The distinction between utterance and enunciation in a range of contemporary theories of communication derives from linguistics and refers to the two angles one can take on it: an abstract focus on its statements, regardless of their performative context, and a focus on the latter and the agency that has assumed or actualized those statements in a specific context (in linguistics proper, enunciation refers to “shifters,” those elements of an utterance whose meaning alters with different contexts of enunciation and thus are indexical signs of the latter, such as “I” and “you,” “here” and “there,” “now” and “then,” etc.). Structuralist and post-structuralist anti-humanist theories have argued that language speaks man, who is constituted by it, rather than having an instrumental relationship to it as something anterior and external. French linguist Emile Benveniste has shown that the “I” is a fictive effect of the pronoun itself, so that an expressive agency seems to precede and take it up, although in reality it is entirely coeval with it: “Ego is he who says ‘ego.’” Benveniste draws attention to the splitting of the ego that follows, as the “I” of the utterance and the I of the enunciation never coincide, a fact that explains psychoanalytic phenomena like negation (in which a subject admits a censored desire to consciousness through denying it) and repression (in which a censored desire returns in disguise as a compromise formation). It also accounts for the broader suspicion that all human speech is deceptively polysemic, saying something more and other than it seems to, as is obvious in the classic paradox of the Cretan liar (in which the poet Epimenides avers “All Cretans are liars”—but as he is a Cretan himself, the truth or falsity of his utterance cannot be determined).  This shows that the subjective position of the enunciation can be at odds with the utterance–there is more than one enunciation of the “same” utterance.

Freud noted this when explicating the beating phantasies of some of his patients, who he discovered could identity with the masochistic position of the person being beaten, the sadistic position of the person giving the beating, or the position of a disembodied gaze on the scene itself. Some film theorists drew on this dimension of fantasy to escape the deadlock of ideological critiques of cinema like those of feminist Laura Mulvey, who had argued the spectator assumed the patriarchal film fantasy as his own by identifying with the “male gaze” of the camera that was in turn identified with the male hero as its enunciator, since his desires structured the film’s actions, cinematography, and editing (in Lacan’s terms, the spectator identified with the “desire of the Other,” in this case, a patriarchal figure). If there were multiple enunciations of the same film fantasy or utterance, it might not reproduce patriarchal roles and desires. Postcolonial studies theorist Gayatri Spivak argued similarly that there are several enunciations of the “rescue fantasy” underwriting colonial interventions in indigenous cultures in the name of local women, so that white women, for instance, might identify with a white male savior of a woman of color victimized by men of her community or with the oppressed woman of color, as, for example, in responses to sati or widow-burning in India.

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