Well, let's not be! - Re: Why are we silent?

Celso Alvarez Cáccamo lxalvarz at UDC.ES
Fri Mar 28 17:55:01 UTC 2003

At 11:49 28/03/03 +0100, Teun A. van Dijk wrote:

>Dear friends,
>Car at s amig at s,
>Why are we so silent when a war is going on?

Dear Teun, the bombs don't let us hear our thoughts.

Thank you for your emotional and moving message.  Please allow me to say 

You ask many questions which I personally agree to (that's weird, to agree 
to a *question*, not an answer, but I think that's the whole point).

Yes, I think that the discourse on war and aggression has become so 
transparent that there's not much to analyze ;-).  Before, 
military-economic powers used to dissimulate interests.  Today, perhaps 
rhetoric is void: it is self-referential, and we (all?) know that it is 
rhetoric, and that there are strategic zones in the process of  discourse 
production that we don't and probably won't ever have access to.  And 
therefore, explaining the forms of public political discourse (to me) 
becomes less crucial than trying to understand its connections with other 
restricted discourses and decisions by elites, such as those concerning the 
most productive ways to exploit humankind's resources under transparent 
excuses.  I personally think that after several massacres and propaganda 
campaigns (Iraq/Kuwait 1991, Kosovo/Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq 
again...), there's not much to learn about discourse properties per se 
(lexicons, metaphors, personalization, excuses, lies...). The Pentagon 
itself said that the "war against terrorism" would take all forms possible, 
including deliberate lying and misinformation.  Censorship is already taken 
for granted and accepted by most jornalists.  While entire countries oppose 
the Iraq invasion, their respective governments do the opposite (by 
supporting it or carrying it out) under the excuse of 
"representation".  Mechanisms for "democratic" control are 'dissapeared' -- 
kidnapped and "desaparecidos", like dissidents in Argentina or Chile under 
dictatorship.  I think most people know or feel that this war is one of 
survival for scarce resources for the next generations, as the Era of Oil 
is nearing its end and the elites haven't been taking this economic threat 
to the entire planet seriously enough (even within the logic of global 
capitalism).  Despite rhetoric about the thinning of the State, the 
connivence between capital and individual states is clearer than ever.

Yesterday I saw on TV fragments from a round press with three wounded US 
soldiers returning from Iraq.  Facing the press, each soldier (at least two 
of them) had at his right a can of Diet Coke, its letters distinctly and 
precisely facing the camera.  In front of each soldier, a glass of... 
water.  That is, they were not *drinking* the coke.  This is no longer 
commercial "placement" of their products, as big companies do in movies: it 
is clear sponsorship:

                  This War Is Being Brought To You By Coca-Cola

So, to me, one strategic priority would be to gain access to some of those 
restricted or "hidden contexts", as Jan Blommaert puts it, where the chain 
of discourse is generated, far before public discourse reaches us, in much 
more secluded contexts: meetings, think-tank sessions, commercial planning 
meetings, etc.  Of course, this is extremely difficult.  But it is a matter 
of identifying the strategic sites, spaces, that we (we?) can interrogate 
and say something about.

But, before we can do that, and regarding why people are "silent", why they 
are not sending you works to Discourse & Society, Teun, my personal opinion 
(and attitude as of recently) is that, one the one hand, there may be a 
general perceived need in the academic world to say something that is 
"original" or "new" or "interesting", and  this is very hard.  There is a 
lot of theory built already, but it may be that for many people attempting 
to apply it is scary given the very high profile of most people and 
writings who already say "interesting" things, in D&S or elsewhere.  The 
entire publishing process, review process, etc., is long and 
demanding.  Then, the papers that do appear may be great, yes, but in the 
rest of us (the readership) there may remain a sense of being *observing* 
intellectual production, not participating in it. And perhaps these are not 
times for individual "interesting" ideas through elaborate academic works 
(well, at least I feel unable to do that), but for urgent ethical 
positionings in (self-)critical consonance with our class positions.  I'll 
try to explain myself:

I was thinking that am important project would be a double, triple or 
whatever issue of Discourse & Society on the general topic of Discourse, 
Economy and Violence (or Global Discourse and Economic Violence, which is 
basically the same), which would be a sort of COLLECTIVE MANIFESTO in face 
of such troublesome crossroads situation as the world is living in these 
decades.  The volume would be composed of as many as possible short, 
necessarily collective papers (say, 5-10 authors, with minimal 
bibliographical apparatus, if any) on this three-fold topic, fruit of 
discussions by small groups/networks of researchers.  Each paper could also 
touch on more local issues, and each paper would be in turn 
*subscribed/supported* by yet more people (for example, by discussions in 
classrooms and seminars) -- hopefully hundreds of members from the 
intellectual or technical elites.  The goal would be to produce 
simultaneously (a) a critical assessment of the relationships between 
global discourses and the material sources of violence (among which war is 
the most visible and dangerous), and (b) a serious, committed *warning* or 
call of attention to political, economic and military leaders before it is 
too late, that is, before the next major military aggression for 
geostrategic (=economic) reasons would launch the world into a major 
catastrophe (we know that Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Colombia, or 
Western Africa are becoming hot topics in military and political elites' 
agendas).  This volume of D&S would not only be distributed through regular 
channels, but also sent to governments, main political organizations, trade 
unions, main professional organizations, churches and religious groups, 
main NGO's, main intellectuals', writers' and artists' associations, 
educational organizations, World Social Forum, large corporations, military 
bodies, international bodies (UN, European Union, Arab League, etc.), 
legislative bodies (International Court), ombudspersons, etc. (and, of 
course, the Internet, for free access), as, again, a collective statement 
from a specialized class, in the hope that at least some policies could be 
bent away from disaster -- or, at least, in the hope not to be devoured by 
grieve before we are able to fulfill a part of our commitment to denounce 
the logic of global vampirism and to firmly bet for rationality.  The 
volume would not only reflect global concerns, but also address key local 
issues from various, compatible positions reflecting geographic and 
cultural diversity united by the inherently utopian rationality of the 
human mind.

I know this may sound very ambitious or, else, naive, but I am not blushing 
for suggesting it.  I think something of this nature is a necessary 
international class action.  Organizationally, the project would rest on a 
network of networks of people discussing more or less simultaneously the 
same issues.  Politically, it would represent a committed, ethical "tomada 
de consciência" (don't know how to say it in English) about our own (class) 
position.  For some of us, this could be harder than writing an excellent, 
more dettached paper.  For others, ordering rigorously their emotional 
thoughts ;-) would be the hardest part.  Outcomes would be, of course, a 
matter of ideological negotiations.  There's no Truth to be pursued -- 
there is, instead, an urgent need to articulate a voice.

[[Cathryn, my wife, has just shown me an issue of Cultural Studies <-> 
Critical Methodologies (Vol. 2.1, Feb. 2002) on September 11, 2001 
("Partial Issue: 9/11 Reflections"), with short position papers by 7 
researchers.  This is a limited example of what I have in mind.  I'm 
thinking of a truly collective but diversified manifesto, in its making and 
in its spirit: no individual papers would be allowed, for example).]]

Well, I am for it.

And you, Teun, from your position and from Discourse and Society, are one 
of the persons that can get something like this moving.

What do people think?  Am I totally deranged, or just utterly naive?  Do I 
need to take Valium, turn off the TV, or both?


Celso Alvarez Cáccamo
lxalvarz at udc.es

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