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Truth cannot be transparent: On truth-telling in the Anthropocene

Authors: John Kendall*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Environment, Political Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: anthropocene, truth-telling, digital technology, cybernetics
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I hope to unravel one of the most central paradoxes of the Anthropocene—namely, that the digital apparatuses rendering images of a ‘global climate’ at all apprehensible also have made ‘telling the truth’ about climate change much more difficult. This is not just a difficulty inherent to modeling the immense complexity and entanglement of social and natural systems; it is a technological condition of the digital network which suspends our political discourses on the climate. While this network allows images of climate change to circulate rapidly across the globe, such speed of information has the effect of evacuating every climate event of its meaning. Indeed, climate change appears more and more to mean nothing apart from its transmutability, i.e. that it can inform, obliquely, the taking-place of every socionatural event. This, I claim, poses an insurmountable problem for truth-telling in the Anthropocene. Truth-telling, as we learn from Foucault, is an avowal, a verbal act of a subject obliged by another (a judge, a lover, or God) to promise he is who he says he is. The power of truth-telling lies in the fact that the subject is bound, on condition of this verbal act, to an interiority, a soul, a depth of being which remains withdrawn. By contrast, I claim, images of climate change aspire to a very different state of being, one which conflates telling the truth with illuminating the unknown. Truth, however, cannot be transparent: without depth, neither truth, meaning, nor the political subject are possible.

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