Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Musings on Cliff

jo's picture

Cliff addressed speech in a way that I haven’t really seen before but with which I totally identify. I’ve often struggled with my written voice, and had a more difficult time expressing myself this way than using my spoken voice. I think part of it is that I get hung up on word choice and organization, on having correct, acceptable, even beautiful writing, and I get lost, or rather I lose what I want to say. Cliff’s “Notes on Speechlessness” are written in noteform because formal writing “would have contradicted the idea of speechlessness,” and there have been many times when I’ve had complex ideas I’ve wished to express (particularly in essays) and have been unable to develop completely.

Cliff’s explanation of her own journey into speech makes me feel a bit more at ease about my inability to describe or work through certain ideas in written English, and at the same time I feel somewhat bad or hypocritical for saying this.

“To write as a Caribbean woman…demands of us retracing the African part of ourselves, reclaiming as our own, and as our subject, a history sunk under the sea, or scattered as potash in the canefields, or gone to bush, or trapped in a class system notable for its rigidity and absolute dependence on color stratification. On a past bleached from our minds… It means also… mixing in the forms taught us by the oppressor, undermining his language and co-opting his style, and turning it into our purpose”

I love this quote, and yet I feel that, as I am not a Caribbean woman, or a woman of any oppressed race, it should not be so hard for me to write. I don’t necessarily have to do all of that in order to write, the language of the oppressor is the language of my ancestors, which is not the case for Cliff.

But then who is the oppressor? From what I’ve seen, the oppressor is also oppressed, and certainly I am a woman who has learned everything I know, including my language from the same oppressive, patriarchal society...

At this point I'm not really sure where I'm going with this and it's after 5 so I'm gonna post.