Perspective

I woke up this morning thinking about today—not the today in the sense of this day, this morning, but in the relational sense of time. A close friend of mine and I were discussing the day’s news events last Thursday. I asked her the same question I always ask her when we catch up: “Did you hear what’s going on?” Normally this implies a sensational gossip tale. Not with us. Our relationship consists of discussions about the world, politics, and how we relate the two. In a lot of ways, we have similar views, usually keeping our conversations light and agreeable, which can be nice.

We have one significant difference between us: levels of awareness.

Whereas I immerse myself in current events, she likes to filter her attention on a more limited basis. We talked about our participation with social media—her on Facebook, me on Twitter. Our grasping of social and political issues usually stemming from each, respectively. Her stance is that she can limit how much she knows through only attending to specific groups on her medium, letting them provide her with what she calls “a heavily liberal slant.” She likes their views, and predominately agrees with their posts. I, on the other hand, take my news more global.

Specific reasons entice me to look at how people in other places are faring, what their social conditions are like. I subscribe to various international education pamphlets and newsletters. A favorite of mine is Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute’s newsletter (check it out here: http://www.penniesforpeace.org/central-asia-institute/ ). I find that connecting to people in other countries raises my awareness of what is at stake globally. It is hard to take my rights into consideration when I have no context or purpose in which to think about them. What’s more: my own socio-economic oppression usually means little comparatively; for this, I am grateful.

You may be asking, “What is she trying to say here?” And you would right to do so. I have a point somewhere; let me find it…

My intention is not to set up a dichotomy between me and my friend, quite the opposite. She truly feels more safe and in control of her life if she only attends to a specific level of involvement. Incidentally, I feel more comfortable in the chaos. What is beneficial to our friendship is the mediation between our levels of awareness. I constantly “harass” and inform her of specific news stories (especially those on Occupy Wall Street, more to come on that soon!) whether she likes it or not. Her sigh of resignation to yet another hour-long rant of why such and such is not cool or too cool permits my elocution. After such a discourse, she applies her logical, sound voice of reason to the story, and sees through its various systemic values. This calms me.

My dear friend and I have employed a community of practice: we both get our news from different places, and put them into conversation together. Our mutually exclusive discourses meet, connecting various ways of seeing to mediate our grasping of the larger social and political discourse. We report to each other. And this seemingly banal interaction was what I began thinking about this morning.

Every single day we participate in knowledge acquisition with those close to us. We engage in conversations about things that are meaningful in our lives to help us better understand them. All of us do this in some way.

This leaves me with a question for you all: who do you share the news with? How do the perspectives of the people in your lives inform you? If I am correct in my observations, discussing how we come to know our world through our participation in it only furthers our attachment to the issues at hand. I’m under the belief that it takes a community to change things. My curiosity in how we can increase our consciousness of interaction with each other starts here–within the context of talking with you.

Why write? Why here? Why not?

Il n’ya pas de hors-texte. ~Jacques Derrida

Many scholars have mulled over this one line endlessly, arguing and debating over just what Derrida means when he says, “There is nothing outside the text.” Is all we can learn from a text in the text? Does one text comprise an entire meaning? Maybe. I tend to read this as there is no outside to the text because everything is a text.[1] Our entire world is a conversation—our collective woven fabric. And, in this way, I’ve constructed myself into Derrida’s discourse. I take his words, and I do something with them.

For those of us that study composition and rhetoric, we acknowledge the social relationship between writers and readers of a text. We believe that discourse is something we speak; and it speaks us too. We work to challenge that relationship in the assertion of our identity. We use our voice and our agency to create a conversation between our self and everyone else.

So I’m going to ask you for a favor: do something with this text. Debate. Quibble. Nod in agreement. Toss the whole rubbish out. Or find a word or phrase that means something to you. Whatever you choose to do with this shows how my text operates; its purpose is to encourage talk, talk for talk’s sake.

I must confess. I use my agency all too liberally. I write often, and usually in excess. My voice is not gun shy. But it often isn’t heard. Thus here I am writing to you all in this ‘wild’ space with a purpose and a position. I’m writing to discuss the ways our world seeks to silence our voices. I’m writing to find out why we are constantly hindered from sharing each other’s discursive spaces. Over the last few months (years, arguably), our right and access to free speech has been slowly extinguished. We think we live in a country where the Freedom of Speech is a given, but it isn’t. Some would say it isn’t even an option. “Frozen” and carefully designated “free speech” “zones” redefine what exactly freedom is, and how we can speak it.

Our dominant culture has been busy acculturating subversive discourse markers since the 60s. Conservative think tanks realized how necessary it was to rework cultural values into more submissive and well-defined positions of identity. They use language to do this. While we go about our days working and educating ourselves, the dominant discourse has edged its way into our everyday speech. When we hear phrases like “the poor deserve to be poor; they don’t want to work” or “young adults don’t vote; they don’t care”, we hear the dominant discourse at work, telling us how things are. But they aren’t. And they certainly don’t have to be.

Bruce McComiskey says, “We cannot, therefore, revise cultural values until we understand their modes of contextual distribution and critical consumption as well” (27). [2] This means that we need to question in what ways the dominant discourse informs us through language. We need to study the mediums they use to produce language, how language creates cultural values for us, and how we can use our own language and ideas to push back.

This is going to be a difficult process. I will set out to interpret and analyze all the discourse I can. But I need your help. I need you to question me and question everything. Write these questions down, encourage response from the people around you. The only way we can change the discourse is by conversing with it. Cover me, I’m going in.


[1] Several scholars are under this assumption as well, most notably in the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism.

[2] McComiskey, Bruce. Teaching Composition as a Social Process.” Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2000.