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TSE  December 2002

TSE December 2002

Subject:

Re: Some language is beyond the pale

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sat, 14 Dec 2002 09:59:12 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (97 lines)

The history in the US of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights
struggles makes certain images like vortices of hate.  For example, even
Clarence Thomas, who almost never speaks and seems seldom bothered
by concepts of human rights, was passionate in the Supreme Court on the
meaning of cross burning as NOT protected speech because it had no
meaning other than to create terror.  Trent Lott has been publicly
chastized by Bush himself for saying Strom Thurmond should have been
elected in 1948 when, as it happened, he ran on a segregationist platform.
Some words and images are so inseparable from that history that they are
experienced as hate speech by both blacks and whites.  Blackface is in
that realm of language.  And while any form of speech is sometimes used
in satire (we had a stupid tv program for a long time that even treated the
Holocaust as comedy--I have always thought that vile), it is also true that
some speech is cruel.  I did not keep the original message to which I
responded, but it did not refer to Blackface in an historical context or
discuss it or make use of it for analysis; it used it as an image to deride
another member on the list.  I stand on my response to that as simply
offensive.

But perhaps Peter, in Canada, does not experience that as it would be felt
by many many in the US.  I have no way of knowing.  That is part of what I
mean about email not being like letters; I also do not consider it an "oral
medium."  One of the most fundamental differences between oral and
textual media is that in speech we do convey tone.  Also pitch, emphasis,
volume, pacing--all ways of showing if we are serious or teasing, angry or
loving, mocking or admiring.  We add to that body language.  As everyone
seems to agree that none of this can be counted on in email, and that it
also lacks the cues and personal qualities that can convey tone in letters,
I do not understand how they can be compared.

In the case of Woolf, she seems less likely to have had reason to know it,
though H.D. and Bryher made a film with Paul Robeson in the 20s that
made very clear they were very aware of racial issues.  And such issues
were very much on the mind of others like Nancy Cunard.  Woolf could not
have been simply unaware.

To check my own response, I described the exchange to a close friend in
a predominantly black city who has worked all his life with mainly black
people and asked how they would have taken it.  His response was
sardonic and absolutely clear (I won't repeat it) that it would be cause for
outrage.

I think Raphael is pointing to both the impact of racial language in the U.S.
and the problem of seeing email as a transparent medium.
Nancy





Date sent:              Sat, 14 Dec 2002 15:12:18 +0100
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   INGELBIEN RAPHAEL <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Some language is beyond the pale
To:                     [log in to unmask]

I was quite taken aback by the passions that minstrelsy unleashed on the
Woolf list. I think I and others simply weren't aware of how sensitive the
topic can be in the U.S. Of course, I found it unfair that Woolf should be
taken to task for being similarly unaware in her writing. But since that
episode, I've decided to be very cautious about the topic when
communicating with an American audience. This means: no gratuitous
references.

Yours,

RaphaŽl
[log in to unmask]
----- Original Message -----
From: Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, December 14, 2002 2:10 AM
Subject: Re: Some language is beyond the pale


> RaphaŽl,
>    I continue to enjoy the your wit; it is excellent.
> You are a wry scamp indeed. Given your remark about
> her highness, the royal Woolf, below, who had her own
> witty things to observe about Eliot, such as his four
> piece armour (aka suit), do you not think it curious
> that when we discussed TAMBO and BONES a couple of
> weeks back, to do with SWEENEY AG., that there was,
> so far as I could see, no hint of unacceptability
> in the discussion of mintstrels. Or was there perhaps,
> some euphemistic cowardice involved?
>
> Cheers,
> Peter.
>
> Dr. Peter C. Montgomery
> Dept. of English
> Camosun College
> 3100 Foul Bay Rd.
> Victoria, BC CANADA V8P 5J2
> [log in to unmask]
> www.camosun.bc.ca/~peterm

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