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Willem Van Lancker

since 1987

www.willemvanlancker.com wvl@google.com

the Deconstruction of Language 2008

What first struck me after I read Barthes Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers, was his commentary on the irreversible nature of speech, a word cannot be retraced except precisely by saying one that retracts it (Barthes 309). While saying this, Barthes falls into his own erratic use of language, parenthesizing all of his wayward or qualifying thoughts. When read aloud, Barthes piece is spoken in a stammering, difficult to follow document. However, when we, the readers, absorb it from the page, it becomes conversational and recognizable. Barthes attempts sum up his thoughts near the end of the article saying that once the written word is produced I can objectively account for the former [writing] that I am no longer in it (Barthes 322). Barthes continues to elaborate, here and throughout the article, that speech is immeasurably more powerful than writing, both for a teacher and human beings in general. Though I can agree to a point, as a student of typography and on a broader scale, Graphic Design, the written letter, word, and page hold a much more tenacious hold than the fleeting nature of a speech. Today our world is being transformed with the proliferation of digital media. When this article was written in 1971, most of the speech that was captured was very premeditated, a thoughtful act. Reading this passage brought to mind the Watergate scandal. If no one had been able to capture the spoken word, Nixon would never have been impeached. No one would believe the investigators if they had simply said, we heard someone saying something. The written word on the other hand, is entirely incriminating. Once the word is out there, you cannot show the eraser yourself, (Barthes 309). It is there it is concrete and cannot be reversed. This now brings me to the discussion of the power of speech in the classroom and the deconstruction of language in todays world. It would be interesting to see what Barthes would have written had this article been published in 2008 rather than thirty years in the past. Today the contract of education that Barthes superbly lays out on pages 314 to 315 is virtually non-existent in the large university classroom. The introduction of the Internet in the classroom, where now at some large universities a student can take all of his/her classes online, has broken down the significance of the teacher student relationship. Furthermore, there is an increasing dilution of the discourse of language. If a student is sitting in his/her dorm room attending class the professor has no way of knowing whether or not his/her message is being received or that he/she is being boiled down to a reduced version, dead yet substantial not knowing if what is taken (siphoned) out of the flow of speech is erratic statements (formulae, sentences) or the gist of an argument (Barthes 312). My closest personal encounter with something of this nature here at Brown was my Economics 11 class held in the cavernous Salomon Hall. In EC11 there was no opportunity for a teacher student relationship to be cultivated, she would stand up on stage and speak at us, not in a format where we were encouraged to stretch our comfort zones by participating and learning from one another. One of the most important reasons many people attend a school like Brown, is to be surrounded in a community of intelligent, motivated people. Instead, though her lectures were informative and well planned, we would sit in a passive environment one very similar in nature to staring at a computer display or television. Today, in the in midst of the YouTube effect, we find that this deconstruction of language has progressed from casual speech into the media, and anyone with a video camera or phone and an Internet connection. With the introduction of video-blogging in recent years, news articles and the proliferation of ideas has become such a casual procedure that we lack the
www.willemvanlancker.com/writing/deconstruction-language

Willem Van Lancker


since 1987

www.willemvanlancker.com wvl@google.com

the Deconstruction of Language 2008

former pluralism and eloquence of writing. Watching the news today I am overwhelmed that we live in a society where even the credible news outlets cover the death of Heath Ledger as a tragedy putting on the same level of say a Mother Theresa figure (if you believe Heath Ledger affected your life or anyones for that matter as much as Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, or the like, please let me know). A sickening repetitive cavalcade of images bombards us, blasting our senses daily. Furthermore, everyone can offer their opinion whether informed or not and much of the blind public will accept it as a fact because the person appears to have an air of authority (Wikipedia?), something Barthes pointed out as crucial for the success of a teacher or speaker. Both speech and writing today need to return to a world where they are regarded art forms, intellectual pursuits, not as mere outlets for self-promotion or the attempted resuscitation of worn out stereotypes. Language is always on the side of power to speak is to exercise a will to power (Barthes 311). Language in teaching, writing, and everyday speech is a what makes us human, our ability to articulate and convey our realities with each other and coexist in an environment where we can float, and connect with an art of living (Barthes 331). I would hate to see that go to waste.

www.willemvanlancker.com/writing/deconstruction-language