"If only it were that easy. That's not 'reality.' You
see: the deeper reality is made out of language."
Zeta said nothing.
"People don't understand this. And even if they say it, they sure as hell don't know what that means.
It means there is no such thing as 'truth.' There's only language. There's no such thing as
a 'fact.' There is no truth or falsehood, just dominant processes by which reality is socially
constructed. In a world made out of language, nothing else is even possible."
Zeta searched in the dirt. She picked up a rusty nail. "Is this language?"
"Yep. That's a 'rusty nail,' as the conceptual entity called a 'rusty nail' is contructed under
our cultural circumstances and in this moment in history."
"It feels real. It still gets my fingers all dirty."
"Zeta, listen to me. This part is really important. 'Even though her father loved her, the little
girl died horribly because she stepped on the rusty nail.' That's language too."
Zeta's face crumpled in terror. She hastily flung the nail away into the darkness.
"There is no objective reality. There might be a world that has true reality.
A world with genuine physics. But because we're in a world that's made out of language,
we'll never, ever get to that place from here. There's no way out of a world that's
made of language. We can never reach any bedrock reality. The only direction we can move
is into different flavors of the dominant social discourse, or across the grain of the
consensus narrative, or - and this is the worst part - into the Wittgenstein empty spaces
where things can't be said, can't be spoken, can't even be thought . . . Don't ever go there, okay?
You can never come out of there. It's a black hole."
"How come you know so much of this stuff, Dad?"
"I didn't use to know any of it. I was just living my life. I just liked to go live at the edge
of the system, where things were breaking off and breaking down. It took me a long time to
figure out what I was really doing, that I was always in some place where the big story
was turning into little weird counterstories. But now I'm wising up to my situation, because I'm
old now, and I know enough to get along in the world."
Starlitz sighed. "I don't know all that much, really. There are just a few people in the world who
understand how reality works. Most of them don't speak English. They speak French. Because they're all
language theorists. Semioticians, mostly, with some, uh, you know, structuralists and poststructuralists. . .
Luce Iragaray. . . Roland Barthes. . . Julia Kristeva. . . Louis Althusser. . . These are the wisest people
in the world, the only people with a real clue." Stalitz laughed morosely. "And does it help them?
Hell, no! The poor bastards, they strangle their wives, they get run over by laundry trucks. . . And
after Y2K their whole line of gab is gonna be permanently out of fashion. It'll be yesterday."
"How come they know so much?"
"I don't know how they know. But you can tell they know what's really going on, because when you read what
they say, it sounds really cool and convincing, until you realize that even though you know it, you
can't use that knowledge to change anything. If you can understand reality, then you can't do anything.
If you're doing anything, it means that you don't understand reality. You never heard of any of those
French people? I bet you never heard of any of them, right?"
Bruce Sterling (2000). Zeitgeist. New York, NY: Bantam Books, pp. 151-153.
GARY P. RADFORD
Professor of Communication
Fairleigh Dickinson University
285 Madison Avenue
Madison, NJ 07940
ZEN, Room 251
Telephone: 973-443-8648 FAX: 973-443-8683
Welcome to my website. Please use the links on the left to explore this site and to
learn more about me.
I joined Fairleigh Dickinson University in September 1999. I
teach courses in communication theory and philosophy as part of the BA in
The Professors are the only band I know that have had an article published in a blind reviewed
scholarly journal. The citation to the article is below. You can read the article by clicking
on the link.
And finally, here's an original song I wrote inspired by Michel Foucault. It is called
Discourse and was inspired by "The Discourse on Language" by Michel Foucault. My daughter Meg is singing lead vocal, and that's Meg on the album cover!