Professors discuss truth, fear at showcase
By Kelly Mayo
Assistant News Editor
Dr. Mark Canada and Dr. Mary Jean Braun gave a sneak peak of their new books at the Spring Faculty Showcase in the Mary Livermore Library March 30.
Dr. Canada, English professor and associate dean of arts and sciences, discussed his book, called Literature and Journalism in Antebellum America, which covers American literary history from the Penny Press era of the mid- 19th century to the Civil War.
The book focused on the dispute between journalists and novelists of the day over the right way to portray truth.
What is truth?
According to Dr. Canada, journalists gave the hard facts in their news stories, while novelists "were interested in a different kind of news" that broke away from the typical front page.
He gave Henry David Thoreau as an example, who he said preferred truth that was based in nature, or "what was in the wind."
Dr. Canada said that authors considered journalism "an inferior and inadequate form of truth-telling."
He also said that authors came up with their own form of journalism, which gave the news "in a literary sort of way," or in a way that disregarded the factbased methods journalists are accustomed to.
In this way, many authors thought that their version of truth was more correct than that of journalists.
The conflict between authors and journalists extended to economics. Dr. Canada said that newspapers "were the Internet of their age" and were more popular than novels in the Antebellum era.
Despite their disagreements with the press' form of giving the truth, many novelists still considered the medium important, according to Dr. Canada.
He said that Emily Dickinson read newspapers and was in love with Springfield Republican editor Samuel Bowles.
He also said that Nathaniel Hawthorne was "addicted" to newspapers because he based many of his stories on news stories he read.
Dr. Canada briefly discussed the present and future of journalism, which he called a "digital revolution."
He mentioned modern controversies of truth like the Stephen Glass scandal at the New York Times, in which a reporter made up news just to get a "good story."
Dr. Canada summarized these controversies in a lecture- closing quote from Thoreau: "Any truth is better than make-believe."
Importance of rhetoric
Dr. Braun talked about the book she co-edited, called Entertaining Fear: Rhetoric and the Political Economy of Social Control.
The book includes "contemporary fear discourses" derived from political, economic and social changes, she said.
Dr. Braun began with a brief definition and history of rhetoric.
She said Aristotle defined rhetoric as "the study of persuasive text." She also said ancient Greeks and Romans studied how persuasive texts led to action and prepared advice for the use of persuasive speech.
Dr. Braun stressed the importance of rhetoric by saying that it could lead to "wonderful or thoroughly evil things."
"Things are getting done in rhetoric," she said.
Modern fear discourses
Dr. Braun said that fear discourses lead to social control. In other words, the public is easy to manipulate if it is scared into believing something.
Fear discourses increased after Sept. 11, according to Dr. Braun, but they are not a recent phenomenon. She said there are things to be afraid of in the world, but fear discourses can also lead to "good talking points and conversations."
Dr. Braun passed around copies of a photograph of a hooded prisoner of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that included the caption "America does not torture" underneath.
"How is it that these two texts can coexist?" she asked.
The answer, she said, was a de-materialization of the culture. In other words, what is said matters more than concrete evidence.
Dr. Braun also discussed the post-modernist concept of constructionism, which she described as "the world created through language."
Dr. Braun gave the recent economic crisis as an example of a breach in constructionism. She said that financial deregulation created more capital, which created even more capital as opposed to a new material object.
Therefore, she said, a bubble was created that was "filled with nothing but hot air."
She said so much wealth was lost when the bubble burst because the bubble was not tied with the material world.
In short, Dr. Braun said, money had become an idea instead of an object.