Treacherous words: fake news, censorship and the unsayable

Department of Languages and Cultures, University of Aveiro, Portugal
23-25 October 2019

The recent emergence of concern about fake news is a consequence of the importance of public opinion. It presupposes that some form of democracy is operative and therefore there is a need to manipulate it. But there is nothing new about lying, misrepresenting, obfuscating and minimizing unhelpful information. Undemocratic and democratic regimes alike have been doing this for years. Pravda and Isvestia were iconic sources of state-sanctioned fake news and their successors continue to operate today. So what is different?  Is it not the way that we keep ourselves informed that has changed? Philosophically, we have become acclimatized to the idea that we live in an age of post-truth, that all perception is relative. Practically, we are being bombarded with informational excess. It seeks you out, it overwhelms you, it comes at you at speed.  Additionally, it is not obsessed with sourcing and fact-checking. The result is that opinion-formation and political decisions are being made on the basis of appeals to emotion and personal belief. Traditional sources of authority have so far proved themselves unable to combat this effectively, since new social media have transformed access to and reliance on information.  Even reputable scientists and experts have become marginalized as untrustworthy elites. In addition, celebrity culture has confused what constitutes newsworthiness, and a whole cadre of professionals mediate and determine what reaches the public as information.

Alongside the straightforward manipulation of information, control over liberty of expression and artistic freedom has deployed different strategies over time. Historically, religion and politics have been at the centre of censorial practice, but recently, systems of close monitoring have progressively been extended to bring about the imposition of social models, cultural programmes and even aesthetic objectives. Indeed, processes of self-censorship have offered themselves as alternative ways of obstructing the act of communication. These range from withdrawing the very will to verbalization to self-scrutiny as to what it is permissible to say. In this way, repression shapes the mechanisms by which the codification of expression and specific strategies of resistance develop, given the (more or less effective) ploys needed to elude censorship.

The official abolition of censorship in democratic systems has not wholly eradicated it. Social, religious, cultural, diplomatic and even economic pressures can (and often do) have repressive effects. In the same vein, so-called corporate censorship is very much a reality that affects the arts and the media. Plainly, efforts to stifle what is perceived to be undesired have not ceased.

Thus, there are innumerable ways to shut down expression (even the temptation felt in many fields – obeying their own internal logic – to silence the voices of multidisciplinary interlopers), which have been investigated, from different perspectives, in the related domains of language sciences, anthropology, sociology, literary, cultural and translation studies, amongst others. The importance of the role of language in the development of global communicative capabilities (generating ways of resisting ambiguity and manipulative practices, or facilitating them) has become increasingly evident in the above-mentioned fields. These have perhaps learned from romanticism the value of the unsayable as a type of higher wisdom, capable of indicating, for each field, the gaping division between the impulse to verbalise and the many barriers that impede effective expression.

With these thematic considerations in mind, we invite proposals for papers on the following sub-topics:

Fake News

  • Epistemology and truth 
  • Information in the age of social media: crises in traditional media
  • Populism, demagoguery and the challenge to democracy;
  • Infotainment and its discontents
  • Science, pseudo-science and statistics


  • Repression and ideology
  • Censorship and the rhetoric of resistance
  • Censorship and self-censorship in artistic creation
  • Censorship and self-censorship in translating and interpreting
  • Corporate censorship

The Unsayable

  • Taboos, secrets and other interdictions
  • The politics and the poetics of the unsayable
  • Between languages and cultures: ill-fated translations
  • Translation and manipulation
  • Silence and (in)communicability

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