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Review of  Lesbian Discourses


Reviewer: Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay
Book Title: Lesbian Discourses
Book Author: Veronika Koller
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 19.3230
Read Review Discussions Issue:
19-3254

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Review:
AUTHOR: Koller, Veronika
TITLE: Lesbian Discourses
SUBTITLE: Images of a Community
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Studies in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2008

Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay, Indian statistical Institute

SUMMARY
This is a book on sexuality, or rather on the corporeal - or on the language of
a specific counter-hegemonic ''marginal'' sexual behavior, that struggles to show
the concerned community's visibility as a (non-) mirror of ''other'', though this
marginalized ''other'''s imagination is also a dominant mainstream communal
imagiNATION.

The book is searching a/many standpoint/s of lesbians in the given
spatio-temporal constraints of England, Germany (partly), and the United States.
The module of imagined state (of affairs) here is not the religion, neither
language, nor so called ''race'', but the woman-woman relationship or the care of
imagined collective selves. This book, from the perspective of linguistics, is a
plurisecular metadiscourse on the discourse of/on lesbianism.

As the site of relationship is always staked by the ''other'', the language of
relationship is always context-sensitive - it cannot escape the non-discursive
locus and this book is an account of not the abstracted or extracted languages
of the lesbians, but the context-sensitive mono-/dia/poly-logues of the lesbians
as speaking subjects in different decades of this and last centuries. The author
bypasses the individual subjectivism in a non-authoritarian manner and thus
inaugurates many new spaces for further sustainable dialogues.

Moreover, the author is an insider - she is inhabiting within the
''becoming''/''being'' and ''having'' of (the author herself discussed this phenomenon
within the neo-Hegelian framework) imagined community, but that empathetic
involvement does not bring any uncritical attitude on the part of the author.
She, at the moment of writing, is alienated herself from the communal feelings,
deploys the critical discourse analysis with historical perspective(s) to the
given texts, which are marginalized documents, viz. blogs, leaflets, pamphlets,
glossy magazines and interviews, all of which escape the gaze of a formal
analyst (p.11).

The book is divided into seven chapters. The very first chapter introduces the
constitution of a lesbian community in a given context, covering all the
possible wh-questions in this regard. The whole plans and programs of the book
with methodological details are depicted with precision in the next chapter. The
other four chapters describe the ontological breaks, ruptures, thresholds of the
supposed community among three decades of the last century and the first decade
of the current century with socio-political and economic conditions of a given
society. The consumerist subsumption of the supposed community is vivid in the
description of a 90s scenario. What is important to note here is the emergence
of heteroglossic polyphony in the 1990s that triggers not only contradicting
voices, but the celebration (or rather ''sale''-bration in the market
fundamentalist sense of the term) of plurality and its subsequent consumerist
subsumption. The political agenda for this community-for itself is also depicted
by the author by keeping a low profile. Lastly, in the conclusion, the fuzziness
of the supposed community is revealed after a long journey by deploying the
critical discourse analysis as the author herself concludes that lesbians are
''[l]ess a cohesive nation than a federation of states'' (p. 192). This is an
important observation that escapes the romantic trap of essentialism and the bad
faith for making of a grand narrative of lesbians as a singular homogenous
entity. The historical analysis of the author is not similar to the ahistorical
comparative philological analysis.

The important inclusion of a glossary of key-terms as they are used in this book
is worth mentioning as that glossary helps not only the initiators of
sociolinguistics, but the people with a non-linguistic background, who are
likely to read a non-consumerist ''something'' on lesbians without knowing the
intricacies of linguistics.

EVALUATION
The book is far from some works of traditional sociolinguistics that only did,
peculiarly enough, ''sociology'' of language without bothering about sociology or
social science per se(e.g., executing a work on the co-relationship between
arbitrary sounds and society). The recent trends in socio-linguistics, after the
advent of post-structuralism and some interventions of continental philosophers,
are showing a crucial paradigmatic shift in the attitudes of the new
sociolinguistic researchers. They are doing research with engagement and
alienation - both at a time, with social responsibility and knowledge of social
sciences without being bothered about the supposed autonomy of their discipline.
This convergence of disciplines is much desirable and Koller's work is within
this new paradigm of convergence(s) of academic disciplines.

For every decade's discourses, the author analyzes the dispersion of deictic
categories, especially the deployment of pronouns, ''I'' and ''we'' in the lesbian
discourse. The excellent analysis reveals the self-reflexivity as well as
anaphoric reflexivity of the author as well as the community. The difference
between author's meta-discourse and lesbian discourse is that the author,
through these egocentric particulars is willing to participate in a larger
domain of academics with self-reflexivity, whereas lesbians are generally
unwilling to self-reflect –rather they are trying to reflect in the mirror of
the dominant other, therefore the gradual proliferation (instead of repression)
of lesbian discourse is observed in a form of negation embedded in the assertion
of constructed selfhood or vice versa. Here come the allegations, accusations,
blaming against outside as well as inside in the narratives of lesbians. All
these negative markers in language are deployed to assert one's own imagined
community. Moreover, the lesbian language is not an anti-language in Halliday's
sense of the term, as claimed by Koller (p. 19) as speakers of anti-language
maintain secrecy, relexicalize citation forms and sometimes ovelexicalize the
host-culture' s linguistic repertoire. All the texts analyzed by Koller do not
reveal such features (secrecy, overlexicalization, relexicalization and
extensive use of metaphor) as pointed out by Halliday in the case of
anti-language. In fact, Koller re-uses Halliday's term ''antilanguage'' by
overlexicalizing it and by providing a novel definition. That definition,
extending the form of Halliday's definition, inaugurates a new testimonial
proposition of a paradoxical ''truth'': ''My voice is not my voice, it is others'
voice'' (cf. Derrida, 1998).

