Hold These Truths

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Arts & Culture, History Lessons

The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

We hold these truths to be self-evident… 
—The Declaration of Independence

A single event can have infinitely many interpretations.

A lot of professionals are crackpots.

Disgust is the appropriate response to most situations.

These days, when civility in public discourse has plummeted to yet another low, when accusations fly like poisoned arrows from one ideological camp to the next, facts are taken out of context and twisted, and half-truths and blatant lies treated as equivalencies on nightly newscasts, I’ve turned back to Jenny Holzer’s Truisms((www.geocities.com/paris/rue/5047/truisms.html)) in search of some way, any way to get a handle on the contrarian nature that seems to have infected our every attempt at conversation of late.

Private property created crime.

Any surplus is immoral.

People who don’t work with their hands are parasites.

Jobs lost, homes foreclosed, surpluses squandered, wars waged, fortunes gambled, security destroyed, health care ever elusive, far from the civil right it should be in a country half as rich as ours—it’s easy to see how the power of any kind of propaganda might seize a fretting mind in these less-than-best of times.

Worrying can help you prepare.

You are a victim of the rules you live by.

Words tend to be inadequate.

Jenny Holzer works with text as her art. She finds, crafts, and then puts provocative, strange, unsettling, at times enigmatic words and sayings and texts and documents—into public spaces and leaves them, waiting for discovery, response, and reaction. Sometimes the words make an obvious narrative, even a story, sometimes not; more often, you the viewer/reader are left to construct a meaning for yourself.

Symbols are more meaningful than things themselves.

Description is more important than metaphor.

In the early days, thirty-plus years back, Holzer put her words on posters, placing them pretty much at random on New York City street lights and telephone poles; not long after she moved to her primary medium, LED signs and displays often projected in places as diverse as the façade of the New York Public Library, a JFK terminal arrival/departure board, and on the Big Brother-esque electronic marquees that now leer above Times Square.

Chasing the new is dangerous to society.

Confusing yourself is a way to stay honest.

Abuse of power comes as no surprise.

Holzer’s “Truisms” project, begun in 1977, gathered sayings that you may or may not have heard before and then (maybe or maybe not) repeated some verbatim and turned others on their tiny linguistic heads. The thing is: they sound authoritative, like something you ought to pay attention to and believe. They sound like they contain the wisdom of the ages, like they are channeling the truth, like they might offer a tidy little Zennish koan you can use to chant your blues away.

Categorizing fear is calming.

Fear is the greatest incapacitator.

Except many on the list contradict one another. Cancel one another out. Fight side-by-side to the death. Not unlike the screaming matches I can only imagine breaking out in the chambers of Congress if decorum were really to be breached and the furious tempers of misunderstanding and conflict let loose. Which for someone like me, words and writing-obsessed and -possessed, just might be the unnerving point: maybe it is impossible to ever hold any—let alone these—truths. Or is it?

Nancy Flynn
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