Saturday, September 13, 2008

Martin Espada on the Effects of 9/11 on the Language

Thanks to Stephen Vincent for passing along information of Poet Martin Espada's appearance on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on the 7th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Espada spoke movingly and evidently disturbed the protocols of punditry:
First of all, there's the phrase 9/11 itself. It's a big abstraction. And we who remember what happened that day have to do whatever we can to make that big abstraction as concrete as possible, so that we truly remember those who were murdered that day, so this does not turn into a memorial by rote, like so many others. And, this way, the dead can truly be honored.

There is another way, however, in which I think 9/11 changed the language. In the name of 9/11, in the name of the war on terror, phrases like weapons of mass destruction and enhanced interrogation have entered our political vocabulary.

These phrases, for me, divorce language from meaning. And, thus, they divorce action from consequence. If you are engaged in enhanced interrogation, you are not engaged in torture. And, thus, we as a society come to embrace torture in the name of security.

I think we have to do whatever we can to combat this tendency in the language. The fact is that this language is used to foster a culture of fear, so that people will, in turn, act against their own interests. And that's why we're now embroiled in two wars without end.

Thanks to Martin Espada for bringing a poet's voice and perspective into the 9/11 discussion.

1 comment:

Joseph Ross said...

Phil - Thank you for this post. My friend Martin Espada speaks the truth. It is so important to keep language connected to meaning and action connected to consequence. The current administration has been adept at bending and twisting our language, especially around fear and the issue of torture. When we allow this, our humanity loses-- because we essentially lose our language. The poet's ability to "reclaim" the language is- these days- our highest calling. Thanks for sharing this. J. Ross