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Pasdamped Tongues And Smeared Ears: Of Sight And Sound

PasDamped Tongues and Smeared Ears: Of Sight and Sound

Language is a fascinating way to tell of our human nature. Most people or able to speak specifically within their culture so when one is able to overlap between cultural barriers they are seen as the myth. Perhaps that why is Zadie Smith praises those that are able to connect with people drew multi-voices as in speaking to people in a universal setting and her article “Speaking in tongues (2009)”. But what is distinguishing from being multitasked and from just stealing? That is what writer Hua Hsu writes about in his article “When White Poets Pretend to be Asain (2018)” where he takes on the phenomena of white artists taking Asian pen names for their own benefits. Art can raise many questions on what is acceptable in the spaces of literature and politics. Although artists have the freedom to create whatever art they want, their methods and reasons must also be examined along with their content.

As Aristotle says “man, by nature, is a political animal” meaning anything man creates will be political so in this case art is political therefore must be held to a critical caliber. Art is a way for an individual to express themselves creatively, the expression comes from society influencing personal experiences. Smith encompasses the idea that imagination is the sphere where freedom thrives (13). Among the board writers technically have the most freedom to relinquish their ideas and drives. How they are presented, however, becomes the focus. When Kent Johnson created the poet Araki Yasusada, the realm of fiction and experience become disheveled. While masquerading as a Hiroshima survivor, Johnson misrepresents the pain he has not experienced. The issue with that is that he is taking away the voices of actual survivors all for his own personal prestige. Johnson’s act itself produces critical thought and reasoning to why he would do this. Hsu says, “Hoaxes frequently help us test the boundaries of our assumptions and orthodoxies…” and that events like Johnson and Hudson teach us “the limits of empathy, the blurred line between love and hate.”

Even in fiction, fantasy reflects on society. In his book Understanding Media: The extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase known as “the medium is the message”, suggesting that any medium one comes across transmits or conveys some sort of information. What art offers, in particular, is emotional information. Aestheticists can argue for art’s sake but even the existence of an art piece would create an interpersonal conclusion among the spectators. To present art as general as possible would result in mental gymnastics without harnessing a poignant root of the problem. Asians have all the freedom to create the same as white people do but not enough where there’s an open market for all writers. From an artistic standpoint, it is crucial to be able to handle different identities in characters. It is a talent to shift between multiple styles. That is when art becomes political when identities are being focused on. It’s ok to create personas, that usually helps artists become distinct. But to specifically present yourself crossing racial lines is just artistically lazy. To adopt an ordinary Asian person takes up space of real ordinary people. White artistry is seen as universal. If you want to guarantee that you’ll reach over to different people, you have to base all your abilities in a Eurocentric fashion. Even Hunson’s poem was seen as “inherently obsessed with European culture” (Hsu 2). It isn’t just about equality, it’s about continued survival in a culture and an industry that tells your work might have a better shot at publication if it was written by somebody else. So one might argue “Who cares where the content comes from, as long as it’s good”. Fiction is all speculative and sometimes it is insightful and other times it is exploitive. With art always to be spectated so we have every reason to critique an artist’s use of power. It is true criteria of art should serve its purpose which could be to entertain, to enlighten, to insight, to express, those are important things when considering the content of art. It’s also important to note novels are going to reflect on society anyways so if an author would like to address the controversy, what should be critiqued is the artists use of a subject or character so no one is hurt at the expense of others. Writing is not just productivity but also a responsibility.

Language can be an art (style) and is a vital part of storytelling. How an author presents their pieces will always be analyzed along with their content. As Smith puts it, the flexibility of voices requires work if it is to be maintained (1). How we communicate with each other is determined in how much we understand each other, linguistically and culturally. Language is also a symbol of one’s roots. The power of language can only work behest to both parties. Conversations revolve around either negotiation, dominance or commutative. When including a layer of content and persons to the mix creates more crucial factors of acceptance. It seems the only groups that have the freedom to cross language borders are artists and politicians. Artists are more personal but also share their art which is a communitive process. Politicians attempt to have all three in order to establish an allegiance with his audiences. Politicians are certainly multi-faced but Obama is multi-voiced. Although previous presidents usually narrowed their desired supporters, what Barrack Obama was able to do was to speak to multiple people. For instance, Smith lauds Obama for his multispecificity, something she regrets losing. It amazed her that such a politician could be persuasive while being sincere. The slipperiness of having this ‘gift’ is that being able to persuade many different people is a flag for untrustworthiness. In Obama’s case, the multiple negotiations he created may have contradicted group’s interests. So many promises from only one man. When he spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC), his now recognizable speech rhetoric is even present then. For him to say that “There’s not a Black America or a white America” is basically him dispacing distinguished unified voices in favor to create a single voice that. This causes the basis of false promises to say that there is one United America that goes beyond racial and political lines is just dishonest. Perhaps what distinguishes multispecialty in voices between art and politics is differences in investment as Smith says “those qualities we cherish in our artists we condemn in our politicians. In our artists, we look for the many-colored voice, the multiple sensibility” (8). Indeed a reason for those suspicious of politicians comes from the fact that those lives are greatly affected materially through politics and policies.

The politics of art is more fuzzy to explain than other fields where race is flexible. If one is going to take voices, it must be sincere and accurate would be a general consensus. However, there is a power imbalance when it comes to adopting a voice. It stems usually from racial or class identities. Whites cannot adopt from People of Color because there is no basis or reason to do so. People of color have a means of assimilation in the Western world because they lack the power in their society. Hsu even points out, “ It ridicules the ambient self-doubt that trails most people from the margins who enter into spaces where they were never encouraged to belong” (5). It’s invasive for Hudson to assume the life of a Chinese person when Chinese people themselves are struggling to amplify their own voices in America. Hudson is a symbol of another American taking away a muffled voice. Accountability must be measured. Hudson and Johnson were wrong because they are settled in a position of power because of their whiteness yet overstep their privilege by taking away Asian poets voices by using Asian personas as a shield. They were not adopted, they were invading. “Hudson, somewhere within his heart, actually felt less empowered than the imaginary rival he spun into reality, a fictional creation whose Chinese name would deliver him places his own could not” (6), Hsu laments. For Hudson, it was for personal achievement, on an artistic level and also a rebellious one as he was challenging the “politically correct” narrative in poetry. All writers have doubt in their writing at some points in their careers but writers of color have an inferiority complex because, of the many ways discrimination is placed in different fields, they are more likely to be ignored. It’s ‘easier’ for a marginalized person to change their name to whatever Western country they’ve emigrated to. It is a choice but is not an easy one. Although Smith would argue “Flexibility is a choice, always open to all of us.” (13), ‘all of us’ would greatly have to be reconsidered. The controversy of would stem from the marginalized’s community who would view name changing, or a different accent, as betraying your roots.

Being a commodity, authenticity puts people in a box resulting in limited expression. Art and culture give us empathy and connect with who we are. Things that are considered authentic are held to social standards and what is deemed worthy is usually reserved for the wealthy and privileged. Hsu would agree “Proper, canonical, “serious” literature is built upon this flexibility of perspective, but the privilege of such perspective is rarely extended to those on the margins… typically only one way to be “authentic.” (3). It is more favorable, in society, to be ‘authentic’ but when parts of your identity are not accepted, how can one stay true to oneself in the sake of survival? Sometimes identity limits one to only think within their culture in order to show allegiance with others. Authencity literally comes from the Greek word authentes meaning authoritative, presenting ‘oneself’. Authenticity isn’t exactly synonymous with sincerity, it is more on how one presents oneself to others rather than revealing who one actually is. Talking in multiple voices shows a sign of evolution thus you are not being inauthentic. You are just another version of yourself. Smith reflects on that in the beginning of her speech, detailing her transition from colorful Londoner to a more posh sound that reflected on her education at Cambridge: “now it is my only voice, whether I want it or not. I regret it; I should have kept voices alive in my mouth. They were both a part of me” (2). Perceptions of people hinder any personal progress from them trying new aspects of life and keeping in a singular narrative. Many people found it hard to trust Obama because of his talent. The marginalized are already masters of speaking multi-voice as they have the double consciousness of being of color and being American.

Art is important and how we feel about art is even more poignant. In order to accept what is good in society, would have to ask what we allow in a culture and when things get too far. As long as people’s autonomy is not used in the expense for an artist to empower themselves, the expression should have free range. Many artists have created masterpieces with multiple narratives in their work without overstepping boundaries. If one wants to show empathy while at the same time allowing artistic freedom and recognition, it is better to give those on the margins a platform.

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Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.