marginal kitten

lectionary, Cambrai ca. 1266.

Cambrai, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 190, fol. 72r

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We would be better advised to reflect on the regeneration of the processes of falsification in the contemporary world. Setting aside the fabricators who continue to repeat the time-honoured counterfeiting techniques (false attributions, fake genealogical tables, copies of paintings), we find ourselves faced, in the political universe and in the mass media, with a new form of falsification. Not only do we have false information, but also apocryphal documents, placed in circulation by a secret service or a government or an industrial group, and leaked to the media, in order to create social turmoil, confusion in public opinion. We speak of “false information” without appealing to epistemological considerations, because the news is bound to be discovered as false sooner or later. Indeed we might say that it is disseminated as true precisely in order for it to be revealed as false a little time later.
Its purpose in fact is not to create a false belief but to undermine established beliefs and convictions. It serves to destabilize, to throw suspicion upon powers and counterpowers alike, to make us distrust our sources, to sow confusion.

The people of the Middle Ages falsified in order to confirm their faith in something and to uphold an order, whereas our contemporaries falsify in order to create distrust and disorder. Our philological age can no longer permit itself falsifications that present themselves as truths because it knows they will be unveiled in no time; and it operates instead by spreading falsifications that have no fear of philological examination, because they are destined to be unmasked immediately. We are not dealing with an isolated fake that masks, hides, and confuses, and to that end endeavours to seem “true.” It is the quantity of falsifications recognizable as such that functions as a mask, because it tends to undermine the reliability of all truth.
We do not know how the people of the Middle Ages, with their ingenious concept of authenticity, would have judged this brash and cynical concept we have of noningenious falsification. One thing is for sure: no historical period has the right to moralize about any other.

Umberto Eco 2014 [From the Tree to the Labyrinth: Historical Studies on the Sign and Interpretation]

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