win, truth, or draw

Since Plato and the sophists, as we’ve seen, one question that has been problematic either in terms of rhetorical practice or within social bodies as a whole is the nature of truth.  Plato (via Socrates) argued for an absolute truth immanent to material bodies, while (some have argued) the sophists taught that truth was contingent, situated, and subjective—this, as we’ve seen, has been the party line of such texts as the Dissoi Logoi which is either a) a training text for arguing both sides of a given argument, or b) a tract on the unstable and unknowable nature of “truth.”  In Foucault’s own Fearless Speech, we’ve seen how to speak truth—to power, to friends, to one’s self, and the risks that come from acts of parrhesia; these practices stand in contrast to Detienne’s Masters of Truth, the kings, poets, and prophets who presumably spoke with the revealed truths of the gods.

 

In Nealon’s reading of Foucault, however, we are offered another form of truth-practice.  For Nealon, Foucault’s work destabilizes the category of truth as the ground or foundation of interaction between subjects or subjects and power; rather, truth is the product of “a hazardous and discontinuous series of practices, a series of interactions with something or someone else” (20).  It is not that “truth” disappears from these exchanges, Nealon notes, but that “‘saying the truth’ is only possible (or not) as the outcome of a process, rather as the subtending ground of that process”.  In Nealon’s use, these exchanges, interactions, and encounters become a high-stakes gamble where the prize is the right to speak “truth:” “speaking the truth is the stake and outcome of a series of practices and statements, rather than the secret to be revealed (or not) by them”.

 

On one hand, Nealon’s description here of truth seemingly echoes the lessons of social constructionism: what counts as real and valid is contested and struggled for through a variety of discursive practices.  However, I think Nealon’s/Foucault’s picture is richer in that it seems to work on both the macro and micro levels, while I often feel that there’s some impersonal power called Discourse  imposing norms and reality/ies on us in other constructionist theories.  Here, though, truth or reality or whatever you wish to call it becomes not what we’re subject to and by, but rather the very term/s by which we enact agency.  It is not that we are assigned subject positions by Discourse  but that we win (or lose) our agency and subjectivity by how we fare in the truth-contests we engage in with other subjects and with power.

 This does not preclude the chance, however, that the game is rigged or that, nor that these interactions are any less fraught with competing claims for truth simply because we recognize the contest.  But how to change the game or makes these interactions less anxious is beyond me.  At least in this post.

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