Information, Data, Discourse and Truth

Cubitt, Sean. 2019. Information, Data, Discourse and Truth. In: John Parham, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Anthropocene. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Book Section] (Submitted)

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Abstract or Description

If the world is being remade by human activity, how are we to make truthful statements, depictions or communications about it? The Anthropocene thesis concerns change, but change that is not available to the senses in any immediate form. To mediate, however, is to add to these changing processes, at the theoretical level of the unavoidable modifications to actuality made in making statements about it, and in the physical sense that just as a thermometer alters the temperature of the materials it is measuring, so communication employs energy and materials whose use affects the environment. A fact is not an actuality but a statement about an actuality: data is not the given but what we give each other as accounts of the given.

But the world is no longer given in the sense of an unchanging and reliable gift of God or nature. We have many tools at our disposal: journalistic and essayistic, photographic, scientific to name and depict things that are too big, too small, too fast or too slow for human perception. This chapter suggests we have two fundamental procedures: abstraction and anecdote. The former culls large scale dynamics from massive collections of data; the latter seizes on unique instances of the confluence of forces. Both evoke their opposites: abstraction in the history of art is attached to subjectivity and self-expression, and theologically to the presence of invisible features (conic sections, the concept of norm); while the anecdote risks sentimentality and the dissociation of the singular event from the vast movement of climates and habitats. The contradictions within and between modes of truth are hostages to the abusive certainties of climate change denial. Can an investigation of truth-practices in words, diagrams and images give us tools to redirect the changes we know we are experiencing, but for which the means of expression seem suddenly ineffectual?

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


February 2019Submitted

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Date Deposited:

08 Mar 2019 10:54

Last Modified:

25 Jun 2021 06:33


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