Lauren Slater’s Heideggerian Truth

Hayward Krieger, the nonexistent philosophy professor of the forward, brings up an elusive conception of truth that supposedly underscores Lying: namely, Heideggerian truth. I won’t propose to sufficiently understand Martin Heidegger—a difficult existentialist thinker just like Jean-Paul Sartre and Søren Kierkegaard, two other philosophers she alludes to the text—but his conception of truth is a curious and complex one when read in detail. To tentatively simplify, though, he proposes that truth is consistent with the “openness of being.” In particular, he focuses on art—specifically van Gogh whom Slater references as another accomplished mind haunted by epilepsy—as a medium through which people might illuminate this conception of truth. This early allusion at oncesets a precedent for existentialist thought in Lying and, further, puts us as readers in a more developed position to dig deeper into Slater’s philosophical inklings as memoirist and individual. 

Like Heidegger’s philosophy and Slater’s Lying, this type of truth is shifty and beyond the grasp of literality or explicit language. So, where fact and empirical explanation fail to adequately encompass Slater’s internal state, devices like conceit, allegory, and figurative language are used instead. They take longer, more roundabout ways in hinting at the fundamental nature of Slater’s weary soul, but this wholly necessary for her project to properly achieve its goals. Epilepsy, seizing, the auras, the smells, Munchausen disorder, allowing oneself to fall, the Corpus Callosotomy, they serve as metaphorical motifs that grip us as readers and entangle us in the web of Slater’s progressive sense of self and the internal realities which surround her at every bend. By extension, her particular self-exploration allows her to, justifiably, hint at more universal themes without generalization, connecting with the reader as a result. One short yet clear example of this occurs on page 197: “Our stories are seizures. They clutch us up, they are spastic grasps, they are losses of consciousness. Epileptics, every one of us; I am not alone.” Furthermore, in light of these devices, take her conversation with the psychologist at Brandeis for example: it serves as an illustration of her tendency to deny the truth even when caught firsthand in her myriad lies (177). Slater uses this to embody her themes in a circumstance that presents her in open and naked light. We as readers ought to keep in mind that whatever occupies the textual space of Lying is there for important reasons, entailing deliberation and thoughtfulness on Slater’s part. As a result, we can look at her motivations and draw further conclusions as to her personal and artistic disposition. Moving with this point, when she gives her speech to the AA group, I feel as though this served as a metaphor, or perhaps allegory, for the text on a broader basis. She doesn’t tell the strict truth, but she tells her truth, and her words are authentic, emotionally resonant, and vigorously honest. In this scene, the AA members represent stand-ins for us as her audience. The way they react to her speech is in many senses the way I reacted and continue to react to her book even after its conclusion. They don’t know the truth she withholds, but, more importantly, they know her: a vulnerable, disturbed, courageous human being trying her best to be honest with herself and the world. This scene encompasses the reader-writer relationship in Lying, and it presents her message in a far more powerful, three-dimensional light than if she were to tell us, explicitly, the case at hand.

Moreover, her experimental nonfiction methods do the “truth” of her being more justice. The creative, compulsive, depressive, resilient, witty Lauren Slater evolves, devolves, and evolves again right before our eyes—and not by her telling us so, but by her showing us so. It’s the difference between telling someone about the Grand Canyon and showing someone the Grand Canyon (though in Slater’s case that would entail speeding and breaking some established laws on the long drive there, but who really cares as long as you get reach your destination in the end?). Heidegger likens the “openness of being,” or his conception of truth, to art for this very reason: it rips us from abstraction and emotional confusion and illustrates the impalpable internal world to others and to ourselves in a way that could not be known otherwise.

In Lying, Slater, displaying a full spectrum of emotional candor, concludes her narrative on self and dishonesty with greater truth and sincerity than many nonfiction writers who actually devote themselves to the verifiable facts of the matter. So, as I see it, this is most certainly nonfiction. Lauren Slater is a journalist not of the external, but rather the internal. Why should a genre so concerned with truth restrict itself to such narrowness as to not bend when someone like Slater comes along with material outside the physical fact? You know, the kind that makes us human above all else? Ultimately, though, I don’t believe the way other people classify it matters very much; instead, it is what Slater intends her text to epitomize: herself and all those who have and/or continue to suffer with such afflictions similar to her. Slater is dealing with her own humanness here, her own Heideggerian truth, and if this is her story, her project, who are we to tell her that it is, as a whole, fiction?

3 thoughts on “Lauren Slater’s Heideggerian Truth

  1. Dillon Murphy

    Lying takes on a whole new level when we take her philosophy, or at least the ones she mentions in the narrative, into account. This was a very good point to bring up that we haven’t discussed in class and your tentative simplification was indeed a worthwhile simplification

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    1. Zach Muhlbauer Post author

      Slater is so well-versed with modern philosophy that it makes me tremble thinking about what a full-fledged analysis of Lying might look like from that perspective. I would’ve liked to focus more on her mention of Sartre and his theory on the dynamic between consciousness to the physical world but, well, I decided to save that for another day (Zach nervously laughs to himself).

      Reply
  2. Mary Vacchetto

    Your thoughts on Slater as , “The creative, compulsive, depressive, resilient, witty Lauren Slater evolves, devolves, and evolves again right before our eyes—and not by her telling us so, but by her showing us so” is an artful analogy that I agree with. She does not ultimately give us truthful accounts, but truthful analogies of such accounts. Her purpose is not to give factual truth but interpreted truths, which I believe are just as important of the truth.

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