Language / writing / text

There is a pervasive tendency in the academy to assume (and theorize) equivalence between language, writing, and text. Despite the strenuous attempts of many scholars to dismantle this axiom, the academy generally still seems to be in that pernicious historical moment where languages that count are written, where all texts that count are written, and where language is uninteresting outside of that which can be faithfully disciplined via recording (and again, by record I refer to the act of taking something down ‘for the books’). I have listed the three here to define a general problem in thinking, and to suggest that perhaps the myriad of attempts to resist this habit– attempts that, for example, think dancing as a text, or emphasize the fugitive worlds of sound—have not succeed in rooting out this pattern of thought NOT because they are not excellent example of scholarship, but in part because we scholars, on the whole, have failed to recognize this formatting of thought (wherein language = writing = text) as a specific historical move with calculated effects. Works that point to the complicity of literacy in maintaining slavery, the use of spoken and written English in dismantling Native tribes and perpetrating the genocide of Native languages, etc are examples of scholarship that describe well the effects of this set of equivalencies. In listing this axiom here I call for research that examines not only the effects of, but the historic and structural causes inaugurated the ascendancy of this habit of thought.

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