Post-truth fiction #1 – Initial Feedback


We asked you to write down your ideas & questions in the application for Post-truth fiction #1. Have they changed since the workshop & conference? Please specify:

I looked back at the application I made to PTF#1 and find my questions in a pretty similar place. Perhaps because the 4 days reiterated these concerns again and again, and highlighted their significance for the course. The core question being “How can we cultivate failure within narrative?” This question, in variant forms, seemed to sit at the tip of many tongues. I was pleasantly surprised how many participants shared a non-solutionist attitude to the questions posed in the week. Everyone seemed to be generating more and more questions, and thinking about how to break things rather than fix them…

To what extent did Post-truth fiction #1 match your expectations?

…The frustration of the week seemed to be an inability for us to break anything. Although there was constant encouragement to rethink the question, we were given little time or resources to truly break anything. The 4 days were packed with activities. These activities could only really be appreciated in a passive way, they rarely offered opportunity to subvert beyond simple remits of aesthetic choice. Perhaps the problem lay in the question posed. The question of the course set up a high degree of risk. A lot of big ideas seemed to be at stake – authorship, global knowledge, truth(!) – yet without a level of risk being taken on by the conference, we could not deconstruct the underlying structure. This was inevitable for the first realisation of the course, but going forward the university will need to offer an opportunity of risk that matches equally the value of the issues at stake. Exposure to the full structure would be essential (from the choice of educators, administration, resources, etc.), in order that the participants can truly look at what is available for subversion. If at any point the institution chooses to frame/box the project in an opaque way, the course will only succeed in reinforcing the values it attempts to break. Trying to teach alternate strategies of fiction, then framing them within a pre-existing success structure will only reiterate that structure. Failure must be an option.

What are your thoughts on the future of authorship?

Despite some interesting conversations with people working in a variety of literary fields, I was under no impression that anyone had a view on the future of authorship that hasn’t existed since Modernism (with many historical examples going before). In some ways, what became evident were larger concerns about attribution. Positive and negative ideas came forward about how we should be accountable for authorship. Thinking about this now, I wonder if my own concern is how authorship can retain a connection to personality. That personality must work hard to avoid being co-opted for third-party corruption, however, if this work of personality involves strategies of deception (and invisibility) how do we keep identities that are useful? Abandoning authorship also means abandoning accountability to an extent, a strategy that has worked well for those wishing to retain power. The loss of authorship within the knowledge economy has meant greater access to ideas and resources, however it has also lead to the diminishment of intellectual authority in journalism and education.

What are your thoughts on working as a collective?

Working as a collective (with a suitable framework of transparency) is, in my opinion, the best approach to these questions. But the image of this collective must be constantly scrutinised to ensure it is beneficial. Within a course structure it is important to break a dependence on grading and isolating work. Collective thought can be hard to retain when students are trapped in an individual assessment process. The output for education often encourages collective publication. It’s optional I know, and it is easy to dismiss it and not take part as everyone rates themselves against others.

Do you have any recommendations for us towards creating the MA Writing?

This is mottled together from the rough notes during my visit. I apologise in advance that they are sometimes patronising, esoteric, not particularly helpful, and idealistic…

My responses to the questions posed by the post truth fictions forum are based on the assumption that there is one overall issue at stake: That there is a conflict between systematic/utilitarian concepts of narrative – large-scale economic and political narratives, based on statistical research, and used to promote, manipulate or repress behaviour – and decentralised, micro-narratives used by individuals and communities to disseminate experiences and knowledge, resisting interpretation and appropriation by the system and allowing themselves to be co-opted and redefined by each interpreter without a consistent authority. In simpler terms, there are stories told by us, and stories told to us, and the authenticity of these stories weighs on our authority to interpret and redefine them at will.

From this assumption we can ascertain that it is of interest to teach people how to generate or understand the voice described in the latter, as there are already many courses and jobs that will teach you the former voice. Although I am suspicious of the idea of an overtly political course (i.e. anti-capitalist, anti-algorithm, anti-right, anti-Trump), it makes sense to counter the reduced and unilateral fictions that less progressive groups often propose, but only as a furtherment of true aesthetic practice and open-ended rhetoric. We don’t want to just beat the drum for what could be a short-lived reaction against short-lived enemies.

a. The Spiritual/The Other

Where is the other in the new narratives? In its most basic definition, the other is that which cannot be sublimated. But it can perhaps be called upon to operate; it can be activated. There is something about the religious/spiritual narrative that warrants research within the course. Again, I can’t help think that at the heart of the course enquiry is a dichotomy between hegemonic encoding (the language of capital) and non-linear rhizomatic methods. The second can be broadly understood as de-politicised, or, at least, always rendered unstable in order to prevent any single form retaining traction that would enable a hegemony to solidify. The rhizomatic story can come from, go to, and end anywhere. In fact, this is an important aspect of traditional story dissemination, its fluidity and inbuilt necessity to change and adapt. Music, dialect and faith all share this ability to transfer in a consistent state of difference. Perhaps there is something about the relationship between traditions of the other and its dissemination that could help inform new ways of approaching the courses output.

