Translated to English by the author
This text takes as its starting point certain views of Michel Foucault, Edward Said and Terry Eagleton, according to whom we often accept certain truths as finite because they come from authorities who, owing to their status in a given society, had the power to impose their claims or contribute to their acceptance. During the centuries, the questioning of such “truths” sometimes confirmed them, and sometimes revealed there are no arguments to support them. In order to give a small contribution to this practice of questioning, this essay will attempt to find certain unsupported claims in The Ecstasy of Communication by Jean Baudrillard, “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes, as well as in one Macedonian view of the development of literature.
What Foucault, in his text “The Order of Discourse”, calls “a will to truth” refers to “truths” which, being established by authorities in a given society, as well as thanks to the fact that they have been constantly repeated throughout the years, have gained the status of truth, and are then used as a basis of a system of exclusion of those whose positions are inconsistent with the principles of the existing system. Foucault gives the interesting example of Gregor Mendel: the biologists of the nineteenth century did not realize that Mendel was right when he established several rules of heredity because Mendel’s rules were contrary to the existing “truths” (rules), according to which biology at that time formed its concepts. In other words, the methodology of Mendel was contrary to the will to truth that existed in this scientific discipline. Only later was his work recognized, so Mendel gained posthumous fame as founder of genetics.
Similarly, in his work Orientalism, Said, speaking of the book Oriental Library, says that this work offers an idea of power and efficiency that constantly remind the reader that in order to reach the Orient, he must pass through the grids and codes of learning offered by the orientalist (71). Said therefore concludes that through such codifications, the reader is forced to accept this work as the true Orient. In such a way, the truth becomes a function of a schooled judgment, and not of the material itself (Саид 71). In other words, for a text or a speech to be accepted in society, it does not have to be truthful, but it simply has to conform to the existing codifications of the dominant discourse.
Eagleton also considers that the use of language in a certain acceptable way is often more important than what we actually say. For example, according to him, what is required of a person who wants to get a diploma in literary studies is a matter of being able to talk and write in a certain say. “You can think or believe what you want, as long as you can speak this particular language. Nobody is especially concerned about what you say, with what extreme, moderate, radical or conservative positions you adopt, provided that you are compatible with, and can be articulated within, a specific form of discourse” (Eagleton, 1997: 175).
Foucault, Said and Eagleton in the mentioned statements foreground the danger of what Foucault calls the “will to truth”, that is, the danger of certain arguments being accepted as truthful because they are stated by thinkers who have a status of authorities in their field, so their discourse becomes discourse of power in the sense that the authors have great influence on the philosophical, theoretical and critical thinking. Taking into consideration this danger, in this essay I shall attempt to advocate a will to questioning as opposed to the will to truth, through questioning some of the claims of Baudrillard, Barthes and a few Macedonian literary thinkers.
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The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, in his work The Ecstasy of Communication, uses an interdisciplinary approach, attempting, among other things, to use terms from medicine in order to make a parallel with social phenomena. His view on schizophrenia is typical in this regard – as he says, “the schizophrenic is not, as generally claimed, characterized by his loss of touch with reality, but by the absolute proximity to and total instantaneousness with things…” (Baudrillard 27). This statement is not based on knowledge from medicine or psychiatry, so its sense is lost when it is compared to the insight that medicine has come to about schizophrenia as a mental disorder. The experience of one discipline, medicine, points to complex physiological causes of the diagnosis “schizophrenia”, but Baudrillard here does not take into consideration the medical research of the disorder. It could be said that Baudrillard uses the notion of “schizophrenic” in a symbolical, rather than in a literal way, but even the symbolical meaning, in order to function logically, has to have certain traits in common with the literal meaning of the notion it originates from, which is not the case with the notion of “schizophrenic” in Baudrillard’s book, since his description is so far from the medical diagnosis that it is used completely arbitrarily in The Ecstasy of Communication.
Employing medical notions in philosophy leads Baudrillard to get tangled into another unmotivated link between the real and the symbolical. He speaks of the so-called “bubble-child”, the boy who lived in a balloon made of the same material that space suits for NASA astronauts are made of, so that he is protected from all infections with artificially immunized space. For Baudrillard, this child is a symbol of the existence in vacuum. On the basis of this example, he predicts a future in which we will all think in a vacuum, where “the artificial purification of all milieus, atmospheres, and environments will supplant the failing internal immune systems. If these immune systems are breaking down it is because an irreversible tendency called progress pushes the human body and spirit into relinquishing its systems of defense and self-determination, only to replace them with technological artifacts” (Baudrillard 37). Baudrillard speaks, in fact, of the loss of our skills for survival, which is due to our overemphasized dependence on medicine.