Lecture

3 December 2005

On Rhetoric (language and new warfare)

Given that “arrogance is ingrained in language” (Roland Barthes), the assertive nature of language becomes more apparent and violent in times of war, even more so in what can be identified as “propaganda war.” The syntax of words, terminologies, or interpretations regarding the presentation of war and political conflicts are imposed and legitimized by dominant powers, whereas the complexity of the phenomenon and its conceptions are oppressed. When we hear simplistic expressions such as “axis of evil,” “war on terror (or terrorism),” or “security fence,” we are faced with either being seduced by the euphemisms and made indifferent to their hidden meanings, or have the impulse to denounce and question the signifying context of the terms. Furthermore we cannot dismiss that behind the deceptive language of power, expelled languages often uttered by the marginal, the peripheral, and the foreign exist. Against the regulative and exclusive politics of rhetoric, artists and intellectuals attempt to revive the nuances of language, its banished or hidden meanings, and shed light on its complex connotations, breaking down definitions and revealing strategies of manipulation. In this context, different methodological attempts are introduced and discussed with artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri and theoretician Bregje van Eekelen through the lens of their practices—from reconstructing new dictionaries, or producing a radio play, to running an ongoing series of discursive activities concerning military conflicts, war, and disaster around the world.

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