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This article was originally published as:

Morton, L. (2016). Rereading code: Representation, verification, and a case of epistemic (ir)responsibility. Literary Journalism Studies, 8(1), 34-51. Retrieved from

ISSN: 1944-897X


190301 Journalism Studies| 200101 Communication Studies| 200525 Literary Theory

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In 2001 James Aucoin published an article that contributed sig­nificantly to the scholarship of ethics and epistemology of literary journal­ism studies. Drawing on the work of Lorraine Code, Aucoin combined a “responsibilist” approach to epistemology with narrative theory to establish standards for judging literary journalism’s truth claims. This paper offers a re-reading of Code’s seminal text, Epistemic Responsibility, arguing that Code’s approach in fact upholds verifiability as a key criterion for epistemic responsibility in works of both fiction and nonfiction. Such a reading pro­duces significantly different results when analyzing literary journalism’s truth claims. It is the aim of this paper to follow through the implications of rereading Epistemic Responsibility as advocating the discipline of verifica­tion. John D’Agata’s and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact is used as a case study to play out some of these implications in the second half of this paper. This playful case of epistemic irresponsibility highlights some of the key is­sues around truth claims in literary journalism. It is argued that such cases have an important role in keeping the issue of “knowing well” central to the epistemic community, thereby contributing to the flourishing discussion around the responsible representation of reality.


Used by permission: International Association for Literary Journalism Studies and the author.

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