Sanctioned Ignorance: Deconstructing Historiography

InOtherWorlds“In Selected Subaltern Studies (1985) Spivak writes ‘it is correctly suggested that the sophisticated vocabulary of much contemporary historiography successfully shields this cognitive failure and that this success-in-failure, this sanctioned ignorance, is inseparable from colonial domination.’ Ignorance is therefore rationalised, and by such means sanctioned. Spivak’s charge of sanctioned ignorance is most often directed at the Western study of the ‘third-world,’ ‘oriental’ or ‘subaltern,’ a gaze filtered through a selective lens.”

“The charge of ‘sanctioned ignorance’ is not merely the suggestion of an omission, an angle on analysis as yet unexplored by chance. It gives agency to the omitter. Indeed, to the collective academy. It is a purposeful silencing through the dismissing of a particular context as being irrelevant. This is not necessarily an issue of individual malice but an institutionalized way of thinking about the world which operates to foreclose particular types of analysis or considerations from entering into the debate.”

SOURCE: Mayblin, Lucy. “Sanctioned Ignorance.” Global Social Theory.

The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World

“The trouble now is not that we aren’t using language clearly enough, but that words and the truths they convey are no longer as stable as they used to be. […] In the political arena, drawing on cultural and contextual implicatures to make an audience believe something is a common way to plausibly deny and breezily wave off accusations of lying. So, it doesn’t matter exactly what is said, it only matters what listeners think you said or meant. It’s sadly unsurprising that, done on a large scale, it can be easy to confuse, normalize, and legitimize this kind of misbehavior. Plausible deniability has never been easier thanks to a fast shifting language and cleverly worded implicatures.”


“In a post-truth era, public discourse can become muddled as words rapidly develop new meanings and connotations for different groups, increasing in unwieldy complexity.

Even if both sides of a political divide ultimately want to solve the same big problems in society, though they may use the same words, those words sometimes seem to mean entirely different things. When it comes to hotly-debated concepts that trigger emotional or ideological reactions, such as ‘climate change,’ the same words can be received completely differently by different people. The common semantic ground we normally depend on suddenly seems shaky.

Thanks to contexts in which implicatures are key, listeners are always reading between the lines and filling in blanks for themselves, usually with their own beliefs and ideologies. And so, the gaps in understanding one another can be as wide as if we were speaking completely different languages.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World.” JSTOR Daily.

Aesthetic Animism

Excerpt from David Jhave Johnston’s Aesthetic Animism:

Aesthetic Animism“Words in ancient usage were both practical tools and living magic, sent through the ether, emanating from the gods. Our terms for gods might have changed yet some parallels persist: remote communication is now both inspirational and normative, and our contemporary pantheons are platforms. Since the Renaissance, as science explored the universe, the habitat of ancient myths (which gestate the evolution of the poetic aspects of language) dwindled. Displaced from oracular dominance, poetry became a refugee, a fallen exiled god. Incarnated and mortal, poetry devolved into secular interiority, fluctuating states of consciousness, wordplay, and the primacy of phenomena.”


On the concept of digital poetry: “Poetry’s relevance involves engaging with technology’s effect on language. And not just the surface effects of shifts in word usage and transitions in styles, but fundamental transformations that are occurring in how words operate ontologically.”

SOURCE: Johnston, David Jhave. “National Poetry Month: Aesthetic Animism.” MIT Press.

Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too


“The impact that shifting languages can have on us reveals how central it is to our identities and social connections. In a series of intriguing studies, Boaz Keysar and his colleagues at the University of Chicago have shown that when speaking a second language, people tend to behave more rationally. In our native languages, we’re somewhat stuck in our habits, and likely to be susceptible to classic cognitive biases. But the more thoughtful effort that is required to speak a second language helps elevate us into more rational territory.”

SOURCE: Cook, Ed. “Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too.” Quartz.

The Language Wars

“[T]oday, languages are changing more rapidly than ever.  The reality is most lexicographers are likely scrambling to keep up with all the neologisms and newly developed, most prominent meanings. We can point to the networked behavior of digital and social media as one of the driving factors, the ‘how’ of rapid meaning changes. But why are there so many more new connotations for words? If there is such a thing as a linguistic time of peace, is there a linguistic time of war?

rhetoricThe fact is language does not change in steady ebbs and flows. Cultural and social forces can play a major role in the speed at which language changes. Some language scholars claim that language actually behaves differently during times of social upheaval and even war, according to linguist Donna Farina. So as a society becomes increasingly unstable, it turns out this is when linguistic innovation happens more rapidly, possibly as speakers seek to explain, reclaim, dilute or degrade certain terms on the linguistic battlefield.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Language Wars.” JStor Daily.

The Stranger’s Tongue

“[F]iction gives people the possibility to look at the world from the perspective of another person’s life. Kundera calls this an ‘experimental self.’ Literature from other countries would possibly open up that space even further, and you’re not looking at the culture from the outside but from someone’s point of view who lives there or has grown up there.

As a translator she said she’d become very aware of the relation between culture and language:

languagesSome expressions or experiences become embedded in language that is almost unique to that culture. Therefore the two are very closely related. So what you’re trying to do as a translator is to make the author you’re translating understood in your own language, while at the same time stretch your culture and language a bit to accommodate what makes their voice and experience different. Which in the end might change your own culture a little bit.”

SOURCE: Buchanan, Rowan H. “The Stranger’s Tongue.” Electric Literature.

Reading “The Stranger” in Tehran

Excerpt from Robert Zaretsky’s interview with Mohammad Hekmat:

What are the pleasures and difficulties in translating Camus into Farsi? Are these difficulties only linguistic, or are there philosophical and political challenges as well?

the-stranger“Linguistically, the difficulty is in certain terms that he uses. Perhaps the most difficult term, which I have seen other translators struggle with too, is the word absurd. There is no direct translation of the word absurd into Persian. I have seen different approaches by Iranian translators — some even just use the transliteration of the word. His more philosophical works have been much harder to translate. I tried to read The Myth of Sisyphus in Persian, and it’s extremely hard to understand. This has been a general issue with translation of modern and Western philosophy into Persian. There is simply a shortage of terms, and the style had no tradition. There have been numerous efforts to invent new words, many of which have been successfully adopted, but it’s an ongoing process.”

SOURCE: Zaretsky, Robert. “Reading ‘The Stranger’ in Tehran: An Interview with Mohammad Hekmat.” Los Angeles Review of Books.