They do not shatter the moment their strategic

This preview shows page 1 - 2 out of 5 pages.

when they are broken once. They do not shatter the moment their strategic function has been exposed, but must be assaulted repeatedly with stories, histories, theories, and discourses in alternate registers until the silence itself is rendered routinely intelligible as a historically injurious force . In this way, those historically excluded from liberal personhood have proceeded against the spectrum of silences limning the universal claims of humanist discourse for the past several centuries. Jews, immigrants, women, people of color, homosexuals, the unpropertied: all have pressed themselves into civic belonging not simply through asserting their personhood but through politicizing—articulating—the silent workings of their internally excluded presence within prevailing notions of personhood. But while the silences in discourses of domination are a site for insurrectionary noise , while they are the corridors to be filled with explosive counter tales, it is also possible to make a fetish of breaking silence. It is possible as well that this ostensible tool of emancipation carries its own techniques of subjugation—that it converges with unemancipatory tendencies in contemporary culture, establishes regulatory norms, coincides with the disciplinary power of ubiquitous confessional practices; in short, it may feed the powers it meant to starve . Neither a defense of silence nor an injunction to silence, this essay interrogates the presumed authenticity of “ voice ” in the implicit equation between speech and freedom entailed in contemporary affirmations of breaking silence . Borrowing tacitly from Foucault’s theorization of confessional discourse, Joan W. Scott’s problematization of experience, and Shoshana Felman’s and Dori Laub’s identification of our time as the age of testimony,1 the essay asks whether our contemporary crisis of truth has not been displaced into an endless stream of words about ourselves, words that presume to escape epistemological challenges to truth because they are personal or experiential. It asks as well whether this stream of words does not perpetuate the crisis of which it is a symptom. In the course of this inquiry, silence is considered as not simply an aesthetic but a political value, a means of preserving certain practices and dimensions of existence from regulatory power, from normative violence, as well as from the scorching rays of public exposure . A link is examined, too, between, on the one hand, a contemporary tendency concerning the lives of public figures the confession or extraction of every detail (sexual, familial, therapeutic, financial) of private and personal life––and, on the other, a putatively countercultural or emancipatory practice: the compulsive putting into public discourse of heretofore hidden or private experiences, from catalogues of sexual pleasures to litanies of sexual abuses, from chronicles of eating disorders to diaries of home births and gay parenting.

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture