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her actively interested and involved in creating a morally just world. But because of the way she answered a question I had for her, I am not convinced that a conception of language as referential--as, she tells us, Judith Butler holds--necessarily impedes moral action. For, if I understand Belsey correctly, her criticism of referential language should hold true even for politically involved activists such as Butler who hope to reclaim, or create, a language that better reflects an oppressed group’s needs and point of view. The closer they would come to finding this language, the less alien their language would seem to them, and the more “comfortable,” according to Belsey, they would become. Comfort leads to lessened attention to the “events” of the world, and therefore to a diminished alertness to oppression, which is why Belsey tries to keep as vivid as possible the différence that always exists between language and the “real.” This is quite the claim; and if she had not answered a question I had for her concerning how language ever came to be so alien to the real, I might be ready to believe that all movements that assume language is (or can be) referential, even those supported by activists such as Judith Butler, are flawed and unsophisticated. Belsey judges Butler’s language to be referential, that is, she believes that Butler conceives of language as containing the “presence” of the things it represents. She characterizes Butler’s referential language as unsophisticated (had she somehow missed reading Saussure?), even immoral. Butler’s quest to find a language that better reflects the needs of the oppressed seems to be almost opposite of what Belsey thinks necessary to create a better world. Belsey believes that the gap between the “real” (i.e., our reality before we starting using language) and our language, the différence between the two, is something we must always be sensitive to else we remain satisfied with the world as it is. Rather than a referential language, what we should
and can create is an enlarged sense of the différence that always exists between language and the real. And for Belsey, this sensitivity, this “heightened radar,” is exactly what will help us notice, for example, the pain that is glossed over by hegemonic discourses. But Belsey answered a question I had for her concerning how language ever came to seem so alien from the “real,” by responding that, for one thing, the language we come to know is not ours, but the previous generation’s. Her answer surprised me: I had expected her to say that this is simply the nature of language (according to Lacan), that is, it is always alien to and from the real, preverbal world we knew as a child. I believe that she began by saying this, but continued. And by continuing, by saying that language’s alien quality is in part the result of it being that of a different generation’s, she made what I know she thinks of as language’s intrinsic, inevitable alien quality seem to be conditional, something which could be overcome. The result of her qualification was that it was more difficult to leave her lecture, which ended by emphasizing the importance of keeping alive our awareness between language and the “real,” convinced of her point of view: she seemed, even if only for a moment, to legitimate finding a language which better reflects our generations’ concerns. If language is alien not simply because it cannot reflect the “real” world we knew before language, but because it is that of a different generations’, it would seem to be equally legitimate to endorse both finding an idiom that seems (perhaps a key word) to reflect ourselves (Butler’s project), and to keep vivid the inevitable différence between language and the preverbal “real.” Perhaps we must choose between a quest for simultaneity and a vigilant awareness of différence. But however complex and difficult combining the two goals would be, it is an intriguing combination, and something more of us might have contemplated had Belsey not throughout her lecture characterized referential language as unsophisticated.