Reality: too obvious to be true

Banksy and Baudrillard

untitled (Banksy and Baudrillard) (detail)

Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true. (Jean Baudrillard)

In hand, a bunch of diverse quotations, most of them having at least some bearing on the nature of reality. The Baudrillard piece seems to have appointed itself chief amongst them, but Einstein can be heard muttering in the background.

Not unexpectedly – given the two words, ‘obvious’ and ‘enigmatic’ – Google Images quickly finds a picture/text version of the Baudrillard quote. But more interesting by far, I think, is this Banksy art piece with which it is teamed up on the Particulate Matters blog.

Clearly, both Banksy and “cosmicdebris” (proprietor of Particulate Matters) are saying something about the teachings of the Christian Church – particularly, it seems, in relation to the indoctrination of children. Look elsewhere on the Particulate Matters blog and you will find links to other ‘indoctrination’ stories: for example, Monsanto indoctrinating kids at the zoo.

Actually, I’m inclined to suspect that indoctrination is integral to every aspect of living – and that everyone is routinely doing it and/or having it done to them. And it wouldn’t necessarily qualify as either brainwashing or catechism. Let’s put it more simply: we’re all inclined to push our ideas on others – and we call it marketing, persuasion, instruction, education, or teaching.

Be that all as it may, it is not really the main point of my post.

A few months ago, on |cross-ties| – the blog of “The Other” – there was a bit of back-and-forth about the nature of reality. A piece titled Taking a cycle trip led one reader to discuss Derrida’s ideas, noting that in language there is a gap between words and things. I would take this further, asserting that there is a gap between what we perceive and what is actually the case.

A similar gap yawns between the words of every witness and the occurrences they describe – what we thought we saw, the way it seems to us, what we believe to be true, and everything that is ‘obvious’. (And, by the way, since it’s that obvious, why can’t everyone see it our way?)

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus begins with the proposition that “the world is everything that is the case” and ends by reminding us that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Wittgenstein isn’t saying there’s stuff we can choose not to talk about; he’s actually pointing out that there are some things nobody can put into words.

Albert Einstein asserts that “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Elsewhere, he declares, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.” He is not saying that nothing is real; what he means is that everything we experience as real is invented. “The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.” (Albert Einstein Essays in Science (1934), p27)

The way science talks about reality and truth is sounding more and more like the words of the ancient religions. For example, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, a notable teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, says: “The ultimate truth of all conventional truths is their being void of inherent existence. Conventional truths, ie empirical phenomena, exist dependently upon causal conditions, parts and imputation; they have absolutely no existence apart from these conditioning factors.”

But “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true,” wrote Francis Bacon (1560-1626). Called the creator of empiricism, “[Bacon] established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method.” (GoodReads)

Ultimately, then, as Baudrillard says, whatever seems obvious is, in reality, the superficial manifestation of a profound mystery: the deeper you go into it, the less you are able to say about it.

In Poetry: This Death Is Incomplete (part one of an essay on poetry and death), Amy King talks about “spinning yarns to name things and claim power over them” – which, she reminds us, is not a new concept. In explication, King points us to Alice Notley’s The Book of Lies. The opening lines are especially apt: “Do you believe this stuff or is it a story? I believe every fucking word, but it is a story.”


An ever-changing draft of this piece has been in my editor for months. There’s so much more I want to say, but it is long past time I got something posted. 


But wait … there’s myrrh!

But wait ... there's myrrh

But wait … there’s myrrh

The Christian holy day known as Epiphany “[commemorates] (at least in western tradition) the visit of the Magi and Jesus being revealed to the Gentiles” (from Finding a New Way Home) is celebrated on 6 January. According to, “It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.”

All history is redaction – ie, it re-frames and retells our “old, old story” in such a way as to please the current audience. The past is perpetually being re-examined and reinterpreted.

Recent memes appearing on Facebook – but not including this one from – have commented on what three wise women would have done. One version asserts that they would have “asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, brought practical gifts, cleaned the stable, made a casserole … and there would be peace on earth.” (From

I don’t think so! (Especially that last bit.)

Another version of the meme adds that “Three Wise Feminist Women would have … lobbied King Herod for gender equality.” In its lower right corner, the image carries the wording: Destroy the Joint. But, according to Helen Razer, “Destroy the Joint misses the point”.

My back is up, my hackles on end. If there is to be anything more than talk of gender equality, then it is blatantly obvious that the faults, shortcomings, and weaknesses of humankind will be owned (and owned up to) by all.

The child’s question

Legion (cover)

Legion (cover)




The child’s question haunted the nebulae, a thought in search of its maker that cornered reason in a dead-end maze and made Kinderman certain the materialist universe was the greatest superstition of his age. (William Peter Blatty, in Legion)

“Kinderman spends much time musing over possibilities of God, the nature of evil, and pain, often to whomever will listen,” according to Mark R Rinker, reviewing  Legion for GoodReads (read review). “[Kinderman] even reaches a conclusion of sorts to his seeming endless array of questions, all posed by himself, before the murders and during their investigation.”

Originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1983, and subsequently turned into what Rinker calls “a more than satisfactory sequel … Exorcist III (which, mercifully, has nothing to do with Exorcist II: The Heretic).” Legion appeared in a Tor paperback edition in 2011 (Tom Doherty Associates, New York).

I’ve just begun reading it, and am going to be especially interested to follow Kinderman’s contemplations.

