The truth is out there

January 30, 1998

It seems that in almost every academic discipline there are those who either deny the existence of a reality "out there" or say that if there is a reality it remains inaccessible to us. For those of us who want to retain some sense of truth/ untruth, fact/fiction, real/unreal, Umberto Eco's point about the limitation of interpretation is welcome (THES, January 23).

The object which we submit to our gaze, whether it is a text, a film, or a piece of historical evidence, is not a mirror of our concerns, it does not simply reflect our faces when we look into it. These things are artefacts which open up certain fields of possibilities but which also constrain and frustrate the interpretations we would like to hang upon them. Stories may be something told to each other by human beings, and not exist "ready-told" in rocks, armies and "mute facts" themselves. Deconstructionists, postmodernists, a whole variety of rhetoricians may have an array of narratives and interpretations to spin, but unless you engage in a wilful distortion of their nature, a rock is not a cow, an army is not a cup, a fact, whether it has the capacity to speak or not, is not a fiction.

To render the boundaries questionable is perhaps part of a worthy exercise of doubt. To render the boundaries between truth and untruth meaningless is not an exercise in liberation. It is the abandonment of truly critical thought.

Martyn Hudson Lecturer in social science Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

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