“Liar’s Art: Modernist Literature and the Paradox of Self-Reference” with Jeffrey Blevins

Jeff Blevins poster

Thursday, March 16


Virtual - https://rensselaer.webex.com/rensselaer/j.php?MTID=m95276f5f7ba61ccadcc13154cdc97ec0

Meeting Password: DqHAydjY794


“Liar’s Art: Modernist Literature and the Paradox of Self-Reference”
This talk is a lie. That’s not true. Rather, it is a talk on the liar’s paradox. More specifically, it is about the liar’s resurgence in the early 20th century, when the paradox thrived as a crisis for set theory, a constraint for mathematics, a contradiction for logic, a puzzle for semantics, a litmus for artificial intelligence, a tool for marketing, a catalyst for occultism, a subject for visual art, a conceit for fiction, and a motive for poetry. I examine an aesthetic, rhetorical, stylistic, and altogether literary pivot in the liar’s history, a pivot that illuminates many of the paradox’s other uses in the early 1900s. Like the liar itself, my claim cuts two ways: perplexity over the paradox transformed philosophers into artists, while wonder at it converted artists into philosophers. How can we comprehend, both wondered, language that refers to itself—like the sentence that begins this paragraph? What to do, both asked, with references whose scope either exhausts itself upon or else circles back to include those very references? What if this circular self-reference causes a contradiction? Is it possible to have a meaningful sense of reference with such cases? Can we have a complete one without them?


Jeffrey Blevins has most recently been a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English, at the University of California, Berkeley.

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