Reading in the Trump Era: Literature in a Post-Truth Society
Reading as Resistance
Postmodern philosophy has taught us to question truth and to push those who make truth claims to understand the consequences of their convictions. We have learned to analyze the objective or subjective nature of truth. We have begun to study the dynamics of power behind truth claims. Nevertheless, in all of this questioning, one truth remains: truth matters.
Recent political events have brought to the forefront that we are now living in a world of alternative facts, a post-truth society. People get most of their news from social media which means sites like Facebook and Twitter decide which news is relevant. We can now live in a world in which we hear no opposing voices, in which we no longer hear the other side of the story.
Truth still matters today, this is exactly why politicians create and sustain alternative narratives. The false realities or paradigms that enslave millions of uninformed citizens need only to be relevant, not true. Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in his book, Strangers at Our Door points out that politicians prefer fear-driven narratives over the facts because they create sufficient political participation to consolidate power.
Does truth really matter? Should we accept alternative facts or false narratives if they are more desirable than the truth? Will we choose to only debate reality in the eco chamber of social media or are we willing to step out of our comfort zones in a courageous quest for truth?
What is the function of literature in a post-truth society?
Literature has the capacity to speak truth in a way that philosophy and science cannot. There is no greater communicator of human experience than poetry and narrative prose. While an author might describe another’s suffering with grueling detail, a reader can better comprehend this suffering by entering in their pain and suffering through literary language, word pictures, through poetry.
Reading is not only about armchair travel – visiting new places and learning about foreign cultures in the safety of your own home – but about walking a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Literature invites us into solidarity with people different than ourselves.
Literature in a post-truth society reminds us that human suffering is real, people are not just statistics and that life is an endless search for meaning and purpose. Humans are not merely homo sapiens, rationally minded beings, but our humanness also finds expressions in what we most love and desire.
Literature reminds us that there are narratives that are greater than nationalism, machismo, greed and the dehumanization caused by globalized capitalism. There is also love, hope and redemption awaiting a broken humanity.
In order to counter the hate, irrational distrust and the bigotry of today’s ruling political oligarchy, Café Literario will dedicate its English meeting in February to reading the literature of resistance.
We will explore the poetry of the oppressed and marginalized in the United States and in later meetings, we will read authors from other countries as well. Literature can be revolutionary. It need not always be an individualistic, passive and utopic response to direct aggression.
We read because we hope and work for a different kind of world.