Alcoff and Gray-Rosendale: Survivor Discourse

Alcoff, Linda Martín and Laura Gray-Rosendale.  “Survivor Discourse: Transgression or Recuperation?”  Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography.  Ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1996.  198-225.  Print.

Dangers of Confessional Testimony

Alcoff and Gray-Rosedale are looking at the ways in which confessional testimonies are often appropriated by hegemonic forces in order to maintain the subjugated status of the speaker.  They also talk about how to bring together personal experience and theory.

“[Foucault] warns that bringing things into the realm of of discourse works also to inscribe them into hegemonic structures and to produce docile, self-monitoring bodies who willingly submit themselves to (and thus help to create and legitimate” the authority of experts” (198).

That sounds a lot like Berlant’s Intimate Publics.

Theory and Personal Experience

Alcoff and Gray-Rosendale are also attempting to bridge the gap between theory and personal experience:

“we are survivors, we have been active in the movement of survivors for justice and empowerment, and we also work within (and sometimes against) postmodernist theories.  We have also been affected by the distancing and dissonance institutions enforce between (what gets thought of as) ‘theory’ and ‘personal life,’ which splits the invidivual along parallel paths that can never meet” (199).

This highlights a fundamental problem in academia, as I see it.  People are forced to conform to expectations of “scholarly” work, and the inclusion of the “personal” in such work may invalidate that work in the eyes of other scholars.  Granted, this is very discipline specific, but composition studies articles by Gary Olson; James D. Williams; and others come out very strongly against the “overuse” of autobiography, warning that autobiography is sometimes used in place of more legitimate research practices.  In contrast, Lisa Ede; Wendy Bishop; and others see autobiography as a fundamental component of understanding and contextualizing their experiences as writers and teachers.

Speaking Out

“Furthermore, survivors who often have been silent because they feared retaliations or increased humiliation, and who have been carrying around the burden of a hidden agony for months, years, and even decades, report the experience of speaking out as transformative as well as a sheer relief” (200).

But is this always the case?  Are there times when “speaking out” or simply writing about past trauma simply makes things harder?

What is Discourse?

Discourse does not reveal what is “true” about the world, but rather what types of languages are considered to have truth value:

“The term discourse for Foucault denotes a particular configuration of of possibilities for speech acts.  Through rules of exclusion and classificatory divisions that operate as unconscious background assumptions, a discourse can be said to set out not what is true and what is false but what can have a truth value at all – in other words, what is statable” (202, author’s emphasis).

This right here explains Berlant’s intimate publics and Powell’s survivance.  

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