Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wounding Words, Words that Wound, and Physical Aggression

Recently, "famed blogger" Perez Hilton had a physical altercation while in Toronto. I am not sure who his attackers were as there are competing stories nor do I write this to condone such violence. However, as I listened to Perez's video discussing the events I was intriqued by the multiple forms of violence being played out. On the one hand Perez was physically assaulted - his body was inflicted with violence via the punches, slaps, kicks of some other or others but on another hand Perez himself assaulted, linguistically, an other via language, his wounding words. Perez recounted these both, noting that violence is never the answer, but positioned violence solely on the side of the physical.

It is at this point that Perez falls short of his analysis. Or more so, provides an analysis that positions him as the victim and the one to be felt for constructing perhaps a binary between the "good" and the "bad"; between the perpetrator and the victim. Now of course there is some importance to this for the trauma of experiencing such violence is something that will take time to understand and bring into symbolization but such will be done through the language that is available to Perez to come to an understanding. He perhaps needs to be the "victim" in order to help himself come to terms with the violence that has been inflicted on his body. BUT, what he fails to address is the violence that his words inflict. He does note that he writes things that anger people or upset them, but he never has physically assaulted anyone or been physically assaulted for saying such things that he says.

Yet, here is where he misses the connection between his words that anger and their wounding capability. He misses the possibility or perhaps wants to deny the possibility that his words that anger some "other" have physical consequences. They are words that inflict bodily harm - just in different ways. They are words that "upset" or "cut" as seen in phrases uttered like "that cut me deep when you said 'x'" or what you said "took the breathe out of me". Words and actions then are not as distinct as often made out to be - a point developed extensively by Judith Butler in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. This is not to argue for a silent society where words are not uttered but to argue for an engagement with the language that is used, the words uttered to think about what possibilities and impossibilites they present.

This, the precarity of language, is something that Perez should perhaps know or have at least experienced in "being" a "gay" man. With epithets like "queer" and "faggot" and "sissy" thrown at many an "out or closeted or assumed" gay or experienced through the narratives told of such subjects, the experience of having the "wind knocked out of you" or feeling "sick" because of what someone has hailed you in such injurious ways, seems rather common. Yet, according to one story, Perez shouted "faggot" at Will.I.Am. Perez used wounding words against another subject and perhaps in doing so created an atmosphere of "threat" where his threat was countered, subverted by another threat, another wounding act - one of a physical nature. Perez then is perhaps not the innocent victim nor the guilty perpetrator but exists between those two positions...where he hailed using a violent word and such hailing provoked a violent act in return.

The fascinating aspect of this all then, as Butler expresses, is how words and wounds are related...how words wound, are embodied, just as physical violence wounds and is embodied. How then are we to interact or "speak" to others? What are the ethical responsibilties to think about the words we use and how such words can wound? How can Perez perhaps fight against the use of hate speech while simultaneously using it? How do both instances expose the vulnerability language places on the human subject?

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