Fake News isn’t a Truth Problem, it’s a Personhood Problem

By Kris Cohen

[In this new Age of Orange, we’ll be bringing you a series of thought-provoking pieces on the new political landscape (and the same old landscape, as well]

K Tran, The Treachery of Images, print on canvas, 50cm x 70cm, London, 2013.

Whatever else it is, fake news is a problem that will not be adequately addressed by any single discipline. It does not have a proper home. It threatens everyone but belongs to no one. It is a problem for social media no less than for the most institutionalized forms of journalism; for massive conglomerates like Fox News or The Washington Post (now owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com) no less than it is for your uncle. Nor does the fake news phenomenon reside neatly in some one historical period: it is not new, but neither can it be explained away by conflating it with every other time that publicity has made truth complicated. Fake news matters because of Trump, but not only because of him. So the phenomenon is going to attract a lot of commentary, as it should. The rush to fill the void of uncertainty shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the problem is simply faddish and hollow. People are struggling to arrive at the right questions, and that kind of trial and error-style work takes time. Lauren Berlant has recently called this “genre flailing.” But the problem is even more complex than arriving at the right questions. It’s about arriving at the right scale of question. In many ways, “fake news” is but a single symptom of a far more massive destabilization, as people on every possible side of every possible political spectrum re-orient themselves to what feels like the new political realities of 2017.

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Postcards from the Archives: Goodbye 2016

2016 began with statements of solidarity with JNU (this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this), and ended with the dawn of the Age of Orange and our renewed commitments to not-survive, to not-surrender, and to always throw shad at power. In 2016, we bid farewell to beloved colleaguesmentors, writers, scholars.

2016 was a fairly busy year at CM. The highlight surely was the publication of Sepoy’s A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia. Here are some reviews: linklink, link. Sepoy shared his thoughts on the writing process, here. Lapata graced CM with her art and essay on Aleppopoetic translation, and thoughts on the art of translation. We continued our XQ series with an interview with Eric Beverly and Nayanika Mathur; featured an interview with Sheldon Pollock (see also, Sepoy’s Why Sheldon Pollock); organized a roundtable on Kamran Asdar Ali’s Communism in Pakistan: Politics and Class Activism 1947 – 1972 (IB Tauris) / Surkh Salam: Communist Politics and Class Activism in Pakistan 1947–1972 (OUP – Karachi), featuring reviews by Ahmed Kanna, Sarah Besky, Junaid Rana, Arvind Elangovan, and Atiya Singh; and maintained a focus on city-writing: Lahore: Marks It Bears IIRickshaw diaryThe City and the City*: Space and Semiotics of Muslim Bombay**,  Musings on Absence: Planning, Policies, and Conflict in the Indian Administered Kashmir. Other notable guest pieces are Zirwat Chowdhury’s The Conditional World of the Refugee, Sahar Ishtiaque Ullah’s Nanu’s Poetry, and Taimoor Shahid’s Meditation on Borders. Yours truly also said some things, about Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

If I were to pick, my favourite chapatis were Lapata’s Lessons Learned: Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, in memoriam, and Sepoy’s The Work of Humanities.

PS. A rogue splinter group of “artists of all stripes: painters, dancers, musicians, poets, etc., to share their art of protest and come for inspiration. Scholars and other savvy individuals are also welcome[…]”

PPS. Thinking about the Last Hindu Emperor

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Thinking about the Last Hindu Emperor

Gentle Readers: A small discussion of Professor Cynthia Talbot’s book The Last Hindu Emperor (2015) that I gave on March 5, 2016

Thank you to Professors Akbar Haider Ali for the invitation to come today. To Professor Kamran Asdar Ali and Rita Soheila Omrani at the South Asia Institute for their hospitality. I am very pleased to be here today, and honored to speak about Professor Cynthia Talbot’s book- which is great, and you should purchase it, and read it immediately.

Let me start with a joke and an observation.

The joke was told to me by my advisor sometime ago in his class on Hindu Kingship.

I was in a rickshaw in India and I saw an ancient monument that I did not recognize, so I asked the rickshaw walay “How old is that building?” and he answered it is “five thousand and ten years old” and I said, “wow, that is very specific” and he said, “ji, I was told it was five thousand years old about ten years ago”.

Ronald Inden’s point in that telling was to mark the way in which totemic past (five thousand years) and material past (the monument) intersect with the re-telling of that past.
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