The World is a Fabulous Tale


Lomax, Yve. ‘The World is a Fabulous Tale’ Writing the Image (London: I.B.Tauris, 2000) 54-65


For Plato, true philosophy did not tell tales, but poetry, on the other hand, could be accused of spinning stories foreign to truth. Plato’s line, so I’ve heard tell, is that true philosophy rises above the charms and double-dealings of rhetoric; it neither tells tales nor practises the art of persuasion. The task of philosophy is to safe guard the truth from tall stories and the fabrications of fiction, which are the source of error, lies and illusion. The gates of Plato’s ideal city are shut to those who spin yarns and tell tales: the poet is banished and fiction is relegated to the other side, opposite the truth.

Truth/fiction: a line is drawn and fiction is excluded from entering truth’s domain.

The line in the middle comes to mark the place of the other with a loss or lack. B becomes the minus, the negative of A. And so the story goes on: difference is the lack of identity, fiction is the negative of truth and abstraction is the minus of reality.


Traditionally, truth is to be ‘right’, When truth is missing there is ‘wrong’ and according to this logic, fiction (as the minus of truth) becomes open to the accusation of illusion, falsehood and lies. Yet it seems to me that before we can tell the truth we have to tell the fiction. Before we can tell the same we have to tell the difference.


I have heard it said, often enough to become somewhat of a commonplace, that we live in a world of images. I have heard it said that we live in a world where images are posted everywhere.

In the late twentieth century, on planet Earth, we heard of a discovery: nothing solid or substantial stands behind the surface of the image. This discovery, which perhaps is neither so new nor so very extraordinary, finds that we earthlings can no longer be sure of a singular reality which comes before and remains outside of the image, appearance or sign.

One of the theories we hear is that a real world is not waiting ‘out there’ to be reflected, represented or captured by the image. The very idea of an independent reality is thrown into question and things can no longer be proven in quite the same way.

Indeed it has been said that behind the photograph there is no essence – of truth, reality or referent – which provides its origin and point of return.


One of the stories we hear, one of the theories perhaps we fear, is that the real world is a fiction.

One tale that may be told is that the very idea of some thing coming before and remaining outside of the surface of the image is only an effect of the surface itself.

From such a story told, the theory may unfold that we live in a postworld. We may easily agree that we live in a world where everything comes after. Indeed, we may agree that we live in the world that is without origin.

And as this theory unfolds, the story may be told that having nothing before we are only left with fiction and image, only appearance and sign.

In the beginning, the image.

Gone is the referent which came before and was the past of the sign. Gone is the prior reality which stood steadfast and remained independent of the image. Gone is the essence which waited to be discovered whole behind the front of appearances. The singular truth is fallen, anteriority is no more and gone is the unity of the one.

Hearing that we are left with just images or fictions, just abstractions and signs, it is easy to conclude (once again) that something is missing, something is lacking, something is not.


Without reference to  depth beyond, signs only dance with other signs, images only refer to other images.

And I must say that I am not astonished at all to hear the pronouncement that if there are only signs and surface effects then the referent, along with the real world and the documentary photograph, is no longer, is no more, is dead.

The twist in the tale of this loss is not just that the logic should call for us to pronounce the loss of the real world, the death of a referent which authoritatively came before , but also that it first requires us to agree that the real world or referent was really ‘that’ and only that.

Abracadabra: deny the presence of something, say that it is no more, and then we come to affirm its presence, albeit absent.

I may say that the referent is only an effect of representation, only an effect of the sign. Yet glory be, the more the referent’s anteriority and authority is denied, and the more this is lamented as a loss, the more forcefully its presence, albeit absent, is affirmed.

The referent is dead: long live the referent. Oh! the world is a fabulous place.

There is yet another story which I have heard told, a tale which is somewhat more lengthy. In unsettling the one and the other, such that we become unsure which is ‘either’ and which is ‘or’, the line in the middle begins to gather momentum. The story here is that the line in the middle picks up speed and whilst doing so turns into a stream. In this tale a stream flows and gnaws away at its two banks; it picks up speed in the middle and carries away the one and the other. Here we have a stream – a line and a middle – which is without beginning or end. Here we have a stream – a line and a middle – which is without beginning or end.


M is for middles and many things. M is for the many stories and meanings that may be told. That we are neither one thing nor the other, that we are neither inside nor outside but somewhere between, may soon become a tale of numbing neutalisation. Indeed, the story may be told that indifference infects the land. All too quickly the line in the middle turns the land to sand and we become lost to the perpetual shifting of the bleached white sand.

Rather than turning all to desert sand, the unsettling of binary difference may turn into a tale of implosion. The story here is that the line in the middle mixes up the one and the other to such an extent that the very difference between the two inwardly collapses.


The relationship between one and the many ceases to be that of an opposition; the issue of difference has taken quite a different slant. That we may speak of a singularity is not a matter of seeking an inside and outside, a text and a context, a center and circumference. For in this tale we are in the world, indeed worlds, of networks and nodal points. And with this sort of milieu we shall never arrive at a thing-in-itself which has intrinsic properties independent of its environment.

Things turn out to be inter-connections between things which in turn are inter-connections between other things. yet these ‘lines’ (in the middle), these interconnections shall never lead us to an all-knowing Theory of Everything. There is always an element of uncertainty; these lines and connections rarely proceed in a straightforward manner. Any one con-nection may produce a multiplicity of effects – a multiplicity of other connections, other lines.

And here we require prudence: how will one line affect others? In this tale emphasis is put upon considering others; as the philosopher might say, ethics is given priority over epistemology and ontology.

In this tale where we are always enetering things in mid-flow, I hear that no one thing can assume the determining part, the cause or the origin.

For in this world it turns out that any such cause is already affected by other things.

Knowledge is not such a proclamation of certainty – I know that I know! – but more, as I heard from a Hebraic tradition, an understanding that any interpretation is provisional and open to alteration and re-interpretation. Any theory, any story, or indeed truth, is that which could always be otherwise.


‘So,’ the child remarks with zest, ‘maybe I shan’t be speaking of a loss of an independent real world or telling tales of the death of the referent. Perhaps I shall say that the existence of an independent real world is one story amongst others. As for apples and images – well, I might just tell the tale that with both ‘things’ and ‘signs’ (both nature and culture) we always start in the middle and that in so doing the question of the referent, its absence or presence, becomes more a question of connections, of effects and affects.

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