Friday, July 28, 2006


Silence,Violence, language, Being

In reading the following quotes, please consider the questions:

How does the verb "to be" render language violent?

Predication, after all, is agency, action, movement of one object in relation to another. Can we use language in a world which is constantly dynamic, changing, fluctuating, without inserting selfhood into it? Am I correct in assuming that the verb to "be" is about "self" (I, you, he..)? What happens when the "self" is removed, completely, from a text? If there is no "to be", then there are no selves.

What are we, then?

Without selves, there are no subjects, and without subjects, there are no objects.

What would we be, then?

Ghosts in a world that happens around us? A kind of Borg, absorbing and absorbable into one huge entity? And how can there be responsibility without the "being", the self?

Any system as a system implies a beyond it by virtue of that which it excludes. Language as a system exists through a regulated process of re-iteration, so that all signification takes place within this frame of compulsory repetition. Every concept gains significance through a process of exclusion, as language in its attempt to represent reality simultaneously homogenizes it.

Beware, my friend, of the signifier that would take you back to the authority of a signi-fied! […] "Common" nouns are also proper nouns that disparage your singularity by classifying it into species" (Cixous 1976: 892).

Thus, language itself produces silences since every word, every concept run the risk of violence through the exclusion or assimilation of multiplicity. Critical discourses (like feminism and postcolonialism) seek to focus on this beyond that exceeds the limit of a system of representation that is persistently sought to be assimilated to the system by violence. According to Derrida all discourse is originally violent, whereby "a speech produced without the least violence would determine nothing, would say nothing, would offer nothing to the other […] it would be speech without phrase" (1978: 147). For Levinas, Derrida tells us, "nonviolent language would be a language which would do without the verb to be, that is without predica-tion. Predication is the first violence", whereby "violence appears with articulation" (ibid: 147f.). This raises the question of whether a non-violent responsiveness to that which remains irreducibly 'other' to any structure of representation is possible? Or is violence inscribed in the very mode of discourse as assimilation of alterity? To open the possibility of a non-violent relation to the other demands responsibility."[…] by the ethical relation I mean to indicate the aspiration to a nonviolent relation to the Other, and to otherness more generally, that assumes responsibility to guard the Other [sic] against the appropriation that would deny her difference and singularity" (Cornell 1992: 62)

A critical and utopian perspective on non-violence explores possibilities of overcoming the 'internalised' violence that structure socio-cultural relations. Responsibility, for Derrida, is composed of 'response' plus 'ability', that is, the ability to respond, to hear, whereby it is a play of listening and speaking. This would entail listening to that which has been silenced in speech

. ...

Here is this poem ( from Normand de Bellefeuille's "Categoriques 1 2 3" and istranslated by Doug Jones) :

The father. The predicate.

The family.

Sometimes, the shambles."

Nouns only. No verb "to be" anywhere in sight. Instead, we have an explicit naming of the verb action in language: The predicate. The agent of action.

Who is the agent of action?

There is the father who is the law. Then there is the mother who is the predicate of the law. Who does she act upon? The family. And families are often the scenes of butchery.

So, can we say that a text without the verb "to be" is always non-violent? Or maybe the verb "to be" is hidden somewhere, concealed from the naked eye of the reader. It is concealed in "The father". The father is. The mother acts. The family suffers.

Is this what they mean when they speak of the violence of silence, when it is between words? Is violence more violent if it is muted, silent, concealed?


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