Writer and critic based in New York. She holds a doctoral degree from Stony Brook University in art history and criticism with a certificate in cultural studies
Silent speech and the politics of intimacy
Speech matters – what we say, how we say it, and when we choose to speak or remain silent influence our relations with others. When we speak out-of-line we break invisible boundaries intentionally or inadvertently. Speech calms as well as incites. Withholding speech can constitute a rebuke; it creates distance; it also gives time for reflection. In certain societies, speech can put the speaker at risk of reprisal, even death.
Fearless speech, according to Foucault, is conducted by citizens. Who sings the nation state? asks Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak. In conflicts around the world, the relation of speech to legitimacy is critical.
Speech also permeates our personal and intimate lives. We hold an ambiguous relation to it, feeling inadequate to the task of thoughtful communication yet we chat endlessly without much ado via texting, email, or voicemail. Speech comes with great responsibility but little awareness of the privileging and regulation of speakers. Political power regulates speech. Moral and psychological pressures curtail speech. In psychoanalysis, speech is a primary tool of healing yet the speech of trauma victims is imperiled by lack of trust and inhibited by insecurity. Speech legitimates while language expresses. As Ludwig Wittgenstein writes: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
This paper presents recent work by artists from Latin America, Spain, Iceland, Estonia, Armenia, Lebanon, and the US to consider the limitations of language and the transgression of speech into silence. For Francis Alÿs: “Poetic license operates like a hiatus – an agent provocateur, a short circuit – into the apathy of a situation that finds itself in the state of political, social, confessional, ethnic, economic or military crisis or lethargy” (Beirut 2008). In a similar strategy of rupture, the duo of Libia Castro & Olafur Olafsson exposes the language of the nation-state in scripting juridical interference into our most discrete intimacies. Their work is collective without being populist, employing a Brechtian sensibility of alienation to blur divisions between artistic and social practice.
The collective of Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, David Thorne et al also highlights judicial language in a word-for-word performance of the Kafka-esque transcript pages of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals conducted by the US Department of Defense between July 2004 and March 2005 in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to reveal a mesmerizing study in erasure as witness, evidence, and identity are withheld from the record. In this sense, Wittgenstein’s “limits” are shrouds of secrecy and indecency. Nayda Collazo-Llorens intervenes into public space as an interface between the everyday violence of her native Puerto Rico and the excess of Internet ‘noise’ that acts, in her work Revolú*tion, as “writing on the wall” – in the sense of impending doom and ironic imagination. Lina Siib, Astghik Melkonyan, and Rabih Mroué as neo-documentarians using strategies of unveiling, mark the collapse of social and political promises and the resulting impact on individual lives.
Finally, Fred Wilson in a recent failure to create a public monument in recognition of the African Diaspora, past and present, and the legacy of collective trauma within public memory reveals a discrepancy between who gives speech to public space and what can be said in an atmosphere of a rising neo-liberalism and its definition of progress. The prevalence of the use of “found” text in these artists’ work suggests a rupture if not a complete breakdown in our manner of communication. Looking at the contradictory meanings of the word stasis (for both inaction and revolution), the metaphor of walking as the locutionary seat of language (here/there, I/you), and the mutable boundaries between political and intimate speech, this paper takes as its point of departure Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship to frame a reflection on a politics of intimacy.