b. Trans-

Trans- is a useful prefix, an adjuster to any existing binary, and in this adjustment lies its own autonomy. The trans- position could be seen as one of perpetual doubt. The gender issue is not going away and is something that should be addressed by all progressive education. I don’t mean just the covering of socio-political aspects of gender. Although the rights and position of non-binary and unrepresented sexualities and gender identities is important, what is important in the context of the course is the example of ways of living outside of pre-defined identifiers. Artists should be aware of how they can question the social formation of their authority so that they can play with it and sometimes negate it. This is a dangerous method as it can put an institution at risk of accusations of appropriation (I’m thinking students attempting to think of themselves as racially or sexually different than how they currently identify). However, it must be dealt with, and approached properly can stop the student generating work that reinforces current oppressive doctrine.

c. Performativity

All truths could be seen as acts of performativity. When we speak of a truth in relation to the truth, or your truth or my truth, we are listing examples of each performative occurrence of truth. I like that we can introduce the ideas of performance in exploration of the ideas of performativity, despite their relationship being complex. In fact, it is the complexity of this relationship that constitutes a ‘good enough’ model for arts education. That we must act and say separately allows us some defence from the saying act (which is a false act – the one that attempts to make us believe that saying and doing are the same, therefore statistically comparable). I was thinking about this when attending a workshop by Anthony Howell of The Theatre of Mistakes. During the workshop, which was physical and improvisational, he espoused his philosophy in regard to performance. As a participant, the connection between the acting and the saying seemed sometimes arbitrary, confusing but often insightful. Whether Anthony intended this or not, the connection between theory and action created a third voice that informed both independently. For example, a gesture that I created could be undermined by a slap from another performer, or the insertion of an unexpected phrase or comment. Thanks to the current restrictions of digital technology, the performative still offers a more genuine way to activate narrative. Think theatre rather than film. I think the course should be mostly performative to avoid easy/limited narrative construction. Spoken word, theatre, improv, group dialogues, dinners, speeches, events, and many other examples, create multiple threads of narrative, making the course a representation of its own method. Mia You’s performative workshop received particular praise from people.

d. Visibility/Invisibility

In addition to the performative I’ve been thinking about visibility in my own practice. The visible needs to be separated into two basic aspects: to see and to not see something, and to be seen or to not be seen. In addition there is also the time-based aspect, to become seen and (inevitably and somewhat complicated) to become unseen (referred to separately below as absence). The second is at the heart of resistance, because the nature of a statistical approach is to make things seen and retain them as seen. This is the absurd and damning condition of contemporary bad-knowledge. To retain something as seen is to attempt to hold fact, this is essential to any form of capital as it is the requirement of value association. But away from the philosophy of seeing, we can look at the aspects of visibility as inherent strategies in the handbook of narrative. Performance must operate the visible/invisible double-act.

e. Absence

Absence is an extension of the becoming unseen aspect of visibility. This tool has become incredibly powerful and misunderstood. It lies in direct confrontation to any of the activated approaches from all sides. We must always be seen/unseen, in ways that make us present. To not be present is, on one side, to not have an opportunity to take part in consumption, on another side, to not be able to voice opposition. To be present is to be witnessed and not be dead, because without a potential for subsequent witness (religious or even evolutionary) we die now. To be present helps an inter-spiritual platform like Facebook to form meaningful identity for all its users. So to be absent is to take oneself out of all forms off opportunity, provided by oppressor and benefactor.

But, in this context, how does absence work? I don’t have an answer beyond the list of things that we do already or are available to us: Loneliness, lying, transformation and disguise, being silent, just not turning up. Basically anything that threatens your ability to be present, and threatens your ability to be witnessed, can take you into the terrifying and powerful region of absence. This is very difficult for education because of the systems of marking and recognition. However, if students are graded in a more holistic way, they could be encouraged to avoid excessive production or archive in favour of decisions of what to provide and what to deny. A student that has shown commitment to a process throughout but avoids anything on paper needs recognition on their terms.

f. Nonsense

Everyone likes nonsense. Nonsense, in its purist form, is the husk-like form of absence. By relinquishing the ability of understanding through the enacting of a recognisable activity (speech, literature, film), we can remove the presence of meaning. Nonsense beyond play is hugely frustrating and counter-productive, which is good. Nonsense has not always been taken beyond the position of play, perhaps because it can’t work outside of it. But in the process of an art practice it always works. The sadness felt at the co-option of the avant-garde (such as Surrealism in Jameson’s eyes, or punk for more contemporary thinkers), is often a sadness at the loss of what it could have become. In fact, like many of the ideas above, nonsense is an always-becoming. A regular dose of nonsense should be injected into the practices of students, and I don’t just mean the absurd administration of a modern institution!

Do you have any other recommendations / comments for the next editions of Post-truth fiction?

I would hope that we could expect a radical shift from the lecture/workshop format to opportunities to develop ways of practicing. Deciding a lecture format could be more beneficial than receiving one. Also, more time to breathe would be as fruitful as a full timetable, not just discussion but some sort of activities that provide us platforms to interact. Perhaps participants could be asked to prepare something in advance for discussion or as an activity?

Anyway, thanks for reading this and I hope to talk more soon.

Rough it out revolutionaries!

Margaret x