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

You are here

Political Silence: Notes Towards Day 21 (Tues, Nov. 17)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 2:25-2:45: silence by Julia & Sula
for Thursday: Farida

II. 2:45-2:50 coursekeeping
* welcoming Amy and Hannah:
tell us what you're doing here/looking for/
what would be helpful for your project?

* for the next three class periods, we're going to focus on

Gayl Jones' novel, Eva's Man, and Megan Sweeney's chapter
about reading it in prison; there's hard material here around
sexual abuse and other kinds of violence; it hit me hard when
I started re-reading it y'day morning. My thought now is for us
to enter it slowly, by starting with Sweeney's analysis on Thursday,
then looking directly @ the novel on the Tuesdays before/after
break (though this goes counter to my general inclination to
read the novel first, then look @ the critique/interpretation).
What is your preference? remember last month, reading Rigoberta
first, then Sommers' analysis? counter-wise, reading the analyses
of Wideman's writing, before we read his memoir about his brother?
Which worked better for you?

so, we agree: for Thursday, read...?

also by 5 p.m. on tomorrow, your 6th short posting is due for me:
your further afterthoughts or anticipations about 'literary' silence.

III. looking back to Thursday's class, using Balaev to re-read Woman Warrior:
Han: Michelle Balaev is trying to argue that "trauma" ... is not
necessarily equivalent to "history" as being static and as never changing fact.

Rhett: i wonder if the idea of “before and after” trauma should not be complicated …
trauma, as well as recovery…can be ongoing, can be “repetitious, timeless, and
unspeakable, yet… also literal, contagious, and mummified”….[an
incarcerated individual from the trailer:]  “today defines me. right now
defines me….life is right now.”

responses in class from Tong, Han about feeling disconnected
from this narraitve, which reinforces stereotypes, raises questions
about "not being Chinese" if you don't carry cross-generational trauma;
and what about cross-generational pride...?

any further thoughts along these/other lines...?

IV. our "shadow text" today is Jason Stanley's NYTimes piece
[which so interested Julia--how linguistics can silence people]
Stanley's article was about "Ways of Silencing" in political discourse,
how manipulating language can remove the ability to communicate;
he reviewed
linguistic strategies for stealing the voices of others,
such as representing them as insincere, and so undermining public trust;
using propaganda, denying access to vocabulary to express their claims

we have three texts on the table today, by Tillie Olsen,
Adrienne Rich, and Wendy Brown,
to help us work through
some of these questions about "political silence":

sound out O/R/B/O/R/B-then re-group in 5's
to "be"/"occupy" Olsen, Rich or Brown -->
what is each of them saying?
what might they have to say to one another?
how might they "rub up" against one another?

If you get through that...
how do you see their analyses explaining/
interrupting earlier texts, like those by
Rigoberta Menchu,
Robert Wideman,
Maxine Hong Kingston?

V. return to large group, speaking "as" [for/against?] your author:
* what is intriguing/interesting/useful/problematic/
troubling to you about the arguments of Olsen, Rich and Brown?

* for ex: how do you understand the juxtapostion of Rich's "stop lying!" (= being discreet)
with Brown's caution that "breaking silence" can silence those it means to empower?
how do each of these positions intersect with Olsen's stories?

* how might these arguments apply to you/your life/your initiatives?

Reading Notes
Rich, "Arts of the Possible":
vs. Psyche's task of separation, her work of connection
abrupt re-shuffling of our national project:
self-congratulatory self-promotion of
capitalism as global, transnational order
"In the vocabulary kidnapped from liberatory politics,
no word has been so pimped as freedom."
concerns as citizen, and as poet: hate speech, language of contempt,
shallowness, silence: what is rendered unspeakable, thus unthinkable
"Every real poem is the breaking of an existing silence..."
silence can be fertilizing, a condition of vision
but I adhor dead silence:
"where langauge needed to be and was prevented"
the silence of displacement
cf. power of social critique in '70s women's liberation
on the other side of silence: enormous differences
among women's experiences
need to move beyond emotional support group, do political work
"identity" synonym for "safe space":
stifling self-reference and narrow group chauvinism
women's liberation: "visionary relation to reality"
packaging and marketing of each generation's prefabricated desires/needs
deplored the retreat into the personal as a current fetish of mass-market culture
relationship of ind'l to community: always the richest, most complex question
With whom do you believe your lot is cast?
moral ecology of nonaccountable economy
(Marx: possession as alienation of all physical, spiritual senses)
mean-spiritedness: parochial, provincial strain in greater social texture
in prison: "barest illusion of rehabilitation...
replaced by dehumanization by design"
Each of these wmen and men "inside" has, or once had,
a self to offer the world, a presence ... the slippage toward prison ...
of those ... who feel themselves becoming social and ecoomic discards...
what happens behind bars ... isn't sealed off from the quality of civil life
everything that has fertilized and sustained my workd is in danger
I wil try to write ... out of my time.
the writer searches to keep alive the conversation with "the lost community"
Eduardo Galeano: For whom do we write, whom do we reach?
I question the 'free' market's devotion to freedom of expressio.
freedom to comunicate can't be severed from
universal public education and universal public access to the word
universal public education has two possible--and contradictory--
missions:... the development of a literate, articualte, and well-
informed citizenry ... [and] the perpetuation of a class system
to choose a vast, shared, public schooling ...
would mean changing almost everything else
We need to begin changing the questions:
What constitutes ownership? What is work?
How can people be assured of a just share in
the products of their precious human exertions?
What is social wealth?
What does revolution mean to us?
if we care about the freedom of the word ...
we will care about economic justice
free enterprise can have no stake in other realms of value
capitalism's drive to invade the zones of feeling and relationship
We do have choices
Writers and intellectuals may help question the questions,
tuned for the possible, unrealized, irrepressible design...
"Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying"
we need a new ethics; problem of speech is primary
power of "deafness," frustration of speech by
those who do not want to hear what we have to say
How to "hear each other into speech"?
Lying is done with words, and also with silence.
The liar lives in fear of losing control.
Amnesia is the silence of the unconscious.
An honorable human relationship...a process...
of refining the truths they can tell each other.
We have been expected to lie with our bodies...
It is know the lies of our complicity from the lies we believed.
Women have been forced to lie...How to unlearn this among other women?
danger run by all powerless people .... lying becomes a weapon we carry
over into relationships with people who do not have power over us
phrases which help us not to admit we are lying:
"my privacy," "nobody's business but my own"
lying (described as discretion) becomes
an easy way to avoid conflict or complication
The liar is afraid ... lying is what cowards do.
I didn't want to cause pain. What she really did
not want is to have to deal with the other's pain.
"politics" seems to rest on a longing
for certainty even at the cost of honesty
The possibilities that exist between two people ...
are the most interesting thing in life.
The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities ...
we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.
The possibility of life between us.

