Sub Rosa Editor
Kae d’Rik Kham
At a recent conference on proto-Slavic (somewhat incongruously in Hawaiʻi), the organisers kindly provided a plenary alternative in the form of a ventriloquist’s act. Being an invited speaker myself, with a narrative that would not sit easily with one particular plenarian, I opted to avoid this one speaker’s litany of observettes on reconstructed vowel nuclei, regarding which I would have struggled to maintain my composure, so I toddled along and enjoyed the show. It didn’t disappoint as so much non-Wagnerian art can do: subtlety of narrative and technical skill were brought together to create a memorable ventriloquism act which will no doubt stay with me long after the proto-Slavic content has been cogno-archived.
On the plane journey home, luxuriating in the spacious comfort of the business class facilities my faculty had funded for me, the dynamic between ventriloquist and puppet got me thinking: are we ourselves in some sense or other puppets of a greater, perhaps unseen, puppet-master? When we say that we speak our mind, and give voice to our thoughts, could it be that we are but parroting the agendas and protocols of something greater than ourselves? Society perhaps, or some ideology or other; or more prosaically, the resonance of our parents’ instructions. Or perhaps even the clarion call of that lumbering giant academia as it encourages us to pursue the holy grail of thought and insight that seems to promise to much but deliver so little.
In the murkiness of these ponderings, I found myself questioning the very ontology of the construct of the word and the psycho-political structures underlying its enaction. And this took me to dark places indeed: if in the last analysis, our words are not our own, are we nothing more than barren lingua-dummies garbling our automatese as we lurch hither and thither upon earth’s surface?
But the darkness is deepest before the dawn: the stewardess woke me from my reverie with another portion of complimentary dusted nuts on a latticework grated carrot bed, and I saw, almost in that flash of divine insight the mystics speak of, how to escape the confines of language that my ponderings had set up. It is of course to study it, to linguisticise: to become, to be and to remain a linguist and in that growing acquaintance with the matter of language itself, becoming the vessel that articulates the linguistic sign to itself though enacting the sign’s potential within its own semiotic network, to overcome the entrapment of puppetry through a Saussurean self-awareness.