Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Violence of Language

I had seen the Colombian writer, Efraim Medina Reyes in Ferrara, a couple of months ago. He had been in a round table with Arundhati Roy, Gofredo Fofi, Elif Shafaq and Laila Lalami. He might have been a good writer but he did not seem to be a very good speaker to me at that time. Or perhaps when he had spoken I was tired and distracted, I don’t know.

I had written about that meeting in this blog in October 2007.

What ever the reason, after the meeting from that particular session he was the only writer about whom I was unable to remember anything significant from his speech and that had made me feel a little guilty.

Yesterday I saw an article by him in an Italian magazine, Internazionale. “Il sesso forte”, the stronger sex. The article was apparently about the violence against women. I started reading it and just the first few lines made me sit up. Perhaps I had understood wrongly, I had thought and reread those lines. No, he had actually written what I had thought he had written. The article started thus:

Men kill each other for a variety of reasons. Most of all in their hunger for power and money. Yet, behind every war and aspiration for peace, there is always a soft and hairy cunt.
It was this last part of the phrase that had shaken me awake. Internazionale is an intellectual kind of magazine and though in Italian language people do tend to use equivalent words of fuck, prick and cunt much more liberally than in many other languages, this magazine is considered to be a little on the serious side for that. Thus if they have to use words like that they would use equivalents of making sex, penis and vagina, rather than their more popular counterparts.

I felt that the particular phrase in Medina’s article’s had been put in that particular way to shock the reader. As I read further, it was clear that the whole article was written to shock. It does not mince words and uses the words cunt, supercunt, gang bangs and rapes abundantly.

What is there to get shocked, you might well ask. Don’t we all use these words in other contexts? It was this undercurrent of violence that I felt in Medina’s words that disturbed me since apparently he is talking against violence in the world, about violence that especially targets women. Yet even while speaking against violence, he is expresses himself in very violent terms, I felt. For example, look at this part of his article (my translation from Italian):

We men can not imagine how terrible it can be for a woman to be forced to have sex. There are still some who think that when a woman refuses to share her cunt with them, actually she is just trying to provoke them. It must be clear that when a woman says no, it means no and you must forget it. I know it is not easy and it must have happened to everyone. But before letting yourself be obsessed by the cunt that has been negated to you, it is better to think of all others that are waiting for you with a smile.
So I had the feeling that he is writing something but his words are conveying exactly the opposite.

And then I was thinking about something else. In literature, in books and magazines, in our daily language, we are all becoming more open in the use of the swear words. In Italy we tend to use these words in way that they become ordinary words, they lose their taboo power. Parents use them in front of children and children use them in front of parents.

Even in some Indian books, magazines and films, it is the same thing. The written and depicted realities tend to reflect the real world in use of these words.

In a way I understand this need. Our bodies and sexuality in general has been too long hidden behind taboos, embarrassments and silences and it is good that those walls can be broken down and we can speak about these parts of our lives more openly. Yet I have a feeling, Medina’s use of the language is not the answer, that makes our body parts mere objects. Sex is not just a mechanics of penetrations and movements. Or does such language actually help us in breaking those barriers?

1 comment:

  1. I think Medina is being overly blunt, but quite a bit of human behavior reduces to individual and species survival.

    I found your blog through Global Voices Online. I hope you will visit my blog, Crossword Bebop, sometime.

    It is my great dream to blog about crosswords in/about every English-speaking country. I've been told that people in India are not fond of crosswords. Can that possibly be true?


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