In the mid-1930s, with fascism on the rise in Europe, Bertolt Brecht published “Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth,” an essay on how readers could be turned into revolutionaries. He asserts that writers must be able to recognize, proclaim, and weaponize the truth, which means they must understand how to spread the truth, especially to those “in whose hands it will become effective.” Hari Kunzru’s lecture will respond to Brecht’s essay by considering the difficulties we now have in writing the truth. In 2018, the main obstacle for those in the U.S. who might like to shape public opinion isn’t the kind of censorship practiced by the Nazis, but the proliferation of distractions, distortions, misinformation, and harassment campaigns. The result is cynicism and the degradation of political and personal agency—for writers as well as readers. Kunzru’s lecture will employ two voices competing for attention: one is communicating the truth, the other is undermining that effort, challenging the very notion of a reality that is known and shared.
On the Difficulties in Writing the Truth is a component of “Parts of Speech,” an exhibition on public speech organized by Triple Canopy and Public Fiction with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The exhibition hinges on six experimental lectures, which will be live-streamed only at the museum; edited documentation will be available on Triple Canopy's website at a later date. “Parts of Speech” is being published by Triple Canopy as a series in Two Ears and One Mouth, a forthcoming issue that examines how we speak and listen and who has the right and capacity to be heard.
- Hari Kunzru is a British writer living in New York. He is the author of five novels, most recently White Tears (2017). His stories, articles, and essays have appeared in publications such as Wired, the New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Times of India, and the New Statesman. His novels have been translated into twenty-one languages. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Public Library, and the American Academy in Berlin.