The trouble with telling a lie is that you always have to remember it and be able to repeat it when necessary or risk embarassing inconsistency. Eventually the lie takes on a life of its own, with consequences that can snowball until they cannot be controlled.Kim Il Sung is a consummate liar. One of the longest running examples of his mendacity concerns his country's programme to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea though it could bamboozle the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is why it agreed a couiple of years ago to allow inspections of its facilities. But Kim underestimated American satellite intelligence...Risking discovery, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...The crisis that has triggered this has abated but the falsehoods on which North Korea's Communist society have been based continue, swollen to such a degree that they consume the entire country." The Great Leader and the Dear Leader.
Types of mendacity

1. The creation of a narrative;
2. The creation of a personality: Orpen, Duchamp, Lewis
3. The creation of a technology.
4. The language of lying The Half Truth. Economical with the truth.

Recommended Pale Fire; completed 1961, the mad comedy of two worlds in conjunction. The foreword, poem, commentary, and index.