I do solemnly declare that I shall give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Iâ€™ve never really thought much about what the truth is.
But Liv told me there is no such thing.
At face value truth seems quite straightforward. A description of a real object is truthful. But then what is real? Is anything objectively real? Donâ€™t we all subject reality to our past experiences, opinions, judgements? Everything we see and hear goes through our personal filters and the closest we can get is some kind of approximation of each otherâ€™s experiences. Some relational truth in shared meaning.
But as Stuart Hall points out: meaning is not straightforward or transparent, facts are regularly passed through representation, changing and shifting significance with context. Meaning is never finally fixed, always approaching but never arriving at Absolute Truth (1997, p.9, his caps).
And Foucault thinks that you can create reality. â€œAll knowledge, once applied in the real world, has effects, and in that sense at least, ‘becomes true.’â€(1977, p.27). Â No, I donâ€™t think he was watching â€˜the secretâ€™ when he wrote that.
I guess this is kind of obvious in fashion magazines. Clothing designers believe that garments look better on thin models, photographers use thin models, and thin comes to represents beauty. Thin models in magazines, billboards, films. Thin is truly beautiful.
But then of course this is subjected to contestation. Big is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Grazie Vogue Italia.
Nothing and everything is beautiful. You are so beautiful to me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Is truth in the tongue of the speaker?
Liv thinks that we can try to get closer to an objective knowledge by being honest about ourselves. Making explicit our worldviews, standpoints, contexts and perspectives. Making others aware of the biases in our truths. She explained to me that: ‘Truth like meaning, is always contextual. “Being’ has more to do with that objects are always presented to us within discursive articulations, and never as mere blank – existing – entities. Outside a discursive context objects have no being.”
And then she sent me a poignant if dense quote fromÂ Laclau: “…the moment of failure of objectivity is, the constitutive outside of the latter. The movement towards deeper strata does not reveal higher forms of objectivity but a gradually more radical contingency. The being of objects is, therefor, radically historical, and ‘objectivity’ is a social construction. It is in this sense that society does not ‘exist’ in so far as objectivity, as a system of differences that establishes the being of entities, always shows traces of its ultimate arbitrariness and only exists in the pragmatic – and as a consequence always incomplete – movement of its affirmation.” (1990, p.183).
To become more objective, real, truthful is to develop more and more abstract ways of thinking about the world.
Research is a constant quest to become a truthful speaker. But also an understandable and relatable one. Striving to give a true description of how objects really are; how the world really is; controlling for the plethora of experience and attendant values that shape the way we see things, in a way that isÂ relevant and useful to everyday life.
And then finding perfect value-free recipients with whom to share perfect truths. Or creating them/us by igniting reflexivity in society/ourselves.