Date: Tue, 12 Apr 1994 08:12:50 -0500

From: Joan Livingston-Webber webber[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]CWIS.UNOMAHA.EDU

Subject: Ode to Janus

I've been thinking in other contexts about a "rhetoric of

sincerity," which, it seems to me, has several varieties.

Dialect, as a savior from banality, seems to be of the

"authentic voice" variety: if it sounds like something

someone might say, then it's "authentic." Trained academics

tend to find this kind of authenticity marker suspect and seem to

prefer irony (especially about the self) as a marker of

sincerity or authenticity. I think this goes along with a

belief that, at some point, you have to

be objective about the self in order

to know what it is one has to be sincere about. My students

tend to believe the opposite, even after study of rhetoric: that

revising first impulse talk makes it insincere or inauthentic.

Because dialect sounds/looks like first impulse speech, it also

sounds/looks authentic or sincere--so you have to respect it because

it's somebody's "real" opinion. Obviously, then, sincerity etc.

is an irrelevant value for scholarly (aka revised) writing/speech, and

respect as someone's opinion is equally irrelevant.

In the discourse of the girl-produced zines which I've been

looking at, dialect representation isn't a marker, but other

elements of speech are, e.g. "anyway," "well," "you guys," and a kind

of self-effacement that reaches, on occasion, a sophisticated

irony of self.

The perceived sincerity of dialect and other oral markers in text

is reminiscent of--and probably comes from the same source as--

country talk as honest when set against city talk as slick, as in movies like

what-his-name goes to Washington. Of course, the dialect represented

is percieved as honest and sincere only if its speakers in general

are perceived to be. So country talk can be honest or dumb, depending

on if the speaker is simple country or redneck. A black dialect

representation also can go both ways--authentic or slovenly or

or gangster. It all depends.

Rescuing from banality is interesting in this regard. Is it that

sincerity dresses up banality and makes it less banal--or at least

makes it necessary to respect that banality as real? Could M-J be a

covert dialectologist with an appreciation for dialect well-rendered?

What dialect, pray tell, was being represented in the novel?


Joan Livingston-Webber webber[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

"What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other."

-Clifford Geertz