“For journalists everywhere working to report the news”, says Michiko Kakutani’s dedication in her latest book, The Death of Truth, published only a few weeks ago. The Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic started her journalism career at The Washington Post, the newspaper that Jamal Khashoggi was writing for at the time of his brutal murder earlier this month.
Telling truth to power can be lethal. Murder is the most blatant tool in the constant onslaught on truth we witness around the world. “Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the twentieth century, and both were predicated upon the violation and despoiling of truth, upon the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power”, writes Kakutani in her introduction to The Death of Truth. She proceeds to “examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the very value of truth, and what that means for America and the world” in the present moment. It is essential reading.
Kakutani looks at the impact of postmodernism on our understanding of culture, history and science, and traces why “objectivity – or even the idea that people can aspire towards the best available truth – has been falling out of favour.” She turns to current events and literature to show why facts and integrity – and the courage to fight for both – are of utmost importance, why we must do everything we can to revive truth and rescue it from the jaws of decay.
The Death of Truth is simultaneously a chilling and inspiring read. Kakutani states: “I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth.”
The Death of Truth
by Michiko Kakutani
William Collins, 2018
Review first published in the Cape Times on 26 October 2018.
She’s probably right. As per Khashoggi’s last column – hard information can be liberating. But “banalising the truth” – ouch – not inspiring.