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SIGHTINGS 21
(Post-)Truth on Display
Photo: Katrie Chagnon

June 29 – September 4, 2017

A Project by Katrie Chagnon

 

 

In his well-known reflection on the “political function of the intellectual,” Michel Foucault argues that truth, far from being “outside power, or deprived of power,” plays a fundamental role in the structuring and working of societies. In 1976, he wrote,

Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.1

Foucault’s understanding of truth thus highlights the authority that is historically attributed not only to scientific and academic discourses, but also to the institutions that produce it, namely, the universities and other great “apparatuses” of education, information, and political control. And yet, as Jayson Harsin has justly argued in his article “Regimes of Posttruth, Postpolitics, and Attention Economies,” (2015) this dynamic that links power to knowledge, and discourses to institutions, is currently undergoing a radical transformation as many contemporary societies have entered a new regime of truth that has been termed “post-truth,”2 “post-factual,” or, as the US humourist Stephen Colbert would say, of “truthiness.”

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The adjective “post-truth,” Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016, “relat[es] to or denot[es] circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”3 This phenomenon, which has been intensified by the Brexit campaign in the UK, Donald Trump’s presidential election in the US, and more recently the French presidential election, manifests itself not only through a proliferation of “alternative” facts circulated through new information networks that have been fragmented and personalized by algorithmic filter bubbles, but also through a growing indifference toward the very distinction between true and false. Recently, the realization of the detrimental epistemological and socio-political consequences of this massive disaffection toward truth has given rise to numerous positionings in different intellectual domains, including the history of sciences, philosophy, sociology, politics, information sciences, education, and art. In the wake of these reactions, we have also seen brought to the fore, once again, the crucial question of the pedagogical and critical responsibility of “intellectuals” toward “truth,” “facts,” and scientific “objectivity”4 – notions that had been discredited by the poststructuralist/postmodernist critique of positivism, of which Foucault was a prominent leader – in favour of a social constructivism and a kind of cognitive relativism,5 the fallout from which we are dealing with today.6

To close the 2016-17 cycle of SIGHTINGS centred on the theme of pedagogy, we thought that in this context, it was relevant – in fact, urgent – to broach the issue of (post-)truth as it reverberates in our environment, at the crossroads of the university and the art world, in addition to the large space it takes up in the mediascape. A number of questions arise in this direction: for instance, how do the new epistemic conditions underlying current “public pedagogy”7 transform academic teaching and research? How can academics, artists, and critics come out of their “bubbles”8 and contribute to the battle against disinformation, against the cultural production of ignorance and the resulting erosion of democracy? Which intellectual, ethical, social, and political standpoints is it possible – and desirable – to adopt in the present climate, in both the academic and artistic spheres, toward the “true” as a principle of knowledge? And what role can an artistic apparatus embedded in the university play in this interdisciplinary thinking?

Since the summer is a period of slowing down that lends itself particularly well to reading and meditation, we have decided to transform the SIGHTINGS cube into a display of books and articles that can be consulted freely by the university’s passers-by and users. The content of this open “library” is based on my research and the suggestions of members of the academic personnel (professors, deans, researchers, etc.) of different departments at Concordia. We asked them what they considered particularly relevant readings – or re-readings – for this specific historical moment in which we are experiencing such a marked crisis of truth. By moving a host of textual resources into a university public space, which, because it is occupied by an exhibition structure, also calls for an aesthetic appreciation, and by juxtaposing references generated by different disciplines (pure sciences, human and social sciences, communications, etc.), this installation invites a critical questioning of our present relationship between knowledge and power. The books and articles can be read on site or borrowed for a few hours, then brought back, based on trust. Moreover, each person is free to annotate and highlight passages, which will then be transcribed and archived on the Gallery’s website.

