TRUTH: Thoughts on the 2018 AhFest Theme by Foley Schuler

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
–Emily Dickinson

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”
–Francis Bacon

“You deal in facts,” once quipped a professor of literature to a professor of history, “but I deal in Truth.” The truth is, though, we all ultimately deal in truth–whether with a capital or lowercase “t,” whether we want to or not, and even if we somehow get there by telling lies. Our belief in it (even when it takes the form of disbelief) lies at the heart of the entire Western intellectual tradition and serves as its very foundation. Both religion and science–those sides of a single coin–claim it as their own, as do countless other disciplines and endeavors.

As sands of time and entire paradigms shift, our age-old belief in the divinity of truth remains, not so easily shaken. Philosophical iconoclast Friedrich Nietzsche would famously write, “It is still a metaphysical faith on which our faith in science rests,” adding that “even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire too from the flame lit by the thousand year old faith–the Christian faith which was also Plato’s faith, that God is Truth; that Truth is ‘Divine.’”

What is this ageless fire around which we gather and warm our collective humanity? Some traditions would define it as the unchangeable, as that which is beyond the distinctions of time, space, and person, and which pervades the universe in all its constancy. For others it is utter and unceasing changeability itself. Paradox and contradiction have always been at home there, wandering Truth’s hallowed halls. For yet others it seems enough to simply call it the opposite of falsehood. In this country that prides (indeed, positions) itself on separation of church and state, just try testifying in a court of law without first placing one hand on the Holy Bible–the truth, of course, being what we swear to tell.

In our present era of fake news and the information echo chamber, when Truth, in its many guises, has come under full frontal assault and even at times seems to have been thrown out the window altogether, it stubbornly abides, as full of paradox as ever. Our quest was never merely a matter of separating “fact from fiction.” Truth, rather, is often best caught out of the corner of the eye, or when we least expect it. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” admonished Emily Dickinson–and Picasso would perhaps go her one better, defining all art as “the lie that tells the truth.”

Please join the Muskegon Area Arts and Humanities Festival in October, 2018 for a month-long celebration of the arts and humanities, as AhFest explores Truth–the whole truth and nothing but the truth.