Wendy Brown, "Freedom's Silences":
Hegel: freedom is realized and negated in the act of choosing, is self-canceling
so too silence convened, broken, organized by speech
it is possible to make a fetish of breaking silence:
this ostensible tool of emancipation carries techniques of subjugation

interrogate presumed authenticity of "voice"
silence has a political value, is a means of preserving existence from the regulatory power of public exposure
privitization of public life via compulsive, compulsory cataloguing of details of marginalized lives
intended as a practice of freedom, productions of truth may chain us
to injurious history and the stations of our small lives

compulsory discursivity
pre-Focauldian quality of belief in expression as setting us free
speech seen as expressive and repressive: freedom equaled with voice, visibility,
recognition seen as unproblematic, powerful and pleasurable
but speaking has regulatory potential, capacity to bind

Foucault: 'silence and secrecy are a shelter for power, but they also loosen its hold
his example: putative freedom of homosexual practice prior to discourse about it
silence broken by new public discourse may lead to abjection, censure, regulation
liminality of invisibility may be mild compared to denunciation, criminalization

critical difference between unitary discourses (which regulate and colonize) and those that do not
silence signifies a particular relation to regulatory discourses,
as well as a possible niche for practice of freedom within them
silences are discursively produced as part of discourse--
and scene of practices that escape regulation, source of protection and power
practicing freedom in interstices of discourse and in resistance to it

Foucault's anecdote: appreciation of sielnce in petit bourgeois, provincial mileau--
obligation of speaking, of making conversation very strange and boring: why people have to speak?

Toni Morrison on kinds of language that are silencing (official language, a suit of armor)
progressive/liberatory political discourses that became institutional;
political identity experienced as policing language

subjugated knowledges accredited, put into circulation run risk of re-codificaiton, recolonisation
potentially subversive discourse can be colonized (like countercultural fashion,
discourse of multiculturalism, premenstrual syndrome, women's experience universalized in law
as keyed to sexual violation--particularly unemancipatory for sexual outlaws)

regulatory fiction of particular identity deployed to displace hegemonic fiction of universal personhood
breaking silence can metamorphose into new techniques of domination:
confessions become norms by which we are regulated
confessing injury can attach us to it, paralyze us within it, prevent us from seeking status other than injured

confessional discourse can constitute a regulatory truth about an identity group
confession reinstates a unified discourse, in which the story of greatest suffering becomes the true one
norm-making process in "breaking silence" can silence those it means to empower,
condemn to permanent identification: living in present dominated by past

to speak incessantly of suffering is to silence possibilities of overcoming it,
to overwhelm alternative zones of experience; silence might articulate other possibilities...
ARich: silence as a pond where drowned things LIVE (rather than being surfaced into discourse)

to speak repeatedly of trauma: encoding it as identity, fixed in stereotype rather than working through it
discourses of survivorship = stories in which one refuses to live in the present, preserving trauma
putting into discourse can sacrifice autonomy, imperil creativity, privacy, integrity

are we so accustomed to being watched that we cannot feel real unless we are reporting?
compulsory discursivity: confessional subject runs amok,
populist valorization of common experience, disdain for reflection

confessing is not working through experience
capacity to be silent might be a measure of freedom, resistance to discourse of anxiety
(along with capacity for public speaking)

refusing to speak as a mode of resistance, deployed from below as a method of refusing complicity,
but still a strategy for negotiating domination, not sign of emancipation
Pat Wms "manumitted into silence": emancipated yet not heard, seen, recognized
place of reprieve, yet only "freedom from," not freedom to make the world

"Everyday class discussion is public speaking, too" (?)