Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Havel on Truth

Hero with a Cigarette

In his essay "The Power of the Powerless," Havel asks toward the end of part seven, "How does the power of truth operate?" He begins his answer in part eight:
INDIVIDUALS can be alienated from themselves only because there is something in them to alienate. The terrain of this violation is their authentic existence. Living the truth is thus woven directly into the texture of living a lie. It is the repressed alternative, the authentic aim to which living a lie is an inauthentic response. Only against this background does living a lie make any sense: it exists because of that background. In its excusatory, chimerical rootedness in the human order, it is a response to nothing other than the human predisposition to truth. Under the orderly surface of the life of lies, therefore, there slumbers the hidden sphere of life in its real aims, of its hidden openness to truth.

The singular, explosive, incalculable political power of living within the truth resides in the fact that living openly within the truth has an ally, invisible to be sure, but omnipresent: this hidden sphere. It is from this sphere that life lived openly in the truth grows; it is to this sphere that it speaks, and in it that it finds understanding. This is where the potential for communication exists. But this place is hidden and therefore, from the perspective of power, very dangerous. The complex ferment that takes place within it goes on in semidarkness, and by the time it finally surfaces into the light of day as an assortment of shocking surprises to the system, it is usually too late to cover them up in the usual fashion. Thus they create a situation in which the regime is confounded, invariably causing panic and driving it to react in inappropriate ways.
One hears echoes of existentialism, but Havel differs from, for example, Sartre, in that Sartre does not bind authenticity to truth, which leads to his nihilism - though I'm no expert on Sartre and could be misinterpreting the man.

But what does Havel mean by "truth." He seems to mean something richer than coherence and correspondence understandings. I'll have to finish reading his essay and report back . . .

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