“A voice belongs first to a body, then to a language” (52).
Negar told me about an Iranian saying, that learning another language adds a new person to your self. Yes, new capacities, new zones of expression and perception, yet what Berger says is also true, the voice—in its emotion-inducing physicality [my qualification]—remains the same. This use of the word “voice” is different than Blommaert’s conceptualization of “voice” as the operationalization of intersubjective, discursive power. The intersubjective part is the part between real individuals engaged in real time (face-to-face synchronic time or asynchronous technologically-mediated time—as in the turn-taking among myself, Yasser, Jeff, Amanda, and . . . you? wink! Why not?!!)
The discursive part is the larger framework of relationships in which each of us is embedded and all of us partake. Every time we speak (via our physically-embodied voice or signed language and/or through written text), each utterance spins forward along a dialectical trajectory as an outgrowth of previous exposure and knowledge. Simultaneously, each utterance opens onto a potential new vista, an unknown dark zone. “Dark” because not yet lived: unexperienced, and therefore unknown. (Thanks Negar; and original thanks to Chris Baxter, who played with calling me a “dark ally” during the 2005 Supporting Deaf People Online conference.)
I read Berger and translate his words into mine. “It is prudent to believe that the large is more real than the small. Yet it is false” (53).
He is discussing the myth of scale, the myth that suggests that the macrosocial is more real (e.g., more powerful) than the microsocial. “If we are trapped, my heart, it is not within reality” (53). He writes to his love as I wish to write to mine. 🙂 The point, however, has wider application: let me attempt to articulate it precisely.
If we—for instance Muslims, Christians, Palestinians, Israelis— are trapped it is not exclusively because of impersonal institutional forces grinding out grim realities such as the devastation in Lebanon. We are “trapped” also within our own individual, personal and private (dialectical) trajectories. Our “hearts” (our loves, passions, dreams and visions) are constrained by “a vestige of the fear reflex to be found in all animals, in face of another creature larger than themselves” (53).
A major factor that feeds this fear is the loss of home. Berger ties the loss of home explicitly to emigration. More words about emigration are necessary, Berger claims, “to whisper for that which has been lost” (55). Emigration can be understood as the driving feature, the essential characteristic, of global transnationalism. Whether one chooses to move to another country temporarily or permanently, for purposes of education or work, or is forced to move for literal survival (to work or to seek asylum), what is threatened by this move is home. Edward Said discusses this too, in the extraordinary re-ordering of his conception of self that was required when he was sent to boarding school in the US.
“Originally,” Berger explains, “home meant the center of the world—not in a geographical, but in an ontological sense” (55). He continues, “To emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments” (57).
When the physical site of home is lost (left, taken away, inaccessible) one resorts to “the habit which protects” (64) and “the psychic level of turning in circles in order to preserve one’s identity” (63).
In the absence/loss of my own home, I turn in circles to preserve my identity as a lesbian (resisting being positioned by others as a heterosexual woman), and for some years now I have tried to tell the story of my life being lived. This is the other side of de-centering fragmentation:
Berger argues romantic love is one of the things that can grow from this soil. Meanwhile, “we live not just our own lives but the longings of our century” (67): “the century of banishment” (67). I embody these longings, as do many of my friends. It is evident in their/our words. What shall we together make of them?
Berger is optimistic: “Eventually perhaps the promise, of which Marx was the great prophet, will be fulfilled, and then the substitute for the shelter of a home will not just be our personal names, but our collective conscious presence in history, and we will live again at the heart of the real. Despite everything, I can imagine it” (67).