Friday, May 08, 2009

Ameibomei as Uninterrupted: Imaginary Speech

The undertaking to thoroughly describe communicative, illocutionary silence necessarily requires working with an image of speech, if only to go around it. All images of speech are not reconcilable, though we may recognize any collection of them as all being ideas about speech, which if it doesn't approximate a reconciliation, at least suggests the possibility of one. In making such a recognition we may cede to an epistemic aporia about speech. We act as if we knew that certain ideas were ideas about speech, but we haven't yet been able to define speech, certainly not in a way that would make sense of contradictory propositions made about speech. Practically, as intellectuals, such as we are, we may well find ourselves in a defensive position regarding our grasp of speech. We put ourselves into question simply by noticing that two images of speech cannot be reconciled–but I am being hasty. Let's try to reconcile two views. First, there's my naive sense that conversation requires breaks in speaking, and that on that basis conversations can in fact be carried out episodically, over long hiatuses in some cases. Speech is rawly hiatal. This is an image of speech that conditions my thinking about verbal exchanges and interactions of all kinds. It is not the only image of speech one could imagine, live by. One could imagine a completely antithetical view. In the Homeric world, Montiglio tells us, "speech ideally circulates without ceasing" (Silence, p. 60). Montiglio uncovers a notion of something like a "speech economy," but one must wonder about the nature of speech as it would appear in such a system, and how its differences from speech according to the image of hiatal flows would illuminate the problem we have here with speech.

Homeric epic regards speech as the object of a continuous exchange. The verb for "to answer," ameibomei, literally "to exchange," inscribes speech within the ethic of reciprocity that should govern the behavior of heroes. But what is an exchanged word? First and foremost it is an entity that goes around incessantly, bandied back and forth without ever disappearing.

Outside the domain of speech, ameibomai signifies to alternate, to compensate. Emphasis is placed on the absence of any interruption during the movement. In Iliad 9, for instance, ameibomai means "to interchange watches": "They mounted guard in turn, and the fire would never go out" (471-472). Parallel to the constantly burning flame, the changing of the guard ensures continuity. No void is allowed: as soon as a soldier departs, another takes over.

(p. 61, my bold)

Montiglio has us draw a distinction between listening while waiting one's turn to speak, implicitly expected, and silence. To sit listening, for the ancient Greeks, belongs to speech whereas sitting in silence does not. Thus she leads us to the conclusion that "it is only to signify anomalies in an exchange that silence interrupts the verbal flow" (p. 62). It is the exchange which gives speech meaning and simultaneously calls for the entification of the utterance. Well, what exactly is our image of exchange? Do we have an image of exchange without a prior image of speech? Must we imagine the word that is a promise, sent forth on its journey, and yet, on the other side, interchangeable, a commerce? How does speech come to its other sides? In being imagined? If I said one needn't form an image of speech in order to speak I too would be asking you to imagine an essence of speech, "real speech," or "actual speech," unimagined speech. One doesn't evade speaking easily. Silence exists in relation to an imaginary speech, and this may be especially true if we are talking about something like a cultural construction of language instead of "The Idea of Speech"; imaginary speech, even praxiologically understood, tacitly informs even those operations that break from speech, provided, perhaps, that there exists something like a communicative intent, even one given through a purely rejective gesture, a blunt silence so blunt it's not even blunt. Imaginary speech is not metadiscourse, or, if you will, it is not merely to be explained as metadiscourse. Imaginary speech escapes itself. It delineates its silences. Yet silences persist, imaginary and inimaginary. Just as it practically remains possible to communicate between contradictory imaginary languages, notwithstanding the rise of minor misunderstandings or moments of miscommunication, that is, people who do not share the same image of speech may nevertheless communicate, so too does it remain possible to hold a communicative silence in reference to different images of speech. Well, this is a thesis. Possibly in such an instance one holds more than one silence simultaneously, for instance the silence that is continuous with the pause and therefore belongs to speech, and, on the other hand, the silence which speech defines as its disturbance. Of course we have already criticized this position. The silence that accomodates two images of silence is itself delineated by an image, a model, of communication.

Should we be guided by an image of speech that asks us to believe in questionable ideas like incessance and things that are only apparent, that never disappear? One imagines ghosts of words. Quite probably we would have to call upon an auxilliary image of silence just to make sense of the world of communication. And so we should ask about being guided by images that primarily serve other images, images that don't stand on their own, and won't therefore easily submit to scrutiny. Montiglio nonetheless scrutinizes. She does so without isolating, but rather by examining manifestations of phenomena across the spectrum of ancient Greek culture. Is her image of speech superior to the Homeric image her scholarship has uncovered? More interesting or more useful? Even the proposition that the contact between disparate images of speech engenders creativity in language, a tenet of dialogism, reflects an image of speech. It contests as well as illuminates. We must then put in question our communicative intentions. Are we now in dialogue with the ancient Greeks, who we say had an image of uninterrupted exchange at the heart of speech? What do we mean to say by our engagement in classicist discourse? Will we finally be able to reach the point beyond which there is no discourse, no understanding, because we have already understood, the point where silence intervenes? Was it never our intent to understand? If not then would it be fair to say that we are drawn to the image of the uninterrupted flow of speech, that it is so seductive in fact that we should question the position we've taken with regard to it, and thus put into question our own image of speech, the one we must explicitly hold in order to effect a criticism? Do we really yearn for a speech that isn't mythos? Do we ever really practice such a speech?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:55 PM.


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