Overthrowing syntax:making an arguement for being misunderstood
“It is still better to speak only in riddles, allusions, hints, parables. Even if asked to clarify a few points. Even if people plead that they just don’t understand. After all, they never have understood. So why not double the misprision to the limits of exasperation?”
Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (1974, P. 587)http://www.iep.utm.edu/irigaray/#SH4d
I am thinking about this blog and being misunderstood. I am thinking in particular about what the French feminist theorist Luce Irigaray says about being misunderstood as illustrated in the above quote. I want to make an argument for being misunderstood. I want to be misunderstood so clearly that there can be no question of my refusal to remain a stable investigable subject. Most of all I want to embrace the restorative nature of being misunderstood especially in relation to the very public space you find these words. Add to this my Dyslexia and you have a perfect storm that predisposes me to what Irigaray calls, “an overthrowing of syntax”. (P. 586 )
Pinning down the meaning of words has always been somewhat of a challenge for me. My dyslexia takes its most disruptive expression in the form of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, which in simple terms means that black text on the white page dances in front of me. It won’t sit still. What I find particularly interesting about this syndrome is that it is not recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology or the American Optometric Association. However it has been studied in the former Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK and the Scottish Parliament has also funded a research and treatment centre at Glasgow Caledonia University, Glasgow, UK. It does not escape my ironic bent that a syndrome dealing with visual perception, specifically as it relates to written language, should be so contested and perceived as legitimate and worthy of scientific scrutiny on one side of the Atlantic while on the other, the scientists just can’t see it.
Real or imagined the dancing words I see lead to a slippage of meaning that is incredibly fertile and has allowed me to naturally converge on the margins of understanding. Mostly though my Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome has directed my practice towards the oral, a strategy that allows me to be in constant negotiation with whoever I am talking to, fixing and shifting language to create a space of shared meaning. What I find most powerful about this mode of exchange is that it exposes our assumptions about the certainty of the written word. As it is written on the page the meaning of language appears fixed, yet actually remains subject to our personal perceptions.
In contrast, a conversational mode of exchange allows these perceptions to be continually negotiated and collaboratively produced. In my work as, writer, curator, performance artist and facilitator, I have frequently used the conversation as a basis for a socially engaged practice. I regard it’s potential for multiple points of entry, as well as the possibility for failure and slippage, as providing a fertile site for misunderstanding and a strategy of resistance to the more institutional-critique based work of the past, which relied heavily on written words and their supposed fixed meanings. In contrast, the conversation offers a liminal – and thus collaborative – structure.
This idea of words and their meaning as liminal and collaborative is what I find most compelling about Irigaray’s text. Her call for a rhyzomatic form of language construction; an oppositional stance to clarity and a resistance to a teleological order, all feel utterly contemporary in relation to the nature of the Internet, and the artwork that has been made in response or in ‘conversation’ with this new epoch of interconnectivity. The web epitomizes what Irigaray would call a feminine form of language, there is not, nor can there ever be, a teleological understanding of the World Wide Web, there is no conclusion.
So this begs the question how can I use this blog, this site, and the webs connectivity and very material resistance to a uni-vocal trajectory, to have a conversation with you? I want to talk with you reader. I want to have a conversation. I want us to come to an understanding together over what the words I am using mean to you. But, I also delight in the knowing this can never really happen. You will misunderstand me and that’s ok, there is a power and potential in the space where understanding begins to break down: the margins of knowledge. This site offers an opportunity to conjure a world where we can become connected and converse from a place of common misunderstanding. I’m looking forward to meeting you there.