The Manon Lewis Theory of Knowledge Essay

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"Art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth." Pablo Picasso. Literature is one of the most powerful and widely enjoyed art forms in society. When discussing Picasso's claim in relation to literature it is imperative to note that lie in this sense is an example of a hyperbole, in that 'lie' is an exaggeration of the actual intention of art. 'Lie' is not used with its usual meaning. Rather than an untruthful statement, a 'lie', here, refers to a metaphor for mental or physical reality. Thus Literature, as art, is the way of constructing such a metaphor. The second part of the quote states that through the 'lie' that is art we are brought 'nearer to the truth'. Picasso is referring to the artist's ambition which is to make a representation of reality that brings out some underlying truth. In particular a truth which in reality would not otherwise be perceived. Thus we are brought 'nearer to the truth' because it would otherwise go unnoticed when looking at the original reality rather the 'lie' which emphasises the truth.

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 In literature as in all the areas of knowledge truth is subjective. Truths in science or mathematics will be infinitely different to those told through art. The question is then posed if literature is the 'lie' through which truths are told what are these truths? Traditionally truths in science would be empirical, that which is subject to tests and verification. However this is not the case in art instead there is something deeper, something unique to art. What kind of truth is it then, which cannot be expressed as an empirical statement? Ursula K. LeGuinn stated that, "It is an artist's job to say that which cannot be said in words. A novelist is an artist whose medium is words. That is, it is a novelist's job to say, in words, that which cannot be said in words! In order to do this, we use a technique called 'the lie'" The question is then posed if literature is the 'lie' through which truths are told what are these truths? And if such truths come from 'lies' how can they be credible?

The common trait which sets apart art, and thus literature, from other areas of knowledge is that it is built from human experience. Every artist, poet or novelist infuses some aspect of their human experience into their works and therein lies the truth. Unlike empirical truths in science those in literature and indeed all art are shown to us rather than told. It can also be said that novelists seek to have us fully comprehend both emotionally and logically what we might already know. Thus the truth itself may be able to be stated but the novelist states it in such a way as to persuade us - to show us. Literature seeks not merely to communicate an intellectual truth, but rather to communicate a kind of practical and emotional wisdom Novels are written about the author's perception of the author about a certain matter in his life or the world, which he has experienced. It is not subjected to tests or verification it is full and uninhibited. The truths it provides relate to the human condition thus throughout history literature has provided readers with insights into their world which they otherwise would not have seen. George Orwell's 1984 depicts a society where life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of war, government surveillance, and public mind control. Orwell's fictional novel provided an intricate insight into a totalitarian regime. Through the fictional work he was able to enlighten his readers on 'truths' about totalitarian societies. A North Korean defector featured in the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea said it was amazing how Orwell's Oceania included many facets akin to the workings of the North Korean system. (Shelden, Michael .1991. Orwell-The Authorized Biography. New York: Harper Collins)

In his quote Picasso refers to art as a lie, here then we refer to literature, the art, as a lie. It begs the question then what is the lie in literature? Fictional literature is, in the course of seeking higher truths and providing understanding, in not telling the truth. Novelists create works of deliberate falseness and through exaggeration and by highlighting those things which we forget to perceive and through unreal focus they create works which are deliberate misrepresentations of reality. Those words have, through their fiction, informed and comforted human beings and in doing so have helped them to define themselves and see the reality of the world around them. Abraham Rothberg summarised the power of fiction as a lie--that is, a made-up, imagined untrue creation--to introduce us to the lives of others we might never otherwise know or meet, or cast light on that which we do know, as well as give us insight into our own lives.  William Lederer and Eugene Burdick highlighted the incompetence and ignorance of US officials abroad in their 1958 novel The Ugly American. Their fictional work depicted the United States' losing struggle against Communism in a country in South East Asia because of innate arrogance and the failure to understand the local culture.

 

 

 

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In literature perhaps the most fitting example of a lie bringing us nearer to the truth is modernist fiction. Joseph Conrad, whose Heart of Darkness, is sometimes referred to as the first modernist novel stated that his aim was through, "the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel... before all, to make you see. If I succeed, you shall find...that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask." Modernism took off in the early 20th century, the novelists of this time were reeling from the end of the first world war and the brutality of colonialism. They began to see their new world as fractured, demented and in breaking away from the confines of Victorian romanticism their works began to reflect the world as such. Thus to the general public who otherwise were ignorant to the harsh reality of their surroundings these modernist works such as Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies and Ulysses were eye-opening comments on the stark reality of the human condition at this time. Through these fictional novels readers were brought nearer to the 'truth', a truth in the form of a perception of their fractured world which they otherwise would not have seen.