Thinking of how to answer the question “What is ‘writing’?” overwhelms me greatly. I tweeted this today: “My first writing assignment of the quarter is to define ‘writing’. Since when did my mentor want my dissertation?!” (@leslieheme). And I kinda have to laugh at this near-truth. It is true that I want to attempt to answer this question when I get to my dissertation. That is because I find writing as a speech act so very complex. If a dissertation may not cover it, how can a simple Blackboard post?
I go to Derrida for help, naturally. Derrida opens his essay “Scribble (writing-power)” with the question: “Who Can Write? What Can Writing Do?” (Derrida 117). This is what I first think of when I think of writing—power. Not the act itself, but the selves who can compose. Then I wonder what composing looks like. Is writing only writing by the hand? No. Writing is many, many acts of speech. Writing is type, poetry, prose, code; writing is sitting down in the middle of a street during a protest in a speech act that writes “I do not acquiesce” upon one’s body. Powerful, each.
Derrida says this of writing [befalling] power:
It excludes in advance the identification of writing as power or the recognition of power from the onset of writing. It auxiliarizes and hence aims to conceal the fact that writing and power never work separately, however complex the laws, the system, or the links of their collusion may be…Writing does not come to power. It is there beforehand, it partakes and is made of it. (117)
So I guess I should elaborate on how writing and power are connected for me if I am to fulfill this assignment in any relative way.
Writing and power intertwine because speech acts are performative. I can get all J.L. Austinian on you all, but I’ll desist for now. You’re welcome.
What I will do is define performative speech acts as I currently work with them. Performative speech acts are gerundival verbs that literally perform the words they are. To say “I apologize” is a performative speech act because it functions as it is spoken. I would argue that “I love you” is also a performative speech act, though it is not gerundival. However, along with Austin, one could argue that placing “hereby” before the verb, the syntax and meaning are still upheld. (Perhaps this is why so many people fall out of love—they aren’t performing it when they say it, just a thought.)
To return to writing and power: writing and power unify because to perform writing is always a speech act. And, as you may recall, speech is kinda a big deal. Speech and language construct our everything entire. Without either, we have no consciousness, no conception of existence, no utterance of being, no confirmation of acknowledgment of ourselves with the Other. I’m in company who understands this, I know.
So to participate in society by writing in some way is powerful. No matter what restrictions surface or exist, writing always is an act of asserting power. But what kind?
I suppose that all depends upon what discourse one writes within, and to whom one is speaking. To write to a friend is powerful because it is affiliation, acculturation and affirmation of solidarity. To write for class, as in this discourse I’m composing, writing is powerful because I’m earning my grade by speaking. We can discuss various other forms of writing. The blogging that I do is often considered powerful because I attempt to subvert hegemonic oppression by exposing the frame and structure of Dominant discourse whenever I have time to write about it (I see it every day, though). Tweeting affirms writing-power in that it has the possibility to reach a mass populace. Just today alter-self tweeted out a bit that many activists took and shared across the whole of twitter. I’ve even been able to connect with many scholars and professors in the fields I study by simply tweeting at them. The power of making connection with professionals we once only read, thus rarely knew personally, is beyond powerful. Did I just slogan for twitter? Ahh, spectacle.
To conclude: writing is writing-power. It is an assertion of self via voice as a performative speech act. Writing’s identity comes in many masks, and all of them are the true form of its self. None less than the other. That is because writing-power is also rhetorical. It serves a function when addressed to a specific audience, and it participates in the highly social act of meaning-making. I’d dare you all to think of something more interactive than that, but that would be in the dissertation, and I’m not quite there yet. For now, I’ll finish my night by writing: coding.