SCIENZE UMANISTICHEModern PhilologyAcademic Year 2022/2023


Teacher: Salvatore MARANO

Expected Learning Outcomes

As per the Dublin descriptors, students, at the end of the course, will demonstrate:

Knowledge (contents)

Literary theory and criticism in the US (XX-XXI century).

Know-How (skills)

The practice of literary theory and criticism. Case study: a critical reading of the textual hoax (both literary and academic) in comparison with fake news in the age of infodemic “post-truth”.

Learning to learn and to communicate

Ability to learn while attending the course and actively studying; overall ability to communicate contents and acquired skills with clarity and autonomy of judgment.

Course Structure

Lectures, assignments, class discussion.

Required Prerequisites

B1 English. Please note that it is not necessary to be familiar with Anglo-American literature. If anything, since a knowledge of the Fundamentals of literary history can be useful, it is advisable to consult the item ► Extra (optional)

Students who cannot or do not intend to attend classes are invited to contact the teacher before the start of classes to agree on a supplementary study program.

Detailed Course Content

Module A

Literary Hoaxes vs Fake News and Infodemic Post-Truth

Four literary hoaxes between xix and xx century (Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Witter Bynner & Arthur Davison Ficke, Clifford Irving) against the rhetoric of fake news.

Module B

Theory and the challenge of Academic Hoaxes”

US Literary Theory meet the Sokal and the Boghossian / Pluckrose / Levin Hoaxes.

Textbook Information

Module A

1) Four literary hoaxes between xix and xx century

Edgar Allan Poe

— “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Phaall” (1835); “Maelzel’s Chess-Player” (1836); “The Balloon Hoax” (1844).

— L. Walsh, “Poe’s Hoaxing and the Construction of Readerships”, in Sins Against Science. The Scientific Media Hoaxes of Poe, Twain, and Others, New York, State University of New York Press, 2006. pp. 51-119 (*)

Mark Twain

— “The Petrified Man” (1862); “A Bloody Massacre Near Carson” (1863); “A Touching Story of George Washington’s Boyhood” (1867); A Double-Barrelled Detective Story, cap. IV, “Incipit” (1901).

— L. Walsh, “Mark Twain and the Social Mechanics of Laughter”, in Sins Against Science, cit., pp. 121-171 (*)

Emanuel Morgan [Witter Bynner] and Anne Knisch [Arthur Davison Ficke]

— Spectra. A Book of Poetic Experiments, New York, Mitchell Kennerley, 1916

— W. J. Smith, “The Story”, in The Spectra Hoax, Middletown, Wesleyan University Press, 1961, pp. 3-70 (*)

Clifford Irving

Autobiography of Howard Hughes (New York, McGraw-Hill 1972) volume mandato al macero, nella edizione diffusa in .pdf dall’autore, 20062 (*)

— K. Young, “Spruce Goose”, in Bunk. The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists. Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, Minneapolis, Gray Wolf, 2017, pp. 253-270 (*)

2) On hoax, fake news, post-facts, and infodemic

— B. McHale, “‘A Poet May Not Exist’: Mock-Hoaxes and the Construction of National Identity, in The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. by R. J. Griffin, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 233-252 (*)

— M. Zimdars, “Introduction” to Fake News. Understanding Media and Misinformation in the Digital Age, ed. by M. Zimdars and K. McLeod, Cambridge (Mass.), The MIT Press, 2020, pp. 1-17. (*)

Module B

1) Fifty Years of Literary Theory in the US (1970s-2020s)

— Peter Barry, Beginning Theory. An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, 2017: “Introduction” (pp. 1-10); “Structuralism” (pp. 40-60), “Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction” (pp. 61-81), “Feminist Criticism” (pp.123-140); “Queer Theory” (pp. 141-158); “Postcolonial Criticism” (pp. 194-204); “Theory after Theory” (pp. 304-341).


— Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory. A Very Short Introduction, New York and London, Oxford University Press, 2011. pp. 1-146.