  1. Michel Foucault, “La fonction politique de l’intellectuel,” in Dits et écrits 1954-1988, vol. 3, 1976-79, ed. Daniel Defert and François Ewald, with the collaboration of Jacques Lagrange, Paris, Gallimard/nrf, 1994, p. 112. Translation in Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, New York, Pantheon Books, 1984, p. 73.
  2. Jayson Harsin, “Regimes of Posttruth, Postpolitics, and Attention Economies,” Communication, Culture & Critique, 8 (2015), p. 327-33.
  3. Oxford Dictionaries, “Word of the Year 2016 Is…,” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016 (accessed 9 May 2017).
  4. Sheila Jasanoff eloquently asks this question to the professors of future citizens in an article published on the First 100 Days blog of the Program on Science, Technology & Society of the Harvard Kennedy School. Sheila Jasanoff, “What Should Democracies Know?,” 28 March 2017. Online: http://first100days.stsprogram.org/2017/03/28/what-should-democracies-know/ (accessed 18 April 2017).
  5. On this topic, see Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science, London: Profile Books, 1998.
  6. Writers who had actively participated in the deconstruction of scientific objectivity, such as the sociologist of science Bruno Latour, are now voicing concerns in response to the excesses of post-factual discourse. Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matter of Fact to Matter of Concern,” Critical Inquiry, 30 (winter 2004), p. 225-48. For an interesting parallel between “post-truth” and “post-positivism,” see also Benjamin Tallis, “Living in Post-truth: Power/Knowledge/Responsibility,” New Perspectives, vol. 24, no 1 (2016), p. 7-18.
  7. That is, “the lessons that are taught outside of formal educational institutions by popular culture, informal institutions and public spaces, dominant cultural discourses, and public intellectualism and social activism.” Ben Williamson, “Social media and public pedagogies of political mis-education,” code acts in education, 16 November 2016. Online: https://codeactsineducation.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/social-media-and-public-pedagogies-of-political-mis-education/ (accessed 24 March 2017).
  8. Bruno Latour, “Comment ne pas se tromper sur Trump?,” Le Monde, 12-13 November 2016. Online: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/downloads/LEMONDE_12-16-TRUMP.pdf (accessed 24 March 2017).
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Jean-François Prost /
Adaptive Actions (AA)
Stopping
Image of the action in the street, Adaptive Actions, Stopping collective, Mexico City, March 2017
Image of plants on the car hood, Stopping Mexico City, 2017. Photo: Jean-François Prost

May – September, 2017

A project by Adaptive Actions (AA) in collaboration with the Ellen Gallery

With a strong interest in the singular reality of the grassroots creative appropriation found in the fabric of different cities, Adaptive Actions (AA)—here through the intermediary of Jean-François Prost and in partnership with the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery—proposes an action workshop based on the concept of stopping. This workshop will be the keystone for discussions around our respective knowledges of the city in regards to the proposed subject, with the goal of initiating group and individual actions, and to collectively explore several sites and situations in Montreal.

AA is interested in stopping as an urban practice because of the contrast it presents with the incessant movement of today’s city-dwellers, in a context where pauses and resting are discouraged, or even forbidden. Many urban planning strategies propose public spaces devoid of benches and equipped with audiovisual apparatuses that aim to discourage idleness as cities are increasingly designed for acceleration and very rarely for stopping and rest.

Stopping is a costless activity, available to all in many forms. It is a gesture of resistance in a world primarily designed to encourage work, consumerism, perpetual growth and efficiency. Stopping represents a unique opportunity to constructively take part in the debate surrounding current transformations in the urban landscape by proposing possibilities for an alternative urban worldview that is both pragmatic and creative.

Workshop participants will be encouraged to interact with and comment on the different realities stemming from urban pluralism observed in the field. Using various mediums, they will be invited to analyze an existing, nascent or imagined condition or situation specific to Montreal with the goal of realizing a collective action. The stopping practices developed during the workshop will take various forms that, beyond mere motionlessness or silence, will aim to be vectors of disruption of dominant systems, imposed patterns and controlled circulation.

Collaborators: TagTeam, Maurizio Lazzarato, Raúl Garza Morales and Marlon García