The abovementioned difference between analyzer and analyzed leads to a crucial
problem of appropriation and distribution of lesbian text and meta-text (on the
lesbian text) in a given context. The lesbian discourses are not only produced,
distributed and received (as pointed out by Koller, p. 8) in the
capitalo-centric market, it is also appropriated, approximated and re-codified.
The author does not mention this appropriation and seldom points out the control
of discourse - she circles around only production, distribution and reception of
the texts. By this exclusion of appropriation of discourse, the author misses
the point made by Foucault as she comments that according to Foucault, ''[t]here
is no pre-discursive reality...'' (p.13). Yes, there is pre-discursive reality in
Foucault's meta-discourse, though Foucault avoided the biographical details of
the producer of the discourse to escape the trap of ethnocentricism. That does
not entail that Foucault did not concentrate on the overdeterministic
relationship between non-discursive formation and discursive formation. Foucault
introduced the notion of dispotif or apparatus, which is both discursive and
pre-/non-discursive and that also includes ''scientific statement'' or a book like
this, where the pseudo-''secrets'' or unsaid domain of one community is overtly
discussed - the silencemes of so-called marginalized sexuality is reported
through the ''scientific'' book by defeating the Freudian repressive hypothesis
(cf. Foucault, 1980). And this reporting through ''scientific statements'' helps
to sustain perfect governmentality - researchers are reporting to subscribe
governing state and mercantile enterprise by (re-)producing inherited cultural
capital of knowledge industry. This situation is almost analogous to the
condition of an anti-patriarch, anti-capitalist group, say lesbians, who are,
paradoxically enough, demand/desire-ing to get the ''right'' form the agency that
they are opposing.

Thus, nothing can be escaped from the omnipotent gaze of panopticon. All the
aforementioned paradoxes are 'essential' features of the meta-critical discourse
producers like us, who, as watchdogs, are reporting (as we cannot sustain
without it), though in a non-authoritarian manner, the inner domains of
different communities (''they'' may be lesbians, gay, slum-dwellers or
child-labor) to the ''welfare'' govern-mental agencies. The present reviewer, who
is also an insider of the academic community, is totally ignorant about the path
of combating from this type of academic anatomo-bio politics or ethics, where
the academician herself is penetrating/intervening the corporeal of the subject
by objectifying ''it'' and forming a discipline through technical and critical
discourses. When I am going through this excellent first-of-its-kind book, I was
also suffering from ambivalent aporia - I was, as a reader and as a member of
the academic tribe, trying to understand my positional subjectivity: may I
survey and report a community's behavior, or not? Am I harming or benefiting the
concerned community at the moment of deploying disciplinary technology? This
thinking may lead to another problem of polymorphous bio-power that is also
discussed in the book in reference to Foucault's power/knowledge nexus.

The author distinguishes the spoken and written discourses in a Saussurian
manner. As she mentioned the proper name of ''Derrida'' several times, the
discourse on problematic non-causal, non-deterministic relationship between
speaking and writing as representations is much expected in reference to
archewriting. The same comment is also applicable to the sex/gender dichotomy as
used in the book. Though the author is well aware of the difference, the problem
of biological sex and cultural gender is not reflected in the analysis of
discourse.

The displacement-condensation phenomena in metaphor and metonymy are discussed
from the standpoint of cognitive science, not from the perspectives of
psychoanalysis, so also the cases of ''images'' as discussed by Koller. These
traces of structuralism and ''science'' in this work lead this work more closely
to a structural scientific work rather than a so-called post-modern work, though
so called post-modernism is also a part of this book and one of the author's
intentions. The decade-wise survey, following the Gregorian almanac, is also a
problematic one as pre-discursive real-symbolic-imaginary do not always follow
such an arbitrary linear path, though, pragmatically speaking, it serves to
communicate easily.

Thus the space of this book is hybrid (similar to quantum-classical fusion in
the some domains of contemporary physics) - and this hybrid space cannot be
avoided in a ''well structured normalized'' academic book - as even the language
of madness was represented in a ''normal'' language - we all know that classical
example of madness and civilization.

REFERENCES
Derrida, J. 1998. _Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin_.
Stanford California: Stanford University Press.

Foucault, M. 1980. _Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews_, Ed. Gordon, C. Random
House, Inc.

Foucault, M.1988. _The History of Sexuality: an Introduction_. Vol.1. New York:
Vintage Book.

Halliday, M. A. K. 1978. _Language as a Social Semiotic_. London Edward Arnold.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay is a faculty member of the Indian Statistical
Institute, Kolkata, India. He has published 4 books, more than 180 research
articles, papers, reviews and popular writings in Bangla and in English in
reputed journals and academic magazines. He is now working on Silenceme, Yayati
Complex and on the concept of ''errors'' in mad(wo)man's language .
 

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