Our latest call for papers, “Excitable Speech? Radical Discourse and the Limits of Freedom” sought to explore and question the notions of speech and open-ended discourse as “free,” and to challenge how dominant narratives are constructed and propagated. Despite the “free” and often overwhelming proliferation of ideas of the digital age, broad access has been paralleled by expansive moves towards censorship, both institutional and self-imposed, as well as the facile manipulation of information for personal or political gain. We have witnessed intense debate over the right to know and the right to tell, paired with tensions between individual rights and state interests often opposed to those of citizenry. Calls for expanded and disruptive dialogue have been a driving force behind sociopolitical movements that have taken excitable speech to the streets. Yet the concept of speech as something that can or should be unquestionably “free” and individualized may itself be an idea that privileges Western concepts of knowing, as other societies may prioritize speech and expression that encompass and serve the collective rather than the singular, or delineate vastly different lines between the public and the private.
Therefore, the featured pieces, ranging from academic research to poetry and photo essays, delve into the kinds of narratives and topics that are often elided, quieted, or subsumed, absorbed or refashioned under other more ‘acceptable’ or ‘mainstream’ speech and expression. These are topics that generate debate, or, alternately, are defined by absences that speak for themselves. Keivan Djavadzadeh’s piece “Colonialité du pouvoir, postcolonialité du rap: l’émergence et la repression d’un rap français structuré autour de la critique postcoloniale dans les années 2000,” posits that French rap of the present decade presents a rupture from rap of the 90’s, taking a more political and anti-colonial slant which has been criminalized in the public sphere, therefore paradoxically ensuring its place within postcolonial discourse and keeping its critiques salient. Ritu Mathur engages “fast feminism” in her analysis of widespread politics of the womb that deploy women’s reproductive capacity against them via gendered violence (with an emphasis on South Asia) in her piece “Excitable Speech and the Politics of the Womb: Wake up Grrrl!” Ana María Colling continues critiques of politics and gendered violence in a Brazilian context, outlining the fractures and impasses in discussing embedded gendered biases and practices in “Os impasses das questões de gênero e sexualidade no Brasil atual.”
Isolde Lecostey analyzes the role of satire and black humor in civil society and the challenge to describe or inscribe, align, or claim satire within national political discourse in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in her article “De l’humour noir aux caricatures : impensés d’une tradition satirique.” David Bélanger and Josefina Bueno Alonso each take different lenses to Michel Houellebecq’s controversial yet widely read novel Soumission, as Bélanger explores the limits of literature as a medium of unfettered expression, and Bueno Alonso deconstructs what she deems the mysoginist and Islamophobic imaginaries of “political fiction” in “Soumission de Houellebecq: ¿Islamófoba, decadente, o misógina?”
Our other pieces delve into the ideas of not only what is said, but the notion of how we say what we say assigns or takes away value, as well as the intrinsic power behind omissions and silences. Ann Deslandes questions the power dynamics and the role of the eyes behind the camera in her film review “Unsalting the Earth: Sebatião Salgado and Le sel de la terre,” while Fodei Batty provides a challenge and a counterpoint to pervasive representations of Africa via a vibrant and at times tongue in cheek photo essay of his native Sierra Leone, devoid of the prevalent poverty and despair images of the continent. His related piece also seeks to detour mainstream depiction, as “Braving Oceans: Migration and Subjective Illegality from the Pilgrim Fathers to the Boat Migrants,” provides an alternate assessment of mass movement of peoples, highlighting how those moving between spaces are imagined differently according to their site of origin.
The idea of language itself as that which stakes powerful claims to place and identity is explored in various works, such as “Writing Rites of Reclamation: Blackness and Caribbean Remembering” by Melanie Manuel Webb, which posits the act and ritual of writing as a reclamation of soul, self, and identity in the Caribbean context. By way of historical account as well as reclamation, Cruzhilda López draws upon her academic linguistic knowledge in her creation of an alphabetical, lexical explanation of Puerto Rico’s complex colonial history (and present) in her unique and timely piece “Represión, persecución y estrategia de lucha del independentismo puertorriqueño.” Sania Sufi beautifully highlights the epic nature of family narrative in her memoir “Dispatches from Lahore: The Importance of Politicized Ancestral Narratives,” which weaves together English and Urdu and brings to life both the wounds and beauty of pre-partition Pakistan and India through memories and images of her grandfather. Trihn Lo explores the linkages between content, form, and the expressive and creative act in her poem “À la naissance du sens.” Finally, Manash Bhattacharjee reminds us of the primal power of one’s native tongue, and what is lost and negotiated as multiple languages battle for primacy in the domestic as well as public space in his poem “Mother Tongue.”
Together, these pieces offer a glimpse into how language, narrative, and discourse are framed and reframed within numerous cultural and regional contexts, continually revising and interrogating the meaning of “free,” and refashioning the contours of “excitable” speech.