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Voice of the neuter

Posted by Richard on February 8, 2006

I’ve been catching up on my reading and checking in on some blogs I haven’t visited in a while. One of those places was The Smallest Minority, where I was fortunate enough to find this exhortation from about a week and a half ago:

Two recent pieces I cannot recommend strongly enough:

Gerard Van Der Leun’s The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land, and Robert Godwin’s The Pathetic Last Children of Nietzsche’s Pitiable Last Men. Read them in order. Read them carefully. And be prepared to think about them pretty hard.

Knowing that Kevin’s strong recommendation is worth a lot, I did as I was told. Wow. Let me second his strong recommendation. The Van Der Leun piece in particular is simply must reading. It’s sort of about Joel ("I despise our troops") Stein. Specifically, it’s about Hugh Hewitt’s radio interview (a "full flensing") of Stein (I heard part of it live and can confirm Van Der Leun’s characterization, but follow his link and listen for yourself):

What is of interest to me here is not what Stein writes or says. His own words damn him more decisively than a thousand bloggers blathering blithely What interestest me is how he speaks.

You hear this soft, inflected tone everywhere that young people below, roughly, 35 congregate. As flat as the bottles of spring water they carry and affectless as algae, it tends to always trend towards a slight rising question at the end of even simple declarative sentences. It has no timbre to it and no edge of assertion in it.

The voice whisps across your ears as if the speaker is in a state of perpetual uncertainty with every utterance. It is as if, male or female, there is no foundation or soul within the speaker on which the voice can rest and rise. As a result, it has a misty quality to it that denies it any unique character at all.

The writing is wonderful, the point is powerful, and the closing is devastating — by all means go read it. And don’t skip the comments; there are some great ones. In fact, commenter Charles offered a poem I liked so much I’m reproducing the whole thing here:

Totally like whatever, you know?
By Taylor Mali

In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences – so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not –
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don’t think I’m uncool just because I’ve noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It’s like what I’ve heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I’m just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we’ve just gotten to the point where it’s just, like . . .
whatever!

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we’ve become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

Bravo! Thank you, Charles, for bringing that to our attention. And thank you, Taylor Mali, for writing it and making it available on line. There are more like it at that link. Check out How to Write a Political Poem — absolutely marvelous!

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