Thursday, April 18, 2013

In response to the content of the broadcast recording

I’ve really enjoyed listening to the recording of Woolf’s radio broadcast that people have posted here; there’s something very odd about finally hearing a voice you’ve only been able to imagine and guess at for years. But to go beyond the initial shock—her message is something that I have thought a lot about. She says there is no such thing as “brand new words”, that English is too old and too layered with memories for any writer or speaker to use an extant word without resurrecting all of its past or potential meanings. “Words belong to each other,” she says. Everything is linked and the methods we employ to try to organize language are insufficient. In this light, grammar isn’t much more than a nervous human bridle on language, which it can neither tame nor contain. She says, “our business is to see what we can do with the old English language as it is”. She makes some claims about literature and the mind and the ‘current’ generation that I’m not sure I think are productive or urgent for us to think about, but much of this broadcast seems to me to be the foundation of a literary feminism. Awareness of language is a first step toward dismantling systems of injustice, and her message about words and ownership and accountability resonates with me—that one cannot use words without invoking histories, and that we cannot make words our own, at least not without seriously engaged creative thought. 

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