‘Now, for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth.’ This is how Philip Sidney, writing in his Defence of Poetry in the late sixteenth century, carves out a space for fiction, a space in which the accusation of telling lies (which Plato, for instance, had accused poets of doing) simply does not make any sense. This distinction between two primary modes of discourse, fictional and nonfictional, has often been made since Sidney’s day, and it operates strongly in much thinking about language use in our own time.
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