It seems to me that there are really three versions of Truth on the table today. The first version of Truth is reductive. The second is destructive, and the third is productive. All three are responding to a similar threat: the threat of absolutism/universalism and the equally potent threat of relativism. To begin with, there has been an awkward conflation of universalism with absolutism. For the purposes of this blog, I will avoid the debate. But I will state up front that I do not share the view that universalism is inherently absolutist. Moreover, I do not share the view that universalism, as a position, is necessarily hegemonic or unethical. So, for the purposes of this blog, I prefer to use the word absolutism over universalism.
The reductive position is best exemplified by John D. Caputo. Caputo discusses the shift in the status of Truth from the Enlightenment to Postmodernity He wants to rescue the notion of Truth and yet he wants to avoid the absolutist and relativist positions. His problem is that he reduces Truth to a distant empty point, to a placeholder, to a vanishing goal toward which life is lived. He no doubt argues that Truth exists. It is just impossible to ever arrive at Truth as a destination. Truth is only for God. It is not for the rest of us. For the rest of us, for humanity as such, our search ceaselessly defers its arrival in Truth. I will state up front that this position reminds us of the one taught by Lacan. Lacan maintained that there is one – God, the Father, etc – who is not castrated, who has complete access to Truth. And then there are the rest of us who are castrated, who are cut from access to Truth. In any case, Caputo wants to rescue a notion of Truth as an enjoyable journey with no terminal/terminus. I claim that Caputo has two problems with his model of Truth. The first problem is that Truth is restricted to the level of hysterical desire. Recall that, for Lacan, there are impossible desires (obsession) and unsatisfied desires (hysteria). Caputo reduces the playing field to the latter at the expense of the former. For Caputo, Truth is universal and yet empty. This is how he avoids relativism and absolutism. This brings us to the second problem, which is a problem of scale. Caputo flattens the field of Truth by claiming that hysterical Truth is somehow capable of explaining obsessive Truth. To be clear, Caputo does not use these concepts (“hysterical” and “obsessive”). These are concepts that I borrow from psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis clearly demonstrates that Truth is different for each clinical structure. Truth for the hysteric can not be used to explain the Truth of the obsessive. What about the Truth of non-hysterical subjects? This is why the psychoanalytic notion of Truth is an advancement over the reductive notion of Truth. However, a new problem arises. If Caputo’s version of Truth – one that is currently being offered as a solution to the problem of absolutism and relativism within postmodern circles – is reductive, then psychoanalytic Truth is destructive. To be sure, understanding our Truth can help us make different decisions in life, but Truth itself is nonetheless not always a good thing. Lacan’s position is really quite interesting. Truth is not necessarily universal and neither is it relative. It is not different for every individual, and neither is it the same. Truth is intimately connected to the fundamental question that an individual’s being asks. A hysteric asks a question about her own relation to the Other and an obsessive asks a question about his own mastery over death. Moreover, Truth, for Lacan, is always cut in half. This is because it always occurs on the side of the being’s existence. Truth touches being from within the existence of the subject – but it is not itself the being of the subject. Truth can change, but more importantly: it can haunt us. It can intervene in our lives and it can hide itself within our speech. Truth lies, but it is not itself a lie. Psychoanalytic Truth is a strange thing indeed. It is not just something perpetually deferred for the future, it is not just that which we seek, it is a question that demands to be answered. It is a question that repeats, that insists.
So psychoanalytic Truth has really changed the predominant version of Truth (with Caputo as our example) in two ways: first, it has rejected the reductive model of Truth; second, it has exchanged the large scale of Truth for the small scale of Truth. While the first adjustment to the model of Truth has been beneficial, the second is more problematic. No doubt, we do not want a reductive model of Truth, and Lacan has demonstrated why this model is not accurate. However, we also want to be able to describe Truth at more than just one scale: neither the large scale (which is reductive) nor the small scale (which is destructive). We need a model of Truth that has various scales. This is what the Revolutionary version of Truth offers us. With Alain Badiou as our teacher, we can suggest that Truth remains at the level of existence (what Badiou named a “world”) and yet does not always haunt us through repetitions or questions. Revolutionary Truth is a response rather than a symptom. It comes after rather than before the subject. This is how Badiou avoids the problem of scale. If we begin with a Truth and then tie it to a subject (complete with a symptom), then we necessarily reduce the scale of Truth. If, however, we begin with a subject, and then tie it to a Truth (complete with a world), then we necessarily increase the scale of the Truth. So, we still have the destructive aspect of Truth – the difference is that we are capable of overturning that destructive aspect by working it through a world of various sizes and dimensions. Truth is not itself destructive. What is destructive is an Event. So, Truth is a response to an event. Truth, then, is a creative response to a haunting destruction within a world.
It seems to me that Revolutionary Truth is the only alternative to absolutist Truth, relativist Truth, and reductive Truth. Revolutionary Truth is an advancement rather than a rejection of psychoanalytic Truth. It is the Truth of the Subject of various scales. It is a Truth that is universal and relative.