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