Write an essay discussing the subjectivity of truth and its implications. Your task is to make a unique, debatable, specific, textually based claim derived from thinking about this topic in relationship to the texts.
Thesis: Truth is not definite nor objective, rather, it is a sensation with the power to generate experiences in others; thus, even that which is nonsensical and contradictory can be more “truthful” than hard facts.
Truth is not definite nor objective
Analyzing what is “sense of truth”
Nonsense can be more profound
Contradictions about claim -> truth about truth not definite -> hazy
Conclusion: The implication of this argument is that we, as human beings, are not educated sufficiently in the “sense of truth”. We don’t feel enough and we don’t understand each other’s experiences as much as we should. The only solution is to stop searching for absolute truth and appreciate language and the nonsense that comes with it.
In the context of the three essays, truth is neither definite nor objective. It seems rather ironic and strange that truth, which is the firm foundation on which many things are upheld, could be hazy and/or subjective, yet that is clearly what is being claimed by these three authors. In O’Brien’s essay, the chaos and insanity of the battlefield leads him to state that “[in] war you lose your sense of the definite…” (O’Brien 323) What this implies is that everyone has a sense of the definite, but here ‘definite’ connotes firmness, certainty, and reality. Earlier, O’Brien talks about how in battle, there are all of these contradictions that exist, and that all certainty is replaced by ambiguity (323). This haziness and ambiguity of truth doesn’t just stop at the battlefield, though. Although taken place in a completely different context, Nafisi’s essay heavily explores the “relation between fiction and reality” (Nafisi 281) in a world of oppression like Tehran; ‘relation’ indicating that fiction and reality share some common ground, but it’s not explicitly stated when. Connecting to O’Brien’s essay, this idea that fiction and reality are relatives underscores the fact that, at least in the context of the essays, there is no definite truth. Of course, if truth isn’t definite, then what is it? In order to determine what truth really is, we need to understand what the “sense of truth” is.
Truth, in the form of language, is a sensation that stimulates emotional response by evoking different images and associations. This “sense of truth” (O’Brien 323) is mentioned after it is stated that a true war story has no point or moral or lesson or any takeaways. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of telling it? O’Brien answers this question by claiming that “[a] true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” (321) The use of ‘true’/‘truly’ twice almost makes it obvious that the traditional definition of the word doesn’t apply, rather, the word ‘stomach’ implies guts, or visceral feeling. This ‘truth’ that O’Brien is talking about is what gives us feeling and impacts us emotionally, that our stomach can believe. Now here lies a mystery of language. How can mere words trigger these responses from deep within our psyche? Oliver Sacks adds some fuel to this question by stating that “even though language only describes people and events, it can sometimes stand in for direct experience or acquaintance” (Sacks 344). Truth, in the form of language, has this power to place us into the actual experience, into the realm of the speaker’s story, where we can “stand in” for the speaker’s direct experience. Therefore, truth doesn’t need to have a point, it just needs to have an impact. A new question arises, what characterizes the language that can trigger these responses and generate experiences in others? It turns out that “truth” that is shared doesn’t have to be definite in meaning or sense.
In terms of sharing experiences through truth, nonsense and contradictions can be more “truthful” than hard facts. Being impacted by language requires that something visceral occurs in our being, that something is moved and changed, therefore, that which is novel is more effective than what is already established. Sacks, in his essay, makes a comment on a very abstract topic, the “brain’s own language” (Sacks 340), that he couldn’t tell whether “this is nonsense or profound truth” (340). What a connection he made, that there could be a similarity between nonsense and truth, even profound truth. The key word is “profound”, which although commonly connoting wisdom and understanding and the grand scheme of the universe, also means earnestness, emotion, intensity, and fervor. Here is the link; the truth that O’Brien refers to is “profound truth”, truth that elicits intense emotion, is connected to nonsense, which is considered the opposite of the traditional meaning of truth. So, what type of language is atypical and “nonsensical”? A great example of this is “Upsilamba“ (Nafisi 291). The “word” was a creation by Nabokov, the author that Nafisi heavily reads, one that combines several letters of the Greek alphabet that create something with a plethora of possible meanings. Nafisi discussed this word with her group of young women, and they all gave disparate views on what it could possibly mean, and it eventually becomes “a sensation” (292), further solidifying the power of truth in generating feeling and experiences; it was the nonsensical word Upsilamba that had more power to do this than any hard fact. Sometimes the best truth is quite random and nonsensical, because only that which is novel and unexpected can be profound. This claim should only be taken in the context of these three essays; however, even this claim is, paradoxically, hazy.
Complicating this entire argument, even the claim that truth is subjective can, paradoxically, be questioned. Given all of this analysis of the essays’ claims, that truth is not truth in the traditional sense, but truth in a novel, even nonsensical sense, it is worth noting that there is a contradiction in the very fabric of the argument. O’Brien continuously states phrases like “It’s all exactly true” (O’Brien 317) and “It all happened” (320) and then complicating everything by stating “Is it true?” (324) and “That a true story that never happened” (324) He leaves us with this claim that the main function of truth isn’t to inform, but to impact in a visceral level, but can we take his word seriously? Is what he is telling us the truth? Going back to the quote about losing the “sense of the definite” (323), O’Brien adds that “it’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true.” This phrase “it’s safe to say” clearly implies that he is not even entirely sure if his argument is true! This is extremely ironic, in that he ends his essay but leaving us with the chilling realization that everything he told us is not even completely true, even the fact that truth is not completely true.