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.

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