A Dialogue of Lies

August 29, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

Moshe passed this NYTimes article on to me; it’s a conversation about lying, what it means and what it entails. I’ve included the first part of it here. This is the first part. There is a second part of the dialogue that you can find by going here.

RICKY JAY: Lying has to be verbal. Do I believe that?

[a pause]

ERROL MORRIS: And it can’t be accidental. You can accidentally deceive somebody, but you can’t accidentally lie to somebody. If you’re lying to somebody, you have to know you’re doing it.

RICKY JAY: I’ve written about verbal deception, for example, the P.T. Barnum sign – “TO THE EGRESS” — to make someone believe something that was other than what was intended. Even though there was nothing wrong with it — it’s deceptive. [The sign is intended make people believe that they are about to visit some exotic animal, rather than heading to the exit.] I wrote an article about verbal deception in “Jay’s Journal” on the Bonassus.

'Jay's Journal of Anomalies'
“Jay’s Journal of Anomalies,” courtesy of Ricky Jay

The Bonassus was presented in 1821 as this extraordinarily exotic creature. I’ll read just the opening: “The Bonassus, according to contemporary handbills, has been captured as a six-week-old cub deep in the interiors of America …” —blah, blah, blah… “It was presented to a populous eager for amusement and edification” — this was in London — “whose appetite for curiosities both animal and human was insatiable.” The attraction said, “A newly discovered animal, comprising the head and eye of an elephant, the horns of an antelope, a long black beard, the hind parts of a lion, the foreparts of a bison, cloven-footed, has a flowing mane from shoulder to fetlock joint and chews the cud.” And underneath the line, “ ‘Take him for all in all, we ne’er shall look upon his like again.’ — Shakespeare.”

You can read the rest of this article by going here.

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