Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Qualitative Easing: Pumping New Meaning into ‘The Life Cycle’

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm

GILLIAN Clark’s letter to Carol Ann-Duffy says*: “The pre-[Sylvia] Plath generation of British students had studied old dead men and, marvellous as they were/are, they were a scold’s bridle on any idea that women too could be poets. In speaking when she did, Plath fired the wild hearts of the last silenced generation of poets in Britain.” The image then is voices ranked silent until one person opens the door on Harrods Sale Day and the stampede begins. A new era-of-consciousness dawns, in this case for women poets. Sylvia Plath and her peers, Ann-Duffy writes: “[give] back life to us in glittering language”.

This is quite affirming. It’s the intemperate climate not your voice that’s at fault. Tim Stanley’s pre-Obama-re-election reportage ‘Family Guys?: What Sitcoms Say About America’ opens with the thought that America is so boiling and intemperate that nothing can be said due to its rage and therefore it is the Sitcom that speaks into the ‘dark matter’ of unspoken ordinary life. America is doing then what Britain did long ago, and Kierkegaard practiced through works like Either/Or; that is speaking indirectly through Dialogue. In this case situation-comedy. Somebody said Britain and America are separated by the Irony Curtain, but maybe no longer, as America has cried out to Irony to calm its angst.

Wasn’t it the intemperate climate for Dialogue that gave rise to the likes of Guy Fawkes? Silent landscapes produce a few explosive figures with sufficient brass neck to run out from the trenches; usually to die horribly! Maybe one day the management field will re-discover Dialogue, and maybe without embarrassment; possibly in response to the decades of grim monastic silences that were weighed down under social rules of ‘best practice’. Having labelled the social events of ‘office life’ with stultifying mind-bending Americanistic labels, such as Maslow’s brilliant but constipated Self-Actualisation, it is dawning that ordinary language and interaction is a Great Laxative to problem-solving. Those who self-actualised on a Thursday at 4.34pm, could, after coffee walk around with a bit more dignity, and, a few years later, colleagues could say, ‘she has a bit more dignity!’; and it was alright. Ordinary language suffices and maybe always did. But nothing beats a sexy label backed up by research.

The difficulty with ‘office life’ is that FIFO ruled(rules), with apologies to the feint-hearted, for so long (Fit In or F*** Off that is). Extended Dialogue remains a guilty act that few practice under the false consciousness that pithy punchy exchanges communicated commercial value. Ivan Turgenev’s nihilist Bazarov lives within business and does very well, for a time. In response the re-discovered Soviet-Era thinker and literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, offers a treatise that knowledge is not a growing filing-cabinet of categorised concepts, ideas, theories and models, but rather the sum of flowing discourses and this Heteroglossia of meaning trumps any notion of static labelling. The pre-Socratic river of multiple voices within one voice, such as in Dostoyevsky’s writing, represents multiple perspectives and voices; all beyond atomising. The modern world of labelling is monological in Bakhtin’s terms, conveying the single-consciousness, reduced to its one agreed meaning. The river-like flow of Dostoyevsky’s sweating, heaving, stress-ridden characters, who are on the run from themselves, their past, their present, allows a massive liberation. That the self has a polyphony of voices means, like Ann-Duffy’s Plath breaching the dam of female expression, the individual can admit their own voices to themselves. We’ve known all along our work dialect contrasts with our inner monologues, but we would maybe deny the differences. Bakhtin’s thumping insight is that consciousness is the awareness of these interactions between these voices.

Boiling Point: Subverting an intemperate climate needs its artful devices. We need to hear our voice 're-voiced' in other forms if we're to hear ourselves. Credit:

Boiling Point: Subverting an intemperate climate needs its artful devices, including Bakhtin’s ‘Carnival Voice’, disrupting the glacial nature of modern discourse. We also need to hear our voice ‘re-voiced’ in other forms if we’re to hear ourselves. Credit:

Thumping insight number two is that all the labelling and monological language is still a discourse; one of the voices. So we don’t have to throw out Myers Briggs et al but recognise it as part of the polyphonic orchestrated noise flowing round the office stage. Part then of Ann-Duffy’s ‘glittering language’? Importantly it’s ununified but in a constant struggle. The grey-beards of the literature canon are still speaking Ann-Duffy suggests; boring for England.

It’s dawned on me then, and I don’t know at the point of writing if this is true, but I will take the mocking if it is, that Dostoyevsky’s protagonists in The Double are one person. I confess I don’t know. I read it at the start of my PhD studies and put it back on the shelf and having been encouraged at a conference earlier in the year to re-connect with Bahktin pennies are dropping. Mr Golyadkin is one person with two voices? I will check before the end of this blog by googling the question: is Golyadkin the same person?… and the answer is… well I’m not going to even go there, so there. He’ll be what you and I choose him to be. Much more satisfying. Golyadkin’s doppelganger arrives at work to unsettle reality but we can with Bahktin now believe he’s one person and many voices.

On this line of a Double perspective my brother left home before I was born, but, our voices are similar and tend to move up and down the same abstract scale. He uses language with a number of dialects and constructions of voice; having been a Fleet Street journalist and servant of Murdoch across the world through his career, this is his stock-in-trade. He referred to me recently as a ‘self-confessed Little Englander’ as part of an inter-blog^ exchange on the merits of London and Paris. Such images and constructions act as devices for Dialogue, sharpening the consciousness. Few are brave enough to construct and position other interlocutors; such is the courage of the writer to risk speaking and flush out the hidden. Constructing selves in literary form at times better exposes the voices. We create new voices of others so our own voice can be heard; a kind of Qualitative Easing of our lives by increasing words into the ‘life cycle’.

This then is the criticism of Duffy, that Plath wasn’t a pivotal unblocking voice; but rather we’re constructing Plath now to carry this mantle so she suits our current politics. Plath lives again as a result finding new adherents and new value. Such is the nature of discourse and its speed we can only construct history now for our ‘now-purpose’. My brother constructs me and vice versa and it’s satisfying and possibly far more liberating to ‘create’ new selves for the sake of better Dialogue.

*Guardian Review Section: 3/11/12 (p. 14)

^David Gibbs’ blog: