Sunday, November 09, 2008

from Gathering Evidence

"And to write about a period of one's life, no matter how remote or how recent, no matter how long or how short, means accumulating hundreds and thousands and millions of falsehoods and falsifications, all of which are familiar to the writer describing the periods as truths and nothing but truths. His memory adheres precisely to the events and their precise chronology, but what emerges is something quite different from what things were really like. The description makes something clear which accords with the describer's aspiration for truth but not with the truth itself, for truth is quite impossible to communicate. We describe an object and believe that we have described it truthfully and faithfully, only to discover that it is not the truth. We make a state of affairs clear, yet it is never the state of affairs we wished to make clear but always a different one. We are bound to say that we have never communicated anything that was not the truth, yet throughout our lives we have never stopped trying to communicate the truth. We wish to tell the truth but fail to do so. We describe something truthfully, but our description is something other than the truth. We ought to be able to see existence as the state of affairs we wish to describe, but however hard we try we can never see this state of affairs through our description. Knowing this to be so, we ought to have given up wishing to write the truth long ago and so given up writing altogether. Since it is not possible to communicate and hence to demonstrate the truth, we have contented ourselves with wishing to write and describe the truth, as well as to tell the truth, even though we know that the truth can never be told. The lie, since we cannot circumvent it, is the truth. What is described here is the truth, yet at the same time it is not the truth, because it cannot be. In all the years we have spent reading, we have never encountered a single truth, even if again and again what we have read has been factual. Again and again it was lies in the form of truth and truth in the form of lies, etc. What matters is whether we want to lie or tell and write the truth, even though it can never be the truth and never is the truth. Throughout my life I have always wanted to tell the truth, even though I now know that it was all a lie. In the end all that matters is the truth content of the lie. For a long time reason has forbidden me to tell and write the truth, because that only means telling and writing a lie; but writing is a vital necessity for me, and this is the reason why I write, even if everything I write is bound to be nothing but lies which are conveyed through me as truth. Of course we may demand truth, but if we are honest with ourselves we know that there is no such thing as truth. What is described here is the truth, and at the same time it is not, for the simple reason that truth is only a pious wish on our part".

Gathering Evidence, Thomas Bernhard


Folded letters said...

Hi Kubla,

I'm understanding this post to relate to the truthfulness of one's memories, correct? I agree memory is a nebulous thing. All these thoughts rolling around in the jelly we call brains. But, if there's no truth to these, than there cannot be any lies either. Maybe, we just create something that is all together different. If it is real to the creator, than who's to say whether it is true or not.


Kubla Khan said...

Hi fl, thanks for visiting.

The extract quoted is, as you know from Bernhard's memoir. Interpersed in his characteristically caustic narrative is his long look back at what actually constitutes memory. memory, as he argues is not entirely fictitious but a mixture of things, of nebulous happenings.

i personally think that memory is as much desire as fact, the mixture of what was not but could have been; a commingling, a melancholic wistfulness of dreams and desires. Proust's entire oeuvre is perhaps well illustrative of this idea. I have in the past written about it on our Proust blog.

The Bernhard narration must be read as part of the memoir and not in isolation.

"Maybe, we just create something that is all together different". as you said this, this is right. the present is a creation of everything. the night outside is phantom and fact too.




True lies

You thought Arnie n your Mum were shysters, c’mon he is. There’s these people, old women who circumnavigate the globe with the sole intention of propergating twoddle. They’re mystical you see, because no one ever remembers seeing or speaking to these “old wives” although we always remember their tales. Some tales are inside you now:

Goldfish have a memory of only three seconds
More like a few months, but what the frig do they have to remember.

Lemmings engage in suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating.
A lie made by Old Disney Wives.

Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb, and Henry Ford did not invent the automobile.
Nope, all me.

more at

Madhuri said...

Hi Kubla,
Even in isolation, Bernhard's thoughts on memories are very appropriate. In Lynch's Lost highway, Fred Madison "likes to remember things [his] own way ... not necessarily the way they happened". In differing degrees we all do that without necessarily wanting to or even being conscious of the subtle alterations. Memory contains all past, present and dreams of the future, and to pick out one stream unadulterated is nearly impossible. What matters is that we want to write the truth., because that conveys a perceived truth or reality from at least one mind.

Kubla Khan said...

Hi Madhuri

Bernhard is talking mostly about the impossibility of being always objective. we might want to speak the truth but end up speaking lies!