Truth in Memes



Within our spaces of digitalization, it is becoming more crucial to scrutinize, as it were, the performing and aesthetic function of truth: what we see in this space is no longer the direct, bare or, to use Russell’s term, ‘acquaintance’ appearance of things (notice how the overlapping identification and influx of information in social media comes and goes). Rather, under the guise of an attractive appearance, i.e. click-bait headlines, charming thumbnails, and so on, there is critically no guarantee of a truthful encounter – either the news is fake or the substantial content of an article is missing. In this more crucial sense we might be surprised to find out that Plato’s allegory of the cave does not anymore portray the ascending stages of opinion, belief, and knowledge but this time of news, propaganda, and memes.

Why memes? The vital paradox underlying in memes is that they are not just attractive representations of state-of-affairs: while we usually incorporate them to entertainment categories, there is more truth to suppose in them than the otherwise insecurity of news and literal state-affairs that sometimes are forwarded clandestinely with propagandas (in this case, the bigot beliefs of political partisanship).

Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose,’ for instance, narrates precisely the taboo in Aristotle’s Comedia when the forbidden book – William of Baskerville finds out – contains poison in the surface of its pages, which then points to the unhygienic practice of licking one’s point finger to turn the page of books, thereby causing the mysterious deaths of the monks. One of its contributed lesson to literature is its unfolding of the reality that laughter is something repulsive compared to the solemn and sometimes condescending disposition of seriousness.

But if the seriousness towards undertakings proves ineffective in providing solutions to contemporary problems, it is no surprise why many find solace in the truth-encounter that they find in memes, so that one cannot even relate with a meme without enough considerable knowledge of its context. Some might even claim of satire’s importance in assessing societal and post-truth structures.

When Zizek orates on the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ metaphor as ironically not the silver lining but ‘the headlight of another train coming towards you,’ it is one reason to defend that what we might come to know as ‘knowledge’ (recall the sun in the allegory) no longer illuminates in the digital interfaces of social media today. But in memes, one does not experience the same warmth of the old sun, but sometimes the coldness of reality: we have dank memes stashes, dark memes, memes that warrant laughter or exactly illustrate the absurdity of life – all of which function in representing, rather than dilly-dallying, truth more than ever.


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