the following essay was written during my time at Western Washington University. i was under the tutelage of Dr. Christopher Wise, and over time this grew into a mentorship during a string of courses on radical thought until the end of my undergraduate career. the final class was a graduate-level course titled, “Incompetence,” and it was quite the talk of campus. more on that later…
…the point i am trying to make is that this essay, the previous, essay, and all essays to follow marked a time of change, a time of struggle, a time i wrestled with a previously held ideal, a decision from what was and what was now then. the human writing these words and wrestling with the words of others was just beginning to blossom into being-ness…perhaps, even Being-ness with a capital B. she asked questions without answers; questions that lead to other questions; questions upon questions…and she found there was always another question. at the bottom, there was always nothing to leap into/onto; the abyss of all things.
again, i reference and use the words and works of Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jacque Derrida to explore my own personal truth and “Truth” as an archetypical concept. and i keep the original work of the author, a 21-going-on-22 year old me, in the spring of 2010.
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“Conformity with fact or reality.” “An obvious or accepted fact.” “Agreement with a standard or original.” Out of the eleven dictionary.com definitions of “truth,” I found these to be quite interesting because they do not provide any explanation of what is actually true, but simply what is “true” according to society. “Truth” is something that is constructed by society, dependent on the individual, and unfortunately, entirely unattainable. Over the course of history, man has developed norms that have become widely accepted “truths” because they are pleasantand non-confrontational, not because there is any basis of Truth to them. In man’s search for Truth, he has used metaphor and signs to convey the concept, but due to individual interpretation, these signs are far from truthful. It is with “truth” that man constrains himself from acquiring Truth. Man must abandon the guiding “center” that has been created because it is in the differance or the conflict of Being that the unconcealment of the Truth occurs. Drawing on selected works from Jacques Derrida, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger, I have realized the deconstruction of “truth” that must take place for man to ever be able to construct a notion of the Truth.
Since the beginning of thought, man has been searching for the catalyst that set the world into motion and provides an explanation for all things. Man seeks the natural Truth that governs life, but instead he has created culture, “which depends on a system of norms regulating society and is therefore capable of varying from one social structure to another” (Derrida 918). The ideologies of cultures vary from one extreme to another, and are based solely in arbitrary conventions (not an ultimate Truth) that have been passed down from one generation to another. Nietzsche describes “truth” as “a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms; in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically heightened, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem fixed, canonical, and binding” (Nietzsche 455). Man is conditioned to live by these assumed truths and is punished if he were to oppose them. This ordinary thinking has created a culture of supposed “truths” that are put beyond question and that merely cater to the individuals wants, putting man farther away from the Truth. “Man only desires the truth in a similarly restrictive sense: he longs for the pleasant, life-preserving consequences of truth, is indifferent to pure knowledge, which is not consequential, and even hostile to possibly harmful and destructive truths” (Nietzsche 452). There is no basis to the “truths” of man, simply lies of beliefs society has told him to tell himself in order to make it through the day. Man has “lost the capacity to hear the few simple things” and instead gotten too wrapped up in finding a “center” that is non-existent (Heidegger 8). It is in the simple blank spaces that provide meaning and Truth.
The “truth” of this world is merely comprised of signs that are possibly pointing towards the Truth that governs life. “The concept of the sign is determined by this opposition; through and throughout the totality of its history and by its system” (Derrida 917). These signs are mere traces of the real or ideal form that exist only in Being and are given meaning from their difference in relation to other signs, “ not by virtue of compact force of their cores” (Derrida 938). Signs are simply human theories of concepts, which are unattainable and can neither be proven nor disprove, “but this theory already leads us astray for it presupposes that there would exist somewhere the ‘pure basic meaning’ in itself, from which the other meanings would be derived” (Heidegger 21). The acquisition of “knowledge” is merely a sense of the Truth an can be misleading because it is simply a sign. Religion is a system of signs that has guided man towards “truth” for thousands of years starting with Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Over time these religions have broken up into varying sects, all claiming to possess same truth but all with separate paths of direction. “To be truthful means using the customary metaphors; that is, in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to a affixed convention, as a herd, in a style binding upon all” (Nietzsche 455). Even though each man is different, religious law provides only one explanation of Truth, and expects man to act accordingly, no questions asked. In his lecture Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, Derrida quotes Levi-Strauss when he says “music and mythology bring man face to face with virtual objects whose shadow alone is actual…myths have no authors” (Derrida 921). Signs are triggers that evoke certain emotional responses dependent on the individual. These responses appear to be truthful for the person experiencing them, but because human emotion is not based in Truth they are simply shadows, exhibiting some empirical evidence of what seems real, but is still intangible. The signs of man are “always only denoting and referring, but never really openly displaying” (Heidegger 32). So, is it then up to the individual to disclose the rest?
