Feminist Theories: The futility of language

The futility of language is a concept which came up a number of times in the readings for this weekend, both through the abstractness/inaccessibility of the writings themselves and in the discussion of language directly. Specifically, Luce Irigaray opens “When Our Lips Speak Together” by saying that “if we keep on speaking the same language together, we’re going to reproduce the same history…. If we keep on speaking sameness, if we speak to each other as men have been doing for centuries, as we have been taught to speak, we’ll miss each other, fail ourselves. Again” (205). She proceeds to construct a text that I could understand only on some oddly confused “poetic” level.

I admire the desire and the practice of creating a new language. According to linguistics, a language fits the needs of its community. According to muted group theory, language is the product of the dominant/dominating group, a tool to perpetuate its domination by not allowing for expression the specific experiences of marginalized people. I do not see how these ideas have to be mutually exclusive. Local dialects can prove both, and perhaps offer an alternative, however paltry, to muted group theory, as do the attempts by these French feminists to recreate language, which are clearly much more elaborate and, therefore, revolutionary.

Ever since I heard about muted group theory years ago and got interested in linguistics a bit more recently than that, new words and reconfigurations of words are always on my mind. My favorite words are those that are combinations of words (e.g., “contradefinition,” “metasophical”) and I particularly love to reclaim big words, often traditionally used only in the academy or the avant-garde, and injecting them into every-day speech (e.g., “contradistinction,” “caveat,” “obviate”). This is usually for comedic purposes but also serves a political function (through its function as a parody): It brings to attention the absurdity of much of our language, the absurdity that much of it is reserved only for those with the education for it, and it therefore gives people a chance to gain a new positive association with this type of language—i.e., through laughter—instead of just feeling lost, defensive, uneducated, alienated.

But then, I want to reach the masses. That’s my goal, specifically in my political theatre, and more specifically in the play I’ve written and am directing for my senior project. I have attempted, mainly through dialogue (as it’s a very dialogue- and ideas-based play), to create an accessible and unalienating play about marginalization (that also happens to be very funny and entertaining) that can appeal to all types of people, not just those with similar education levels and political beliefs as myself. This serves as a way to open up people, gradually, to new ideas and new ways of thinking about the world.

I have struggled, though, especially in the writing process, to convey my ideas properly. I can trace this to the fact that, in wanting to use accessible, conversational language, I am often at a loss. In a way, this process has increased my understanding of and appreciation for attempts to (re)create language (I have, traditionally, just felt bitter—lost, defensive, uneducated, alienated). Now, having a grasp on it better, as well as understanding personally its dangers, I can now attempt, in my own work, to find a nice balance.


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