Hitting that impenetrable wall of reality

American Subversive - cover

American Subversive – cover

And when you’ve fallen for all the youthful clichés about making a difference, when you’ve tailored your life around them, hitting that impenetrable wall of reality is devastating. For things were only getting worse. The global economy was in shambles, the developing world falling out of reach. I was falling out of reach. I was losing myself.

And then I lost my brother.

(David Goodwillie, in American Subversive, p31)


David Goodwillie. 2010. American subversive. New York: Scribner.

“This thriller is less a whodunit than an exploration of what motivates radicalism in an age of disillusionment and impotence.” (Malena Watrous, in a review for The New York Times)

Don’t believe everything you think

Stephen King signature99% of what goes on in your mind is none of your business. (Stephen King

Most of what we deem to be real (especially when it causes us to suffer) is made up of negative ideas, beliefs, judgments and thoughts that we’ve come up with as a defense or justification. By questioning our truths, we expand our thinking and begin to see new possibilities. (Mike Robbins)

When you’re sure something’s obvious, or it’s what “everyone knows,” or that it goes without saying … that’s the time to remind yourself not to believe everything you think. (Renee Garfinkel)

Truth, facts, beliefs

A fact is just a belief that you have some attachment to keeping. (Harry Palmer)

Men willingly believe what they wish. (Julius Caesar, in De Bello Gallico)

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened. (Winston Churchill)

The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth. (Edith Sitwell)

I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible. (Oscar Wilde, in The Picture of Dorian Gray)

The fact that something is far-fetched is no reason why it should not be true; it cannot be as far-fetched as the fact that something exists. (Celia Green)

Reality consists of the experiences we believe are real. What is real may or may not be the same for everyone. (Harry Palmer)

Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science. (Henry David Thoreau)

The beliefs you truly hold, the ones you’ve decided to believe, your faith, will cause you to create or attract the experiences which will verify them. When you change your beliefs, your experiences will change. (Harry Palmer)

All philosophies are mental fabrications. There has never been a single doctrine by which one could enter the true essence of things. (Nagarjuna)

A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes in it. (Oscar Wilde, in Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young)

The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new. (Pema Chödrön)

The fact that stares one in the face is that people of the greatest sincerity and of all levels of intelligence differ and have always differed in their religious beliefs. Since at most one faith can be true, it follows that human beings are extremely liable to believe firmly and honestly in something untrue in the field of revealed religion. One would have expected this obvious fact to lead to some humility, to some thought that however deep one’s faith, one may conceivably be mistaken. (Hermann Bondi)

It is good to know the truth, but it is better to speak of palm trees. (Arab proverb)

Serpents … in the garden and in the wilderness

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. (John 3:14, RV)

Adam and Eve, by Albrecht Durer, 1504

Adam and Eve, by Albrecht Durer, 1504


[1] Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?

[2] And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: [3] but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

[4] And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: [5] for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3: 1-5, RV)

[6] And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

[7] And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

[8] And the LORD said unto Moses, make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. (Numbers 21: 6-8, RV)

At the heart of the labyrinth

… let’s imagine a labyrinth without a central quid (neither monster nor treasure), so one that’s a-centric, which basically means a labyrinth without a final signified to discover … like a kind of mortal game, possibly with nothing at the center; here, again, the path would be equivalent to the goal — but only if you manage to get out … (Biblioklept, in Roland Barthes on the Labyrinth Metaphor).

The quid at the heart of the labyrinth — we have discovered — is emptiness. There is neither monster nor treasure. No, wait! that’s not true: both monster and treasure are to be found here. For we are the labyrinth and the quid … not only the possibility of slaying the monster but also the means of returning alive, and bringing the treasure out, too.

Lao Tzu’s well-known explanation is pertinent here: “Clay is moulded to form a cup, but it is on its non-being [its emptiness] that the utility of the cup depends.  Doors and windows are cut out to make a room, but it is on its non-being [its emptiness] that the utility of the room depends.” 

Similarly, the old Zen story in which the master keeps pouring tea into his guest’s cup … even after it is full and overflowing.

Fullness is a condition of no possibility; emptiness is open to every possibility.

It is worth noting that “[labyrinths] have historically been used both in group ritual and for private meditation” (

PS: How could I have forgotten to mention the treasure?

Every thesis is … a prosthesis

“every thesis is (bands erect) a prosthesis; what affords reading affords reading by citations (necessarily truncated clippings, repetitions, suctions, sections, suspensions, selections, stitchings, scarrings, grafts, pastiches, organs without their own proper body covered with cuts, traversed by lice)” (Derrida, 1974: 168b).

Long before the word mashup was coined, I was already a masher. My recent series (which started out a mini-series) exploring possible approaches to the reading of sacred texts (the Bible, especially) is something of a mashup … I acknowledge, too, that Derrida’s description is entirely warranted.

Those posts are — as their painstaking bibliographies might have signalled — fragments of an actual thesis (submitted in 2002). Having nothing at all to do with reading the Bible, my thesis offered a deconstruction of what was at that time labelled “the Digital Divide”.

Deconstruction enables us to contest the nature of reality; in that sense, it is akin to pure science. But it also permits us to invent and fabricate alternative realities — to see visions, dream dreams, narrate parables — and I don’t know, but I suspect that’s what we’re here for.

Derrida, J. 1974. Glas. Web page — part of the Hydra web site, designed and edited by Peter Krapp — “This Forum © 1996-2000 Peter Krapp” — — accessed 27 February 2002, but now defunct.

A Wikipedia article, Glas (book), gives an apt but brief description of the work. Amazon lists eight used copies of the paperback edition, priced from $176.76.