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Public TrialsBurke, Zola, Arendt, and the Politics of Lost Causes$
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Lida Maxwell

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199383740

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199383740.001.0001

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A Public Taste for Truth

A Public Taste for Truth

Zola’s Literary Appeals to the People in the Dreyfus Affair

(p.80) (p.81) 3 A Public Taste for Truth
Public Trials

Lida Maxwell

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores dilemmas of public autonomy and truthfulness raised by Zola’s indictment (during the Dreyfus Affair) of the French government and army for committing a “crime against society”: the systematic attempt to mislead the public about Dreyfus’s guilt. For Zola, the public’s ability to do justice to this crime depends on its truthfulness, but this truthfulness also depends on autonomy: only a public capable of discerning truth can be free from manipulation, and vice versa. This mutual dependence of truthfulness and autonomy poses problems for Zola’s attempt to enlighten the public. Zola’s attempt to instruct the public on truth leads him to replay the problem he seeks to resolve: he perpetuates the public’s dependence on authority to tell them the truth and thus encourages the public’s susceptibility to falsehood. Maxwell argues for reconceiving truth-telling as a practice of responding to the inevitable failure to assure full truthfulness in politics.

Keywords:   Emile Zola, truth, public, justice, Dreyfus Affair

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