Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

One's Own Voice

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

One's Own Voice

Article excerpt

Everyone has a story, and to respect someone means concretely that the spouse, the teacher, the psychotherapist, the police officer listens to the story a person has to tell. But critical theory, psychoanalysis, anthropology, and culture studies have informed us to what extent we speak with the paradigms and embedded conceptions of our economic and political interests, our gender, our class, our culture, and of anonymous unconscious drives. Literary writers, and also spouses, troubled adolescents, and street people must discover how to speak with a voice that is their own. What makes what we sometimes say--in the words of the common language--our own?

We speak the common language of our country and of our profession, for the purpose of language, it is said, is to communicate. But how much of our language does not intend to communicate! All day we carry on in our heads a commentary on what we see and what we are doing and respond in words to what happens about us. This unspoken language is not addressed to anyone. And not only people afflicted with traumas and hallucinations, but each of us formulates a language that refuses to communicate. How, and why, does our own voice function to isolate us?

1. Languages

Every scientific discipline, ignoring utilitarian, social, and religious values, establishes a distinct language, constructed with distinct terms for chemistry, astronomy, or genetics, with distinct experimental methods, empirical reasoning, and theory-construction. Philosophers of science have long studied how these distinct languages are built and justified.

Today a whole panoply of specialists are studying other kinds of language. Critical theorists analyze the vocabulary, maxims, and rhetoric of ideologies. Psychoanalysts expose the unconscious drives, traumas, and fears that shape the language of people. Anthropologists disengage the Christian, Victorian, Romantic, or Orientalist ideologies in the ethnographies of the last generation. Academics in culture studies identify colonial language, Orientalist language, the language of Islamic or Christian fundamentalists. Literary critics study the paradigms and tropes distinctive of writers of a certain epoch and socio-economic class. Deconstruction brings out certain fundamental categories and dichotomies that structure all Western discourse, literature, and the sciences, too; it disengages what it calls the Western metaphysical system. Lawyers identify hate speech and speech that is derogatory of people of a certain gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. The media show the discourse of politicians to consist of sound bites and spin.

The media have all become interactive. They open the phones and we hear random individuals talking for thirty seconds, and we immediately recognize that this one is talking like a Republican, that one a single mother, that one a drug-user, that one a gun-owner.

Language speaks, Martin Heidegger wrote. Or, different languages speak in different communities, professions, groups. There is no private language, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote.

When someone there is standing before us, speaking directly to us, we have been cautioned that he is not speaking with his own voice, but speaking the language of his gender, his class, his sexual orientation, his culture, his economic and political interests, his unconscious drives. We do not receive what he says as simply stating his own insights, intentions, feelings; we interpret. We learn the code from psychoanalysts, critical theorists, anthropologists, deconstructionists, and we interpret for ourselves what he says.

2. What Anyone, Everyone Says

Philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that we discover--uncover and apprehend--things in our environment by advancing into our environment and manipulating things. Our environment takes form about us as a layout of objectives, paths, implements, and obstacles. Our bodies contract posture, diagrams of movement, and skills from others. …

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