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samuel.terry's picture

Link to Radiolab Podcast "Words":

In our discussion on Thursday, Anne pulled some lines from "Seeing Gender" that talked about "imagining language as a place of possibility, as opposed to a simple scripted repersentation;" we talked about signs and signifiers, repersentations and mimicry and related it all back to gender. This conversation reminded me of a podcast I listened to a while back called "Words". (I have conveniently linked the podcast above and I highly suggest you listen to it right now!). I relistened to it and thought about it in the context of gender. The general theme of the piece is, what do words do for us? are they neccasary? can you think without them? It's fitting that in each of these questions the word "words" could be replaced with the word "gender" and you could have an equally revolutionary conversation. Both socially constructed things seem so essential to life in our ability relate to ourselves and others. I'm currently struggling to articulate many of the thoughts I have and I'm hesitant to come to conclusions before others (I hope) have a chance to engage with the podcast but here are a couple preliminary reactions:

 They talk about language being an act of trading symbols and with the capacity to do that we not only gain the power to communicate that symbol to another person but the symbol itself is somehow more authentic to the communicater. This thought is continued when they talk about how language not only serves as a mechanism to exchange information with others but gives one the ability to actually construct ideas. Essentially, asserting that thought itself is but an internal dialogue that cannot exist without language. Later they go on to say that personhood is simply a story you tell yourself about what happened to your body overtime. For me, gender has always been an essential part of that internal dialogue, integral to my individual personhood and the story of my body. I am of the belief that naming is a claiming act- that, in giving something a name, in choosing the word(s) through which I will continue to identify this thing, it becomes mine in this small way. Having a vocabulary for an experience puts us a little less at its mercy.  I believe that gender, an experience that we rarely claim but is thrust upon us, requires  an extended naming, a new language; one that can reverse the synthesis that takes all of these pieces that have, for eternity, been lashed together and deemed “man” or “woman” and spills out everything that has been locked behind their one-word name. One-word naming is stingy with language- it allows a full-bodied experience one chance, a handful of letters, to encompass everything that it means. I'm looking forward to finding that language with you guys!