DOXA AND ALETHEIA – TRUTH AND THE ARTIST (PART ONE)

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All aesthetics must, at some stage, if not always, wrestle with the conflicting demands of doxa (opinion/perspective) and aletheia (truth or disclosure)[1]. Some artists will solve this conflict by simply ignoring one side or the other, while others will try and bring the conflicting areas into harmony. A great art work, it could be said, is one in which there seems to be no conflict at all between the warring factions.

As soon as the artist presents his work, which, let us assume, is a pure piece of aletheia, the mere presentation of the work – its being made public and its unveiling – immediately subjects the work to the pressures of doxa. Doxa operates as judgement, and even without vocally judging, the silence of doxa is also a judgement. The principle dilemma of all artists is that sooner or later they will have to present their work, unveiled, before this judgement. The image of aletheia in isolation may seem immaculate, even if the model that has been created is the unveiling of a monster, but that unveiling is always a stripping naked. Before doxa’s initial gaze aletheia will always feel an uncomfortable uncertainty, for while it may not demand adulation it cannot bear condemnation, and it knows it may receive one or the other – or even worse: indifference.

The stress that doxa creates on the artist may cause the artist’s surrender or even pervert his or her artistry away from the service to aletheia and enslave them in the tyranny of doxa in which aletheia is banished from the creation. In the latter case it is usually the market place that determines doxa for the artist and, rightly, the artist’s own status is so diminished that he or she becomes a mere technician in the market-doxa machinery. For these doxa-technicians, for whom the restrictive canons imposed on their creativity expressly forbid contact with aletheia, work satisfaction depends on quantitative results rather than qualitative ones. The number of products sold, the box-office figures, the number of spectators, the amount of hits received… Doxa is now seen as a statistical phenomenon. The result, for many artists, is a rejection of doxa which they have now come to associate with pure, crass, commercialism, and dedicate themselves purely to aletheia.

But this itself is a perverted reaction, for the true condition of art is the dialectic  between doxa and aletheia. Quite simply, to ignore one or the other is to violate the harmonic tension that is the essence of art. Artistic truth is found in its own inner dialectic and any movement in one direction of the other away from the centre is a disruption of the very essence of the work. But, of course, this thesis should not be conceived as proposing any simple solution for the artist. It is the artist him/herself who must interpret doxa and aletheia in their own way. We are merely arguing that the judgemental, doxa voice that the artist will guide him/herself by in the process, must be appropriate for the aletheic subject we are going to unveil.

The harmony intrinsic in artistic truth is a relative, chaotic harmony. A harmony that must be searched for. A harmony that depends on finding the essence buried through the process of disclosure that is guided by the voice of opinion and the position from which comes the perspective. But what voice is that? Is there anything more general and relative than the concept of opinion? How many different perspectives are possible? And therein lies the art: for it is the artist’s trial to be able to find that right doxa which will allow the aletheia to properly unveil and illuminate the essence of the creation.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)


[1] These translations are based on Heidegger’s etymological directions for the terms relating aletheia (truth) with lethe (forgetting) and a-lethe (anti-forgetting)

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5 thoughts on “DOXA AND ALETHEIA – TRUTH AND THE ARTIST (PART ONE)

  1. Does Heidegger offer an interpretation or translation of ‘doxa’? While the ‘doxa’ may be seen as opinion and or perspective, another translation for the word is ‘glory’. The glory that might be sought or rejected by an artist, or the glory that might be bestowed on an artist or a work by an appreciative audience or followers. In that sense, doxa being a statistical phenomenon is most accurate. Doxa might not be provided, or withheld, if the opus is ignored; or worse it might be stigmatised if judged to be irrelevant or misreading of substance in its substance.

    A most interesting discourse.

    • Yes, Arthur, and glory must come through opinion. Thanks for the comment, now it occurs to me that glory makes doxa not necessarily a quantitive thing and should be qualitatively measured. For example, Descartes only sold 500 copies of his Meditations when he was alive, but obviously his readership would have been of good quality readership and his glory as a great thinker depends on the quality of his readership rather than the quantity. The same could be said of Joyce’s Ulysses: how many people have actually read it compared to its glory in the annals of literature? This of course is not exactly along the lines of the article, but an interesting divergence. Thanks again for pointing it out. I think we often overlook or downgrade this qualitative power of doxa in our consumer society that is so prejudiced toward the quantitative.

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