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Impressions from A Journey into Speech

Dan's picture

Having just finished Michelle Cliff's "A Journey Into Speech", my mind is running through associations. Images were conjured of Bertha, the voiceless character in Jane Eyre whom Mr. Rochester locks in the attack until she eventually burns the house down.  Bertha's story is later written by a Caribean woman in Wide Sargasso Sea, because this caged woman is not only denied a voice in Jane Eyre, but she also has no history of her own, until Jean Rhys creates it.  

I also thought of Audrey Lorde's quote about refusing the use the masters tools to dismantle the master's house. Cliff talks about her apprehension to using the essay form to write about Speechlessness, which makes sense. Instead, she advocates "mixing in the forms taught us by the oppressor, undermining his language, and co-opting his style, and turning it to our purpose" (33). Language is a space of intense, often unseen oppression, and I think that the decision to reject and then re-establish certain elements of language is an incredibly empowering one. Why must we use these words which exist, this grammatical structure, if it's inherently oppressive? We can navigate it, once we recognize it. 

Also, words that struck me from the piece were self-hatred, "civilized," and "split consciousness." I've heard someone say before that living bilingually is like having two souls, because language is so full of cultural identity and switching between two is moving between two identities. Thus, I imagine being denied one's language, being forced to assume the colonizer's language, is unconsensually assuming the soul, the identity of that oppressor. Silencing ones true self and using the master's voice.