Academic journal article Theory in Action

Performative Writing as Tool for Social Change

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Performative Writing as Tool for Social Change

Article excerpt

According to the Critical Art Ensemble, in our society (a pancapitalist society), "the education system and the media have become the dominant institutions of socialization" (14). If this is the case, and I believe it is, it is important to look to these institutions to see what it takes to 'succeed' and whether or not this 'success' can be challenged. I would argue that the single most important thing in both these institutions is the ability to communicate or use language 'effectively'. More specifically, education emphasizes the need to write in a way that prescribes to certain established norms. The media reinforces these norms in their hiring practices and in deciding what is fit to print or televise, ultimately marginalizing 'others'. Following this course of logic it would make sense that writers are very influential. However Minh-ha reminds us that in the current situation, "with such discrimination and opposition, it is hardly surprising that the writer should be viewed as a social parasite... her/his living largely relies on the generosity of that portion of society called the literate" {Woman, Native, Other 10). Here lies the problem of who are the literate, and what type of literacy is recognized. Therefore, I believe that we need to recognize and use 'alternative' forms of communication or ways in which to convey meaning, whether that is through visual art, performance, dance, or in the case of this paper, new forms of "literary art" as Minh-ha would call it. More specifically I will take a deeper look at 'alternative' writing styles, where they arose from, why they emerged, what some of these forms look like to point out their possibilities and challenges for social change in the future.

"As focal point of cultural consciousness and social change, writing weaves into language the complex relations of a subject caught between the problems of race and gender and the practice of literature as the very place where social alienation is thwarted differently according to each specific context" (Minh-ha Woman, Native, Other 6). With such an intense emphasis on writing, as the 'focal point of cultural consciousness and social change' the writer has a very important and extremely challenging role. Minh-ha continues to emphasize the role of the writer, "Charged with intentionality, writing is therefore disclosing (a secret), and reading is believing. The writer as a personified releaser of meaning produces envelopes whose more or less brilliant colors serve to decorate 'the (theological) message" {Woman, Native, Other 30). The writer is endowed with an immense amount of power and shapes society's understanding of what is real and what matters (or gets counted). Therefore the perspectives of marginalized others are often avoided. This new type of performative writing would represent all viewpoints, including those in style and presentation. Minh-ha's work uses different forms of conveying meaning including storytelling, poetry and filmmaking from a third-world woman's perspective. But where else can we move to challenge the 'traditional' ways of writing?

Minh-ha describes writing similar to "a game that defies its own rules, as an ongoing practice that may be said to be concerned, not with inserting 'me' into language, but with creating an opening where the 'me' disappears while T endlessly come and go, as the nature of language requires" {Woman, Native, Other 35). She suggests a move away from individualistic narcissistic thinking and writing towards a direction to remove barriers between the 'me' and the 'Other.' According to Minh-ha, writing should 'defy its own rules' and I would extend this not only in form, but also in topic including histories not normally told. While at the same time recognizing the importance of letting the writer move fluidly through the text without claiming authority. Rather, writing as a reflection of living in our social world. At the moment the author claims authority the separation is re-established and important connections are eliminated. …

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