Foucault and Truth Effects: The Regime of Truth
Part of Foucault’s discourse studies systems of power. He says there is no such thing as freewill, individuality, or authenticity, rather who we think we are and what we go about thinking are conditioned by systems of power. Another way to say this is to say that human behavior is conditioned by socio-historic circumstance. Truth is the same. There is no such thing as truth, rather truth appears to us through systems of ordered procedure for the production, regulation, distribution, and functioning of statements through systems of power in such a way to produce truth effects. This is like saying in colloquial terms, “history is written by the winners.” Foucault says, power can point truth in certain directions.
But, the systems of power in the 21st century are different from those of the mid 20th century. Governments and other authority powers once stood at the top for power systems. Now, a platform like Twitter is the lethal medium of choice for constructing and disseminating enormous amounts of truthy information through novel messages, images and endless content. Individuals who photoshop images and make tweets to construct stories have power, even if the stories or images haven’t been vetted; even if they are false.
Foucault says anything, whether real, fact, truth, fake, story, fiction, or lie if presented through a structure of power creates a type of truth which he calls a truth effect. It doesn’t matter if content we see is real or fake because once the content is distributed it will reach people to whom the image will have an effect which will ring a lasting truth for them. Perfect examples are tweets throughout the Trump presidency, some of which have come from him, have drawn negative reactions from those opposed to his presidency and praise from his supporters, while other documented Trump tweets have been fabricated to make the president look like a fool and have brought joy and scorn from the usual parties. But the point is, it doesn’t matter that trump is really an idiot; our culture has already constructed the idea that he is an idiot because the concept was presented to us prior through a structure and system of power, namely, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms of social media.
We are at a point now where fake news, real news, fact, fake, truth, false, are all mixed up and designers and storytellers ask themselves what their role is in such a flattened landscape. There are several proposed avenues by artists and architects like Damien Hirst, Liam Young and Mark Foster Gage. First, designers can try to produce fictions that point things in the direction they think are right. Conversely, creators can try to cut through the bullshit, saying that somewhere buried underneath this mass of truth effect is some kind of authenticity, hidden, waiting. Foucault says the idea of cutting to the truth indicates an attitude in which there is held to be such a thing as truth, which he says doesn’t exist, of course, since truth for us is constructed. Nevertheless, architects are makers of worlds, makers of fictions; we design the world and we define what the world’s problems are and we dream up the solutions. So, what should we do?
Dada was primarily concerned with revolting over the madness and horror of WWI and the devastating effects the war had on the human psyche. The Dadaists mobilized art to show the public that the faith in progress and rationalism dominating the 19th century was a sham and that human beings were essentially irrational creatures; WWI providing the evidence of this through the madness of the war. Among the many strategies the movement used, Dada tried to undermine bourgeois culture as the prime endorser for rationalism and with it, painting, which the Dadaists felt was an icon of that culture and had been assigned a subordinate place in life. By humiliating contemporary or popular painting like Cezanne, Rembrandt and Renoir they would liberate art and people’s psyches. Dada subverted other dominant art-forms of the time like Cubism and Impressionism by provoking new representative methods like collage, sculptures using rubbish, poetry, outlandish performances, costume, and the Readymade.
In these ways Dada tried to bring to light a new order, much like Mark Foster Gage and Rem Koolhaas. Europe was confronted with mind blowing horror in the 1910’s and as a result art forms emerged that would exaggerate and make it known to everyone that there was something wrong with mankind that needed healing. Surrealism as the child of Dada sought to bring this healing by showing man his own unconscious through dream paintings and other mediums, effectively picking up the torch of Dada when the movement dispersed through the 1920’s. The parallel to note is the almost perfect 100 year gap in time that separate two critical moments in art and architecture, moments when cultural disciplines are called to answer questions about human knowledge and the way we analyze the world. What for Dada was the irrationality of war is for us the relentless bombardment of fake news, and misinformation.
Mark Foster Gage calls for the aesthetic disruption of the real, which seeks to jar the reality of the individual and facilitate the awakening of our own realities to their inevitably constructed and impermanent undoings. This charge corroborates with the idea that designers should transform the world through their practice, in this case, through disruption. But there is a problem. How can we out-disrupt the insanity of fake news or the wash of misinformation that permeates our culture? How can we send up a flare in an eternal see of flatness? How extreme do we need to be to send our mark to the world when the entire ground is shifting? Or, is it that Silvia Lavin’s words will prevail: only when everything is flat can something finally emerge.
For now, we can draw this conclusion: If fictions make the world then the makers of those fictions have an extraordinary amount of power. Let’s make the fictions that create the world we want. I argue that in or current epoch our only option as designers is to continue fabricating fictions until the world gets completely soaked with fakery and falsehoods. Then, finally something will emerge, though we won’t know how or what it will be. We need to play out our role as world builders, which so far we’ve been ding a shitty job with. In Gage’s words, “I’m not saying we’re going to do something that would lead to an event like what happened in The Enlightenment. I’m just saying I’m more interested in putting things out into the world and anticipating how they could turn out rather than have everything figured out and have it be built and know exactly what it’s going to do in the world. That’s the most boring proposition for architecture I can possibly think of.”