2) A book for choice among the following (the original edition ar any translated version):

R. Barthes, S/Z. Paris, Seuils, 1970; J. Culler, Structuralist Poetics New York, Routledge, 1975; H. Bloom, P. De Man, J. Derrida, G. Hartmann, J. Hillis Miller, Deconstruction and Criticism, New York, Seabury Press, 1979; G. Genette, Seuils, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1987; T. Eagleton, The Ideology of Aesthetics, New York, Routledge, 1990; S. Feldman, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History, New York, Routledge, 1992; B. McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, New York, Routledge, 1996; A. Jagose, Queer Theory; An Introduction, New York, New York University Press, 1996; C. Gallagher, Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing the New Historicism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000; A. Loomba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism, New York, Rootledge, 2005; E. Rooney (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2006; Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, New York, Routledge, 2011; J. Adamson, W. A. Gleason, David N. Pellow, Keywords for Environmental Studies, New York, New York University Press, 2016.

3) The Sokal affaire

— A. Sokal, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics”, Social Text, 46/47, Spring/Summer 1996, pp. 217-252:

P. Barry, “The Sokal Affair”, in Beginning Theory, cit., pp. 301-303 (*)

4) The Boghossian / Pluckrose / Lindsay affaire

— H. Wilson, “Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon”, Gender Place & Culture, 22 May 2018 (articolo successivamente ritirato dalla pubblicazione dopo l’annuncio pubblico che trattavasi di hoax):

— Z. Beauchamp, The Controversy around hoax studies in critical theory, explainedVox, October 15, 2018:


For those who don't know American Literature

— D. Campbell, Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events: Pre-1620 to


On Clifford Irving

Movies with and on / Interview to / Books by Clifford Irving

— C. Irving, Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1969; The Hoax, New York, Permanent Press, 1981.

— K. Kipling, “Behind the Fake: An Interview with Author Clifford Irving”, Sarasota Magazine, May 30, 2014

— O. Welles, F For Fake! (1973)

— L. Hallström, The Hoax (2006).

On Fake News and Fact Checking

— Y. Hope, A. Swenson, and A. Seitz, “Trump’s claims of vote rigging are all wrong”, AP Fact Check, December 3, 2020:

On the Sokal affaire

— B. Robbins, A. Ross, “Editorial Response to Sokal’s Hoax by the Editors of Social Texts”

All the hoaxes by Boghossian, Pluckrose and Levin

Online access to Sources

Within the limits of fair use, the texts referred to as (*) will be made available in .pdf on Studium.

Briefing Note on Copyright

Please remember that in compliance with art 171 L22.04.1941, n. 633 and its amendments, it is illegal to copy entire books or journals, only 15% of their content can be copied.

For further information on sanctions and regulations concerning photocopying please refer to the regulations on copyright (Linee Guida sulla Gestione dei Diritti d’Autore) provided by AIDRO - Associazione Italiana per i Diritti di Riproduzione delle opere dell’ingegno (the Italian Association on Copyright). All the books listed in the programs can be consulted in the Library.

Course Planning

 SubjectsText References
1A Short History of Literary Hoaxespdf (Studium)
2What are HoaxesWalsh/McHale 
3Fake News, Infodemic, Fact CheckingZimdars
4Edgar Alla PoeWalsh/Whalen  
5Mark TwainWalsh/Michelson  
6The Spectra HoaxMorgan&Knisch/Smith
7Clifford IrvingYoung/Grimes
8What is TheoryBarry
10Post-structuralism and DeconstructionBarry
12Feminist CriticismBarry
13Queer TheoryBarry
14Theory after TheoryBarry
15The Sokal Hoax (4 hrs)Sokal/Barry
16The Boghossian/Pluckrose/Lindsay Hoax (4 hrs)Wilson/Beauchamp

Learning Assessment

Learning Assessment Procedures

Oral exam at the end of the course

(see oral exam schedule)


The following are evaluated, in order of importance: (a) competence (know-how); (b) knowledge (c) exhibition skills (d) individual programs.

(a) refers to: logical consistency, quality of evidence produced to back-up the argument; recognition, use and mastery and of approaches and methods of contemporary literary criticism (theory and practice). (b) refers to knowledge concerning the status of texts and their correct placement (diachronic, diatopic, (inter) / (with) / textual) and their positioning among hoax, fake news, and post-fact. (c) refers to: analytical and synthetic expository skills; adequate use of stylistic registers; richness and lexical appropriateness; linguistic cohesion. (d) refers to the criteria of the individual study program.

Examples of frequently asked questions and / or exercises

There follows a list of possible topics for discussion at the exam . Of course, the listed below is just an example:

1) Define hoaxes vs fake news

2) How do literary hoaxes work

3) Discuss the hoax prepetrated by author X

4) What is literary theory

5) Discuss the essay for choice in the light of "theory"

Versione in italiano