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Living Speech

Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force

James Boyd White
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Living Speech
    Book Description:

    Language is our key to imagining the world, others, and ourselves. Yet sometimes our ways of talking dehumanize others and trivialize human experience. In war other people are imagined as enemies to be killed. The language of race objectifies those it touches, and propaganda disables democracy. Advertising reduces us to consumers, and clichés destroy the life of the imagination.

    How are we to assert our humanity and that of others against the forces in the culture and in our own minds that would deny it? What kind of speech should the First Amendment protect? How should judges and justices themselves speak? These questions animate James Boyd White'sLiving Speech, a profound examination of the ethics of human expression--in the law and in the rest of life.

    Drawing on examples from an unusual range of sources--judicial opinions, children's essays, literature, politics, and the speech-out-of-silence of Quaker worship--White offers a fascinating analysis of the force of our languages. Reminding us that every moment of speech is an occasion for gaining control of what we say and who we are, he shows us that we must practice the art of resisting the forces of inhumanity built into our habits of speech and thought if we are to become more capable of love and justice--in both law and life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2753-4
    Subjects: Law, Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Empire of Force and the World of Words
    (pp. 1-12)

    In an important sense this entire book is an extended essay on the single sentence that stands as its epigraph, taken from Simone Weil’s wonderful essay on theIliad: “No one can love and be just who does not understand the empire of force and know how not to respect it.”¹ For the purposes of this book it is a crucial fact that our knowledge of the empire and our capacity not to respect it—and the opposite of these things—all show up constantly in our uses of language, in what we confirm and what we resist, in...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Speech in the Empire
    (pp. 13-49)

    One day when I was a teenager I read about the monastic order of the Trappists and its rule of continual silence. As a highly voluble young person this seemed horrible to me, unimaginable really, and I said so to a friend and teacher, who suggested: “Perhaps a life of silence would teach us how pointless and empty almost everything we say actually is.” This struck me powerfully at the time and lives in my mind still. Later in life I happened to spend several years as an active participant in the life of the Society of Friends, or Quakers,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Living Speech and the Mind behind It
    (pp. 50-90)

    We know that sometimes what we say is unmeant and unmeanable, just the replication of empty phrases and formulas, while sometimes it is the opposite of these things: deeply meant, alive, manifesting the presence of a mind and person. In our culture—perhaps something like this is true in any culture—a great deal of the language we learn from others, from our teachers and friends and books and TV shows and newspapers, consists of what could be called stereotyped utterances or responses: phrases and formulas and gestures that come to us with the authority of our world, which seems...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Desire for Meaning
    (pp. 91-123)

    We have just looked at writing by students, and writing by a judge too, that seemed in a deep sense dead: words without the presence of a mind and person to give them life. The student talking about his trip to the zoo and Justice Blackmun talking about the drug price advertisements are both in prisons of language in which they would imprison their readers as well. This is writing that denies their own humanity and that of others, including their readers.

    The obvious question this presents—and it is a central question of this book as a whole—is...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Writing That Calls the Reader into Life—or Death
    (pp. 124-167)

    We have just seen that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 becomes a celebration—a proof—of the power of art to resist the otherwise irresistible forces of organic decay that afflict all natural beings and substances. The voice, or rather voices, of this poem are as fresh and present now as when the sonnet was first written, like coins that always seem newly minted. Much the same is true of the voices in Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Dante’sCommediaand in the two passages by Justice Jackson as well. Sometimes we must work to discover this freshness by learning the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Human Dignity and the Claim of Meaning
    (pp. 168-203)

    At work in this book from the beginning has been the striking fact that sometimes we feel that something we are reading—or watching or hearing—trivializes or degrades human experience, reducing life to existence without significance and in this way stimulating a kind of cynicism or despair; and that on other occasions we have the opposite feeling, that the expression to which we are exposed—the Bach cantata, the painting by Vermeer, the poem by Keats or Dickinson—dignifies or exalts the human being and his or her experience, and marks out possibilities of significance in life, in our...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Silence, Belief, and the Right to Speak
    (pp. 204-226)

    If we are alive, we look at the world and listen to what we hear around us, and say, “How am I to live in such a place, speak such a language?” We look at ourselves, at our own tendency to use the sentimental and authoritarian languages and locutions we hear, and say, “How can I possibly find a way to live and speak decently and well?” In our world the strong forces of advertising and propaganda constantly work to trivialize our language and experience, to infantilize us as political actors and thinkers, and to reduce us to consumers and...

  11. Index
    (pp. 227-236)