The Multivoiced Body

The Multivoiced Body: Society and Communication in the Age of Diversity

Fred Evans
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/evan14500
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  • Book Info
    The Multivoiced Body
    Book Description:

    Ethnic cleansing and other methods of political and social exclusion continue to thrive in our globalized world, complicating the idea that unity and diversity can exist in the same society. When we emphasize unity, we sacrifice heterogeneity, yet when we stress diversity, we create a plurality of individuals connected only by tenuous circumstance. As long as we remain tethered to these binaries, as long as we are unable to imagine the sort of society we want in an age of diversity, we cannot achieve an enduring solution to conflicts that continue unabated despite our increasing proximity to one another.

    By envisioning the public as a multivoiced body, Fred Evans offers a solution to the dilemma of diversity. The multivoiced body is both one and many: heterogeneous voices that at once separate and bind themselves together through their continuous and creative interplay. By focusing on this traditionally undervalued or overlooked notion of voice, Evans shows how we can valorize simultaneously the solidarity, diversity, and richness of society. Moreover, recognition of society as a multivoiced body helps resists the pervasive countertendency to raise a chosen discourse to the level of "one true God," "pure race," or some other "oracle" that eliminates the dynamism of contesting voices.

    To support these views, Evans taps the major figures and themes of analytic and continental philosophy as well as modernist, postmodernist, postcolonial, and feminist thought. He also turns to sources outside of philosophy to address the implications of his views for justice, citizenship, democracy, and collective as well as individual rights. Through the seemingly simple conceit of a multivoiced body, Evans straddles both philosophy and political practice, confronting issues of subjectivity, language, communication, and identity. For anyone interested in moving toward a just society and politics, The Multivoiced Body offers an innovative approach to the problems of human diversity and ethical plurality.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51936-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Part I The Dilemma of Diversity
    • 1 The Age of Diversity
      (pp. 3-19)

      Our age is one of diversity. Not because diversity is new—even the earliest communities included differences in perspective and idiom based on at least age, gender, and work responsibilities. But diversity now has a meaning that transcends a plurality of functions or outlooks. It has become a value to many and a threat to others. It has led to constitutional revisions that favor multiculturalism in some societies and to various forms of “ethnic cleansing” in others. Amy Gutmann, the editor of a seminal volume on multiculturalism, has stated the issue in succinct terms: “What kind of communities can justly...

    • 2 History of the Dilemma: Cosmos, Chaos, Chaosmos
      (pp. 20-56)

      The first chapter introduced the main issue of this book, how to think of social and political unity in an age of diversity; how to escape the dilemma of imagining society in terms that either sacrifice heterogeneity for unity or unity for heterogeneity. The chapter also presented an initial response to this dilemma, the idea evoked by The Cave of a unity composed of difference. In the chapter that we are now embarking upon, I will clarify this idea by appealing to the history of the concepts of cosmos and chaos. This history culminates in the notion of chaosmos, which...

    • 3 Society as a Multivoiced Body
      (pp. 57-90)

      In Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie represents the ethnic and political diversity of India in terms of 581 children born within the first hour of India’s independence. Each of these children has a special talent. One of them, Saleem Sinai, has the ability to read minds and send thoughts directly to other persons. He is therefore the natural site for communication among the children—for a “national network” through which the voices of the children, the voices of India, “the myriad tongues of Babel,” can speak to one another and argue over the philosophies and aims they might adopt as a...

  5. Part II The Primacy of Voices
    • 4 Modernism and Subjectivity
      (pp. 93-116)

      In the last two chapters, I criticized other views for their inability to capture our status as agents in society. For example, Deleuze and Guattari equated us with anonymous forces that seemed distant from the sense we have of ourselves as contributors to our own destinies. Bakhtin, in contrast, oscillated back and forth between the notion of an autonomous subject and the idea of ourselves as subordinate to language or discourse. The dilemma these alternatives have presented to thinkers is captured succinctly by Manfred Frank:

      How can one, on the one hand, do justice to the fundamental fact that meaning,...

    • 5 Postmodernism and Language
      (pp. 117-143)

      In chapter 3, I used some of Bakhtin’s ideas on language to clarify what Rushdie might mean by the voices to which he alludes in Midnight’s Children. We saw that Bakhtin described social languages as determining the identity of their enunciators and objects as well as the value that either of these might have for us. This description was reminiscent of the creative dimensions of Nietzsche’s notion of a “value-creating force.” But in each case the relation between language and its products was left cryptic. Many postmodernist or poststructuralist theorists of language fill out this relation and argue for the...

    • 6 The Primacy of Voices
      (pp. 144-168)

      In the last two chapters I have argued that neither the modernist notion of the subject nor the postmodernist concept of language fully captures the type of social agents that we are. From Descartes through Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and the three stages of cognitive science, the modernist view has underplayed, and yet been driven toward, the self as we know it most immediately: a subject surrounded and formed by language, at least to a far greater degree than the modernists are usually willing to admit. But we have also seen that many of those who privilege language as the ultimate source...

    • 7 Communication and an Ethics for the Age of Diversity
      (pp. 169-200)

      Now that voices are established as having primacy within the arena of linguistic beings, we need to determine the implications of this for the meaning of communication. This meaning will include communication as a mechanism for the creation of new voices and ultimately for the metamorphosis of society. Moreover, it will provide the basis for an innovative ethics. The chapter will begin with Nietzsche on communication and end with him on an ironic “gift-giving virtue.”

      Nietzsche links language, communication, and consciousness together: “Consciousness has developed only under the pressure of the need for communication. . . . Consciousness is really...

  6. Part III The Political Dimension of the Multivoiced Body
    • 8 The Social Unconscious
      (pp. 203-224)

      In chapter 2, I asked why traditional and even modern societies often expressed extreme fear and hatred of chaos—why they, in effect, equated difference with the biblical threat of the Tower of Babel. More specifically, I asked why we had failed to recognize or affirm the hybrid form of unity and identity invoked by The Cave and, in chapter 3, by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. We are now in a position to reformulate these questions in terms of my theory of society: why is it so difficult to accept that society is a multivoiced body? Why have people throughout...

    • 9 Globalization, Resistance, and the New Solidarity
      (pp. 225-246)

      In chapter 8, I showed how the social unconscious produces totalizing forces or oracles, repressing our identification with society as a multivoiced body. The countermemory harbored in this body, however, keeps resistance to oracles and their genealogical critique alive. We now must see how this form of critique can assist in addressing the oracle of globalization.

      In his book on nationalism, Benedict Anderson argues that imagination plays a powerful role in connecting people to other people they have never seen, to “imagined communities.” More specifically, it helps to establish “a deep, horizontal comradeship” among these peoples, confines that comradeship to...

    • 10 Democracy and Justice in the Multivoiced Body
      (pp. 247-282)

      The last chapter established the notion of network solidarity and clarified its relation to liberating and oppressive forms of globalization—the globalization from below of labor, environmental, community, and other progressive groups versus the globalization from above of multinational corporations and their government allies. But we still need to shed light on the political dimension of local and global society and the meaning of democracy, citizenship, and justice. If the multivoiced body view of society is to accomplish this task, it will also have to deal with two related issues that were left over from an earlier appeal to Salman...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 283-330)
  8. Index
    (pp. 331-352)