Moving Toward Muteness

  1. Forgive, please, this muddled post, more a dialogue with myself than intended for general readership but ‘published’ as a sort of Foucauldian attempt to overcome internal resistance.
  2. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre wrote, “…. the ‘meaning’ of my expressions always escapes me. I never know if I signify what I wish to signify….As soon as I express myself, I can only guess of the meaning of what I express-i.e. the meaning of what I am.”
  3. Lately I binged on Sontag’s essays. Central to her work are themes of alienation, negation, and a term she uses that I particularly embrace, disburdenment, in the sense of intellectual, or cultural disburdenment. How to refine one’s filters, to jar one’s pre-conceived narratives? Can it be done solely using cultural and intellectual expedients?
  4. Foucault in The Use of Pleasure talks of ‘technologies of the self’ as “models proposed for setting up and developing relationships with the self, for self-reflection, self-knowledge, self-examination, for deciphering the self by oneself, for the transformation one seeks to accomplish with oneself as object”.
  5. Lately I find myself moving toward muteness, different from silence; refraining from personal expression, not due to a failing of language, but out of a fundamental boredom with myself, not entirely rooted in self-absorption, more with what I signify as a heterosexual, white male (the lowest difficulty setting there is). If I am profoundly bored with much of the cultural outpourings of university-educated, middle-class, straight white men, what more should I add to the discourse but muteness?
  6. Remember the arm-wrestling match in The Old Man and the Sea? Mano a mano, in which the compulsion to settle into muteness struggles with a deep rooted urge to (re)create, to narratively recreate oneself.
  7. One of the fundamental claims Foucault makes of confession is that the confessor does not know the truth. “…silence, …. the things one declines to say or is forbidden to name, functions alongside the things said …. There is no binary division to be made between what one says and what one does not say.”

13 thoughts on “Moving Toward Muteness

  1. I understand (or at least have my own understanding of) what you’re saying about muteness. But I find that very concept interesting. (Doesn’t this also relate to Beckett? I’m not a Beckett reader so only know him by osmosis.) There’s a difference between thinking one’s private thoughts/journaling and writing for an unknown/unknowable audience. Don’t know if you would find this quotation from Rebecca Solnit relevant (Saying the things it is not possible to say http://www.janhenderson.com/self/saying-the-things-it-is-not-possible-to-say/ ),

    Whether or not you continue, your blog has already been a big influence on how I think of my own blogging. I hope you will continue.

    • Jan, thank you for your comment.

      The interior forces that impel me towards muteness are deeply personal. It is impossible to disentangle what part Beckett’s work contributes to these forces, given the importance of his work to me.

      Thanks for that Solnit quotation, it is very relevant, as I try to balance conflicting demands of a compulsion for muteness, an impulse for confession, and a reluctance to indulge is prolonged self absorption.

      I hope to continue blogging.

      • This very post would be proof enough why what *you* have to say greatly defers from what the average heterosexual white male is saying. Think about that before you go mute, my friend. Maybe it should be exactly the opposite and you should write here more often what you feel to say!

  2. Anthony, I’d encourage you to reconsider the “signification”/significance of yourself in point #5 as a reason for muteness. Replace “white men” with “black men,” “Asian men,” and “white women,” for example, and ask yourself if finding yourself fundamentally bored with works created by those groups lately would make you give up on their works entirely as well. Go mute or don’t go mute as one sees fit, I say, but at the same time I don’t think one should penalize oneself for things that are out of one’s control.

    • Richard, it isn’t a question of penalising myself for being a straight white man. My boredom is rooted in the cultural dominance of the voice of the straight white man, which is overly prevalent. It is no different from my tendency to avoid American cultural outpourings, which are too dominant and homogenous.

      Thankfully I occasionally ignore these strictures to discover something wonderful like Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. There are also SWM and SWM, you’ll never separate me from Beckett, Geoff Dyer or Coetzee, but these are cases that rise above that homogenous droning that I have become increasingly bored by.

  3. Maybe not the impotence of language, but the experience of the impotence of the mechanism of your subjectivity in wielding it? I am curious about your distinction between silence and muteness, but also wonder whether you think that by denying voices to people who occupy a locus (or loci) of privilege in society, whether this will give the “marginalized” a more accessible or appreciated form of expression? Is this actually privileging the modes/mediums of discourse which, appear to create, perpetuate or legitimize power relations (like your own) rather than accepting the malleable nature of language and art in reshaping relations (I guess this would also depend on how you distinguish silence and muteness). If historically, only marginalized or oppressed voices were allowed to speak, then would muteness be a privileged means of historicising? Love your posts! Celeste.

    • If I can make an analogy with sight, muteness is distinct from silence in the same way that blindness is different from shutting one’s eyes. Muteness is a denial that I feel myself moving towards, for no other reason than boredom with my voice, and with the homogenous nature of cultural discourse from what I loosely label as straight, white middle-class men (there are, of course, exceptions … You wouldn’t prise me from my Beckett). I find myself wondering how I can disburden myself of a particular way of reading the world.

      Your question is fascinating, Celeste, deeply so, but I am struggling to articulate my project of disburdenment. How it would work at a societal level is superb food for speculation, and food for another time. Whatever the consequences, if I were offered a button that would render every straight, white, middle-class man mute for one year (no speech, no text) I would not hesitate for a second to push it.

  4. I like this. A lot. I am obsessed with silence in it’s different forms, and although you make the distinction here, it still sparks something for me. As I understand it, you are choosing to be mute because you can not add anything to the external dialogue. I wonder, though, what is happening to your internal dialogue? Is it becoming quieter as well? Are you becoming merely a detached observer, or is your mind engaged in the present?

    • Angela, I have not chosen to be mute, but feel myself moving towards muteness. The movement is not inexorable, or due to having nothing to add to cultural discourse, however limited my contribution might be. I find myself bored with much of the outpourings of this cluster I am crudely labelling straight, white, middle-class men, in which I include myself. I find it hard to articulate precisely my frustration, but that is probably symptomatic. The project that I am trying to move toward is one of disburdenment of the inherent limitation of being, and remaining, a member of this cluster. Does that make any sense at all?

  5. Anthony, What do you hope to gain from disburdening yourself “of the inherent limitation of being”? Gadamer’s Truth and Method comes to my mind. Perhaps it offers a solution. Anonymiss

    • Anonymiss, I’d like a filter change on how I interpret things, if that is possible, an interpretative framework that is richer than that shaped by my gender, sexuality and colour. I hope that I’ve made progress in this direction over the years, but still find myself slipping into stereotypical, privileged thinking sometimes.

      Gadamer’s work is new to me and Truth and Method look interesting. Thank you for that suggestion.

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