Truth is a slippery thing. Truth, as it turns out, is not chiefly a matter of fact, but a deeply subjective endeavor. One need only delve into the matrices of the United States’ own obscured histories—Native American expulsion, African American slavery, Japanese internment, Vietnam, Iraq—to realize this. Abroad, a good number of Frenchmen still object to Bastille Day. Villages and academic halls alike are battlegrounds of Armenian history. And, as David Remnick said of writing on Israel and Palestine, “The pitch of the battle is something to behold.”
So, too, is this year’s Literary Supplement. From conceptions of protest to the treatment of Hawaiians, Olivia Herrington and Kaipo Matsumoto challenge conventional narratives of language in the United States with our first chapter, “American Vocabulary.” On February 16, we will premiere our second chapter, “Minds at Home.” In that installment, Matthew Disler and Hana Connelly will explore the manners in which the classroom challenges our relationship to language, and Aisha Bhoori, in a gutsy narrative style, will examine the lexicon that roots us in the humanities. In our third chapter, arriving on February 23, Sarani Jayawardena and Alexandra Grimm will give us powerful reminders of language’s consequences in the “Lexicon of War.”
Our thesis is audacious: no story is settled. And language is the deepest source of this subjectivity. Language is remarkable: it can compel us towards one truth or another; it can be morally thick; it can be damning. If power is claim to the truth—and to how we think about the truth—then language is its modus operandi.
Surely, this discussion has no end. As long as language only approximates our pasts, “the truth” is unattainable. At most, we are asymptotic. But we need not despair: if we admit that language dictates the way we perceive truth, we are reclaiming, not forfeiting, our agency. Language is a choice; we can take its direction towards truth as a responsibility.
Truth is a slippery thing. But it is there.
Read the 2015 Literary Supplement here.
Image source: Flickr/Rob Shenk