“The Death of Truth” by Michiko Kakutani
I picked up this book at a bookstore #BrooklineBooksmith in Boston last year. Michiko Kakutani is a Pulitzer Prize winning literary critic and the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I totally enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot. I would like to point out the following three points.
1. This book brought home to me the fact that nowadays in every facet of life, whether it’s social media, television, academia, or, politics, people are much more apt to prioritize subjectivity and emotions over objective truth and facts. As George Orwell justly described in his seminal work of “1984”, this world is becoming “2+2=5” more and more. Kakutani uses the phrase “Rashomon” quite frequently in this book. “Rashomon” is a movie of Kurosawa, where different people tell their “truth” respectively despite there being the single solid truth of what happened. “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods”, which is what Chuck Todd famously put.
2. This book is fascinating mainly because it analyzes thoroughly how this phenomenon of prizing emotions over facts came to arise and to be exacerbated over the years. One of the eye-openers for me was that post-modernism in a way accelerated this trend. “Postmodernism not only rejected all metanarratives but also emphasized the instability of language”. By “deconstructing” literature, history, architecture, and the social sciences, people would assume that all texts were unstable and complex, which could be imbued with variable meanings.
3. I was totally impressed by Kakutani’s lucidity and clarity in her writing. As Orwell once wrote, “good prose is like a windowpane”. Her sentences are crystal clear with no opaqueness. This book is comprehensive and exhaustive in tackling the issue of the death of truth.
“Without truth, democracy is hobbled. The founders recognized this, and those seeking democracy’s survival must recognize it today”
I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who is interested in what is truth.