The opposite of Truth and unconcealment is not concealment because man must experience them both in that “the “concealed” and the “unconcealed” are characters of the very being itself” (Heidegger 24). One is impossible without the other, conflicting but one at the same time. That which is unconcealed must be concealed at some point in time otherwise there would be no need for unconcealment. Without “a covering that at some time unveils something recondite,” man would have no need to struggle towards the Being of unconcealment (Heidegger 30). The sign that conceals Truth of things provides direction to man’s, and even at times be necessary to for man to forget Being and sink into the oblivion, only to experience the remembering of Being, which “might awaken, one thinking of Being itself and nothing else, considering Being itself in its truth, and thinking the truth of Being and not only, as in all metaphysics beings with respect to their Being” (Heidegger 28). In the act of remembering, man will improve his perception of being and move him closer towards the disclosure of Being.
Man has been attempting to find what is at the center of the madness that is life, and it has been this destination that has actually hindered man in his acquisition of the Truth. “Man has already lost the meaning of history when he has deprived himself of the very possibility of thinking about what, in the hastiness of drawing up “historiographical” balances, he is investing in the word “meaning” (Heidegger 56). If there is no longer pondering on the possibilities of Being and meaning, and man believes he knows what he is looking for, then it is simply a limitation to what he will unconceal. Man must not invest in finding “meaning,” but allow meaning to disclose itself to him. The world is constantly in a state of change. From the individual level to the international community, what one perceives to be “true” is actually always influx. “History “is”the transformation of the essence of truth,” so to find a “center” would be irrational because Truth is constantly changing (Heidegger 55). This center is worth finding only because we must “interrogate the limit that has always constrained us, to form the sense of being in general as presence or absence, in the categories of being or beingness” (Derrida 937). Man should not limit what he believes based on societal norms because they are simply a “historical illusion” (Derrida 922). Derrida advocates for the “abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute arché” because it is in the differance that meaning is given (Derrida 920).
Since to seek a “center” that dictates the history of the world is irrational and unattainable, it is necessary that man make “the joyous affirmation of the freeplay of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of the world of signs without fault, without truth, without origin, offered to an active interpretation” (Derrida 925). Man should embrace this lack of structure and realize the freedom it proposes. Without these transcendental limits, man is able to fully explore being and not be distracted by the dogma that facilitates culture. “This happily suggests that we must here let ourselves be referred to an order that no longer refers [the] to sensibility” that has been constructed by society (Derrida 934). It is differance that “the essence of Truth receives its character from the essence of falsity” (Heidegger 22). Man must take the time to discover what he possesses internally because “the beginning will show itself, if it shows itself at all, only with our contribution” (Heidegger 19). Man is then able to play in the differance and construct his own Truth no matter what conflicts arise because “the task is to experience properly the conflict occurring within the essence of Truth” (Heidegger 17). He must seek absolute Truth, encouraging a state of conflict within his being. Man must be willing to struggle as he turns away from cultural convention and towards something that will lead to enlightening questions of his existence and the unconcealment of Truth. “The question of truth becomes the question of whether and how man can be certain and assured about being he himself is as well as about the beings he himself is not” (Heidegger 51). Man must find how he differs from others in order to unconceal who he himself is.
Through his struggles with cultural norms and the conflicts with “truths” he was raised with, man will eventually realize “the thing in itself…[is] not at all desirable to him,” but living life towards the unconcealment of Truth, filled with questioning is worth striving for (Nietzsche 454). He must deconstruct the signs and metaphors that govern society if he is ever going to work towards a Truth that is individualistic and without misinterpretation. It is in the differance that man is free to create his own truth, instead of being constrained by the limits of the socially constructed frame of mind. Once man is able to “de-center” his life and not simply strive for “meaning,” he will find his Truth within the world’s oppositional blank spaces. Man’s quest for Truth seeks perfect answers to the absurd, imperfect aspect of our world. In actuality, he should be embracing the absurdities as part of the journey because they are a part of the differance. “In essential history the beginning comes last” (Heidegger 1). Man’s quest for the beginning or Truth is simply that, a quest. It is the journey man takes toward unconcealment, filled with opposition and conflict that define a man’s Being.