You’ll Weep When Listening to Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture From 1993

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In Toni Morrison’s phenomenal 1993 Nobel speech she discusses the process by which “the language she dreams in” is “put into service” and how that language is used as “agency… an act with consequences.” Of her major concerns during the speech are forms of “narcissistic” and “policing” language that do nothing to hasten the evolution of the individual by way of storytelling. In contrast, such language preserves privilege, thereby becoming a “husk” of what language once was and what it was used on behalf of.

Language should not “provide shelter for despots”, but should instead be used for three main reasons; “grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love.” Language itself is violence when wielded as agency for oppression, misrepresentation, or the dumbing down of the populace. Here Morrison describes how use of language can skew and subjugate:

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

You can view the video below or access it directly here.

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