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MacCannell, J.F. (1994). On Woman's Speech. Am. J. Psychoanal., 54(2):143-158.

(1994). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 54(2):143-158

On Woman's Speech

Juliet Flower MacCannell, Ph.D.

As an “artist/scholar/writer in residence” at the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts, I was recently asked to present one of the informal “Salon Nights” the artists had agreed to offer so we could acquaint ourselves with each other's work. I have always found it relatively easy to speak about my academic subject matter. But I have never found it easy to speak non-academically about myself, as a subject. To speak “freely,” I have always felt the need to be constrained toward a pedagogical end, which I designate, roughly, as an effort to unlock the student's mind, opening a person to a place where he or she can start to create—thought, art, their life.

“Salon Night,” however, posed an additional unexpected difficulty for me. What could I teach artists? I had already discovered during my residency that what I thought of as the central aim of my teaching, my only reason to make use of speech—preventing premature closure—was completely unnecessary for these artists. So I began by telling them, “It is hard for me to speak to you because my speech is superfluous here: you are not constantly on the verge of closing your minds down; I sense no imminent danger of that, so I find it difficult to find anything that might make me feel the urgency necessary for me to begin speaking at all.”

I would have preferred to stop there. But I did not. I went on, moving into an unaccustomed speech dimension, an unfamiliar zone for me. I would have preferred to stop, first of all, because while professional speech has never been troubling to me and I have lectured all over the world, I have shied away from personal, subjective discourse. As 1 prepared for “Salon Night,” I had to face the fact that what I've spoken most easily has been the words of others. My job as professor of literature is to make the words of others “telling,” to make their power and presence felt. Language is common property, and I accept that; I have never needed to feel vanity about my “own” speech. I have even been rather proud of entertaining my speech as the discourse of others, desiring less to master their words than to allow them to shine in their own right. (It's the reason I've adored and adopted foreign tongues.)

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