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[ Naming ]

5. Post-Truth

From my educational experience, I was taught through being shown words with descriptors.[1] For example, the content that students received from my history class during high school in Taiwan meant that we needed to only memorise the specific date, location, reason and result of the event in order to be able to achieve educational success. If you could memorise and recall the event or topic then the student would achieve good grades. This approach appears to be a common and normal learning system across many Asian cultures. However, the information students receive will unconsciously affect their political thoughts and decisions when they grow up. Information, history and knowledge are all manmade. Jean Baudrillard states, in Simulacra and Simulations (1994) that, ‘…we live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.’[2] If all human knowledge and understanding is based on the manmade text, it is doubtful that humans have the ability to identify what the actuality of other existences outside of our colonial and anthropocentric knowledge systems. Following with Baudrillard’s idea, human brain is similar with media corporations operating on the internet which is using multiple communications to import to one entrance. Rather than analysing the respectability of each source, humans use the most convenient way to absorb the information presented and we instinctually use what is most economic route in terms of time.

In correlation with this concern, Michel Foucault defines ‘regimes of truth’ as the historically specific mechanisms which produce discourses that function as ‘true’ in particular times and places.[3] For Foucault, power is built up from a system that produces truth through current social discussions, knowledge production and historical narratives. However, simultaneously, when humans start to be concerned about the authenticity of the information that they receive, they assume that all power and authority is collapsing.  Foucault, in The Order of Things (1966), clarifies this process:

Order is, at one and the same time, that which is given in things as their inner law, the hidden network that determines the way they confront one another, and also that which has no existence except in the grid created by a glance, an examination, a language; and it is only in the blank spaces of this grid that order manifests itself in depth as though already there, waiting in silence for the moment of its expression.[3]

The decisions behind the visible order are often invisible but these invisible operations define the classification of objects and by accepting the given language we often follow this historical model without questioning it. Foucault asks us humans to question how and why the laws of language have been artificially made up by humans to control their environment and themselves. This also produces the question; why do humans have to control the landscape and be controlled by a set of ordered relations to that landscape? Landscape here, refers to the fields of language, vision and knowledge production and how they organise the human relationship with the world. It is the aim of this thesis to explore whether these relations that are produced through language and knowledge are stable, or if they can be realigned. This leads to further questions; currently humans are living within their own constructed order, or the order constructed by a powerful elite, but what will happen when humans need to adapt their currently self-imposed order? What are the suitable systems for humans to produce in the future or, even, now? Foucault introduces the idea that truths can change throughout time, so they are historically situated in specific societal discourses and this means that truths are malleable. New discourses will produce new truths and, therefore, what has dominated so far can be reinvented. I aim to exploit the stability assumed between object, name and function through my practice and writing, by exploring the instability of the orders that govern the human relationship to things as highlighted by Foucault. Through my practice I aim to make space for the artwork to self-represent and for the reader to interpret by constructing a network out of language and thing, as opposed to a hierarchy. Roland Barthes states in The Rustle of Language (1989) that ‘…the reader is a man without history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds collected into one and the same field all of the traces from which writing is constituted’.[4] Barthes highlights that once the writer/artist publishes their work, the author should no longer interpret the work and it should be up to the reader(s) to create its meaning. Therefore, the creative process is located in the reading/viewing rather than writing/making. 

Foucault’s transitory and contextual social truths, or order of things, is also applicable to the current Post-Truth society,[6]which relates to, or denotes circumstances in which, objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotional and personal belief. In the book, Post-Truth (2018) Lee McIntyre states that, ‘… we arrived in a post-truth era, when “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence.’[7] The ‘facts’ that are present in McIntyre’s Post-Truth era are subjective beliefs. Whether facts are true or false becomes less important and decisions regarding which kind of belief is more acceptable have taken their place. Subjective beliefs become the ‘truth’ in place of the ‘real’.[8] This is like watching a historical drama, in which the ability to distinguish fact and fiction is ambiguous and overlapping. The media does not say anything and, as Baudrillard states, ‘…meaning is lost and devoured faster than it can be re-injected.’[9]

What the ‘Post-Truth’ society does show us is that the ambivalence between binaries (e.g. true or false beliefs), or the looseness between signifier and signified mentioned above, produces a space in which you can doubt the decision of calling an orange an ‘orange’. Therefore, what to many of us looks like a negative situation (in which there are no facts) could potentially create an opportunity for us to use a different lens through which to look at our human relationships with the environment. In between name and thing there is gap but humans aim to decrease this gap by producing an object (combining name and thing to one reduced or human facing version) through education. An object is also produced through a process of reiteration, such as through the activity of learning a language. For example, when using Rote Learning students are exposed to a loop of learn-exam-forget-preparation-learn, which enables them to memorise the name of an object. In learning language, students often need to take a classical qualification exam, or Vocabulary Test, which is an obvious human behaviour of enforcing ourselves to memorise what an object is called. An object becomes the definition with which it is assigned or else the meaning of the thing would be in constant deferral; a continual and indefinite postponement which means that a single definite meaning could never be achieved or relied upon.

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[1] Spoon-Feeding Education - To give someone information in a way that requires or allows no further thinking or effort.

[2] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), 79.

[3] Regimes of Truth - Is first introduced my Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish (1975), where speaking of the formation of a corpus of knowledge, techniques, scientific discourses that became entangled with the practice of the power to punish, he argues that a new regime of the truth has emerged.

[4] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (Routledge: London and New York, 1966), xxi.

[5] Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, Trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley: University of California Press: 1989), 54.

[6] Post-Truth – In relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

[7] McIntyre, Lee. “Post-Truth, MIT Press”. <> (accessed 17. December. 2019)

[8] Real - Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.

[9] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), 79.


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